Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Misapplied Linguistics - Report on Leo Selivan's Plenary Talk

(This is a blog post that Leo Selivan had written on the topic of Misapplied Linguistics for Russell Mayne's blog. The original post can be found on the following link:

Nicola Prentis once described her first experience of attending IATEFL as being in ELT groupie heaven.  Last year I had a similar experience while attending for the first time the AAAL (American Association of Applied Linguistics) convention – I felt like an Applied Linguistics groupie. Where else would you get to sit in the same row with both Ellises (Nick and Rod) and with Patsy Lightbown one row behind you? All the names a diligent MA TESOL student would know from their readings were there in the flesh.

Unfortunately, my attendance of AAAL also confirmed my belief that the gap between ELT theory and practice is growing wider and becoming more difficult to bridge. For the past few years, AAAL, which started as an offshoot of TESOL, and TESOL’s own convention have been conveniently held back to back in the same location (in Toronto last year). This geographical and temporary proximity presumably gives professionals travelling from all over the world an opportunity to attend both events.

It seems that very few actually do so. Out of 10 or so attendees from my home town Tel Aviv that I ran into at AAAL – all college and university lecturers (involved in undergraduate TEFL education) – none were staying on for TESOL, which may be regarded as “too practical” and lowbrow by the academia. “Looking down on us, ‘commoners’, from the Ivory tower”, I remarked ironically to one academic acquaintance I bumped into at AAAL, a former high school teacher, to which she replied, “The climb was too steep to look back down now”.

But this is, of course, anecdotal evidence, and since this blog is dedicated to questioning accepted views and practices using solid, substantial evidence, I will now turn to such.

Case in Point No. 1:
One thing that contributes to the divide between academia and practice is the abstruse language and incomprehensible jargon used in academic writing. Have you ever seen an article in an applied linguistics journal dealing with “lexical chunks”? Probably not, because scholars opt for “formulaic language”, a term little known to EFL teachers. Grammar teaching is referred to by applied linguistics as “focus on form” with both form (how a structure is formed) and function (and how it is used) subsumed under the unhelpful term. “Teaching” is disguised as “instruction”, which always confuses my non-native speaking teacher trainees, and "classroom” is referred to as an “instructional setting”. No wonder much published academic research makes little sense to practitioners.

Take, for example, the unclear definition of incidental vocabulary learning.  I am sure, to the reader “incidental” means encountering words in context while reading or listening and not as part of a vocabulary exercise.  Yet, in second language acquisition (SLA) research literature, “incidental learning” is a different construct, often contrasted with “intentional” with the latter defined as an activity geared towards committing lexical information to memory (Hulstijn 2001). In L2 vocabulary studies, in particular, learning is considered intentional when the subjects of an experiment are warned of the upcoming test, i.e. told to go home and memorise the items. 

This effectively renders most vocabulary practice, such as gap fills, matching exercises and other activities you might do in class or find in coursebooks incidental, because they merely provide exposure but do not require the learner to commit new vocabulary to memory. The dubious incidental-intentional dichotomy has been addressed by Anthony Bruton in an article in TESOL Journal (Bruton et al, 2011), where he called on researchers to use more transparent terms. For example, “deliberate / not deliberate” or “intentional / not intentional” would be a better choice of terms to distinguish the different kinds of learning.

Case in Point No. 2:
One of the researchers I was really looking forward to meeting at AAAL was Stuart Webb, who is known for his rigorously designed studies on L2 vocabulary learning, and often getting his subjects to take a battery of 10 (!) different tests in one sitting to measure various aspects of acquisition of new words. Imagine giving your students 10 different exercises with the same words - in a row!

In one of his studies (Webb 2007), a group of learners was presented with new words in contextualised sentences and the other group the same words with their L1 equivalents or, as SLA researchers prefer to call it, “word pairs” (please refer to Section 1 for discussion on misleading terminology). The results showed that presenting new words in context is ineffective because learners can easily, and more efficiently, learn words with their L1 equivalents.

However, given the nature of the target words in the study, the finding is not surprising. After all, do you need much context to learn the word “locomotive”?  But, say, the word “train” had been chosen instead, and, more importantly, learners had been asked to use the target items (i.e. write sentences with new words), I am sure, the findings would have been quite different. The linguistic context might have come in handy then because learners would have needed to know: 

get on/off the train, catch the train, go by train etc

to be able to use the word “train” appropriately.  

When I asked Stuart Webb about his diminishing the role of context, he seemed a bit baffled at first and could not understand what study I was referring to. When it finally dawned on him, he clarified that the study in question was one in a series of papers published in various journals (as it is often the case with PhD dissertations) and, being just one piece of the puzzle, may not give the full picture.
I re-read the article and found this acknowledgement hidden in the Limitations section:

Richer contexts may show that context has a greater effect on vocabulary 
knowledge than was found in this study.

Not only does the study support the use of context, it actually claims that more or better context might be necessary to learn new words. But if taken at face value, the study can be misinterpreted as a claim that context is not important for vocabulary learning. Indeed, I have seen a conference presentation claiming just that and citing Webb’s study. This is what I would like to turn to in the next section.

Case in Point No. 3:
It’s all very well blaming the academia for the theory-practice chasm but criticism can equally be directed at practitioners themselves. Many reasons can be given to explain why teachers do not consult the research literature which could inform their classroom decisions. Apart from inaccessible language discussed above, the reasons can include a lack of time or lack of incentive (see this article by Penny Ur).

But is it really the role of teachers to read research? After all, there are teacher trainers, coursebook writers, authors of teacher’s handbooks, conference, all of whom are probably in a better position to translate research into clear methodological guidelines?  In other words, those who act as mediators between SLA research and ELT pedagogy. Unfortunately, mediators do not always take on board pertinent research findings (see for example my post on teaching words in semantic sets) or, more disconcertingly, misinterpret or misapply them.

At one of the recent IATEFL conferences, a well-known presenter, in fact, one of the leading figures in the ELT world, questioned the validity of highlighting and underlining as useful learning strategies. The evidence that was cited in support of the claim comes from Dunlosky et al.’s study (2013) which, as it turns out, was conducted on native English speakers who were not even foreign language learners – they were learning content subjects, such as biology or history. 

Clearly, there is a difference between the underlining and highlighting of portions of a history textbook to be learned and marking lexical chunks which are worth remembering or grammatical structures which merit attention. If anything, SLA research considers underlining or highlighting, alongside other attention-catching techniques, as one of the ways of making linguistic input more salient. Such input enhancement has been shown to induce noticing and arguably aid acquisition of new linguistic forms. (Jourdenais et al 1995, Simard 2009)

In addition to researchers and practitioners attending and presenting at each others’ conferences, how can each party contribute to bridging the divide between academia and the classroom? I would like to see more research conducted on pedagogical issues that practitioners seek answers to and not on what is easy to research (in other words, more on “catching the trains” rather than “locomotives”). I think it is the role of ELT methodologists, teacher educators and coursebook writers to evaluate relevant research and its applicability, and translate it into pedagogical principles.

At the same time, teachers would do well to read blogs that connect practice with theory in an accessible way, such as Scott Thornbury’s A to Z of ELT, Rachael Roberts’s ELT-resourceful or this very blog you’re reading now. Thank you, Russell, for inviting me to contribute to it!

The full and slightly modified version of this article will be published in Modern English Teacher 25(3)


Bruton, A., Lopez, M. and Mesa, R. (2011) Incidental L2 vocabulary learning: an impracticable term? TESOL Quarterly, 45(4), 759–768

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K.A., Marsh, E.J., Nathan, M.J., and Willingham, D.T. (2013) Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58
available from

Hulstijn, J.H. (2001). Intentional and incidental second language vocabulary Learning: a Reappraisal of Elaboration, Rehearsal and Automaticity. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognition and Second Language Instruction (pp 258-286). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Jourdenais, R., Ota, M., Stauffer, S., Boyson, B., & Doughty, C. (1995). Does textual enhancement promote noticing?: A think aloud protocol analysis. In R. Schmidt (Ed.), Attention and awareness in foreign language learning (pp 183-216). Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii, Second Language Teaching and Curriculum Center.

Simard, D. (2009). Differential effects of textual enhancement formats on intake. System, 37, 124-35

Ur, P. (2012, October 16). How useful is TESOL research? Guardian Weekly. (Learning English).

Webb, S. (2007). Learning word pairs and glossed sentences: The effects of a single context on vocabulary knowledge. Language Teaching Research, 11, 63-81

Photos from Leo Selivan's Plenary Talk

                                                                                                                Photo by Maria Theologidou

                                                                                                                                              Photo by Efi Tzouri

                                                                                                                               Photo by Efi Tzouri

Interview with Leo Selivan by Maria Theologidou

Writing in L2- from Grammatical Mistakes to Lexical Opportunities - Report on Leo Selivan's Session

After a very interesting plenary talk we had the honour of a workshop with Mr Leo Selivan during Tesol Macedonia Thrace 24th Annual International Conference. It was a full room and a very enlightening presentation on the thin line between grammar and vocabulary as far as errors are concerned.

Mr Selivan started his presentation by referring to the difference between Errors and Mistakes and the Truscott/ Ferris Debate about whether teachers should correct L2 student writers' errors.

                                                                                                                   photo by Emmanuel Kontovas

He went on to have a discussion with the audience about the reasons why teachers should correct learners’ errors and the reasons against doing so. Some reasons against error correction mentioned were that students ignore the correction and they are mainly interested in the mark and as a result they repeat the same mistakes. Also, students often do not pay attention to the teacher’s remarks and they do not even read them. Finally, error correction may lead to avoidance behaviour where students decide not to use certain structures that they often fail at. 

Some reasons in favour of error correction mentioned was that is that error feedback can improve students accuracy and improves the students’ writing.

Then Mr Selivan went on to ask the audience what techniques they use when they correct. Again there was a variety of answers from the most traditional ones where the mistake is underlined and corrected to the ones where explanation of the nature of the mistake is offered and students have to correct their mistake themselves based on that input.

                                                                                                                               photo by Efi Tzouri

Mr Selivan suggested different ways of responding to mistakes. He stressed that mistakes should be seen as a learning opportunity and as a chance of responding to students writing. He said that teachers should mainly look at the whole, at what the student is trying to say and whether the message gets across. He also quoted Dellar who said that “many grammatical errors are the result of lexical deficiencies”. 

He concluded his presentation by saying that being a good writer in someone’s first language does not necessarily mean that you are a good writer in L2. This is why we should brainstorm the language needed and review the language related to the topic a student is asked to write about.

Report by Emmanuel Kontovas

TED Talks Do It The Other Way. Beyond the Message - Report on Eftichis Kantarakis's Session

Most teachers believe that TED Talks are an excellent source of inspiration only and limit themselves in using them as such. But Mr Eftichis Kantarakis proved in his workshop that TED Talks can be used in a variety of ways and can offer the opportunity to create memorable lessons. The room was packed and the ideas presented really inspirational.

The presentation started with some sources like , and where some really interesting ideas can be found on how to create a lesson using TED Talks. Then Mr Kantarakis asked the audience some questions trying to spark some reflection. Some of the questions were “what is TED?”, “who has a TED Talk in a language class?”, “what does TED stand for?”,  “how are TED Talks useful for language teaching?” which of course he answered later.

                                                                                                                  photo by Dimitra Christopoulou

TED stands for ‘Technology Entertainment Design’ as he explained and he went on giving some general information concerning TED and how it started. Then he wondered how we can use these talks in our lessons. He suggested that we can exploit the message of a talk which can lead to speaking and writing activities and that it is excellent for project work. Of course there are already many online lesson plans available.

In the next part of his presentation Mr Kantarakis presented some activities that teachers can use. He started with the ‘Instant TED’ activity which is a short talk played in class with L1 subtitles, then with L2 subtitles and a third time with no subtitles at all. Then students are asked to create two comprehension and two discussion questions and afterwards in groups decide on the best three questions and discuss them.

The second activity he presented was ‘TED Lite’. In this activity each student chooses a talk and prepares a one-page report. Then students prepare a handout and in groups they present their reports.

The third activity was ‘TED Listening’. In this activity students must listen carefully to a talk and prepare listening activities which have to do both with the grammar and the content of the talk.

                                                                                                                               photo by Efi Tzouri

The forth and final activity was ‘TED Video Circles’. This is an activity that moves over several lessons. Students are divided into groups of four. There is one group leader in each lesson that chooses the TED Talk and prepares a worksheet. There are multiple groups who review and discuss the worksheets. Afterwards, students are paired with different group members and in the final stage there is an all-class wrap-up.

Mr Kantarakis stressed that TED Talks offer authentic listening skills. Students become able to understand mid-sentence changes and how speakers rephrase ideas which are all features of native speech. Also, they become able to understand the rhythm and stress because they listen to fast native speech and they have to become able to distinguish the content words. He also said that TED Talks can be used for Flipped classrooms. Students can be taught new vocabulary and about the register and the serious and funny parts. Here Ken Robinson’s talk, which is one of the most successful ones in the history of TED was used as an example. Finally, TED Talks can be used to focus on Lexis, Grammar or Functional Language.

Mr Kantarakis concluded his presentation by claiming that TED Talks are an excellent source of Text, that they practice real language and real skills and that they should not be viewed as a source of inspiration only.

(note: "Instant TED", "TED Lite", "TED Listening" and "TED Video Circles" were borrowed from " Global Issues Integrated into EFL Classes” by Floyd H. Graham III and John W. Wilson who presented them at TESOL France in 2016)

Report by Emmanuel Kontovas 

Interview with Eftichis Kantarakis by Efi Tzouri

EFLtalks-Teachers Teaching Teachers-The Teachers' Video Glossary - Report on Rob Howard's Session

Rob Howard is more than a teacher and a teacher trainer. He's the driving force behind "EFL talks" an inspiring community of ELT professionals training other teachers. In his talk the always innovative Rob shared the inspiration and reasons behind creating EFL talks.

Before presenting to us his vision behind EFL talks, Bob asked us what CPD means to us all and how important we believe it is. He then went on to express his concerns that although most teachers aim to continuously develop their teaching practice they can't always do so for a number of different reasons. Rob had been looking for a way to create CPD that was free, growing and sustainable so that new and future teachers could access it.

                                                                                                                               Photo by Efi Tzouri

 Rob drew the inspiration for EFL talks from a Facebook group he had created called "English Students". Although the group was mainly formed for EFL students, Rob soon realized that 50% of the people in the group were actually ELT teachers asking questions about English and teaching. He then went on to discover that 75% of the group's members came from less-advantaged countries. Rob realized that in order for CPD to become Concise, Perpetual and Dynamic he had to resort to his PLN and create a group of teachers teaching teachers with top industry experts. The hook that would entice people to try this new idea was a "10 in 10" system where 10 speakers would give 10-minute talks using only 10 ppt slides. All sessions would focus on practical teaching issues and they would be recorded and archived so that they can be viewable anywhere and anytime.

His first project featuring Gavin Dudeney as the key note speaker was called "10 in 10 for 10" and it was a 10-hour marathon with 50 speakers from different areas of EFL. This powerful community of educators now has over 90 speakers from 30+ countries and all talks can be accessed at Going through this treasure trove of ideas is easy thanks to "The Teacher's Video Glossary" where sessions are grouped alphabetically and according to topic. So far, Rob's initiative has attracted the attention of EFL magazine and was also considered for one of the most prestigious awards in the ELT world, an ELTons. 

                                                                                                                              Photo by Efi Tzouri

That first project was soon followed by many including the "10 in 10 for YOU" sessions which was the result of a two-day effort to crowdsource questions teachers would like to ask other EFL professionals. The final number of questions rose to 40 and the keynote speaker for the sessions was Nik Peachey. Rob's latest endeavour is the "10 in 10 for terms" where distinguished professionals clarify and explain key terms of EFL. 

Now, Rob is interested in creating regional events. He has already started with EFL Talks Ecuador with Vicky Saumell  as special guest speaker. Rob's next plans include regional events in countries such as Brazil, Italy, Malta and Poland. Never one to rest on his laurels, Rob is also planning to release a companion guide of EFL talks which will be available at the 51st IATEFL conference. His future plans also involve a joint project with IATEFL BEsig.

Rob ended his session by encouraging us all to spread the word and share his vision by becoming members of this inspiring community of teachers training teachers.

Report by Maria Theologidou

Interview with Rob Howard by Efi Tzouri

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

‘Rockin’ and ‘Talkin’ for Pre-adolescents: Content and Language Integrated Learning - Report on Monica Varsakopoulos's Session

Mrs. Monica Varsakopoulos is a teacher who is most of all passionate about her work.  In her workshop she shared with us the enthusiasm and creativity she brings to her classroom through the presentation of a Science lesson and a History lesson.

Mrs. Varsakopoulos is an experienced teacher. One of her first CLIL experiences was teaching 5th and 6th grade children who were hearing-impaired, in Florida, USA in 1990. Another place where she used CLIL for many years was in her family owned frontistirio in Giannitsa, Greece. For the past 6 years she has been working in Thessaloniki, where she uses CLIL to teach 5th Grade students, ages 10-12.

                                                                                                                          photo by Linda Manney

Throughout her workshop, Mrs.Varsakopoulos stressed the importance of using multisensory activities because they help students remember content.

The first part of the presentation was a Science lesson about rocks and tectonic plates. Mrs.Varsakopoulos started her lesson with a song and a video, “The rock cycle,” which she played on the projector. She encouraged her audience to participate in singing along. Taking into consideration that the song was presented to 5th graders, one should think that the vocabulary (i.e., pressure, chemical, clastic, igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic) was complex and difficult. Yet, because the music was familiar and there was a repetitive chorus, students could follow more easily. Mrs.Varsakopoulos clarified that she always tries to bring the language to the level of her 11-year-old students.

After playing the song, Mrs. Varsakopoulos explained that she addressed the subject of her science lesson in three ways: she focused on the needs of her students who are auditory learners, those who are tactile-kinesthetic learners and those who are visual learners. She also noted that authentic material is very beneficial.

In addressing the need for hands-on material and integrated activities, Mrs. Varsakopoulos showed her students samples of various kinds of rocks. She asked students to touch them and lift them. All children participated, even the shy ones.  Next, they used jelly beans to simulate sedimentary rocks, and they built volcanoes and activated them.  In the process, language “erupted” all around them. Children got involved in research and used various language forms to describe the rocks. 

For the students to learn how tectonic plates work, Mrs.Varsakopoulos showed them slides which explained the mechanism of tectonic plates. The slides also showed the geographical areas where they are present. Children became interested to find where their home countries were in relation to the plates.

Mrs Varsakopoulos believes that when the teacher uses content in language learning and children have tangible products, they understand better. 
Accordingly, she gave each student a bar of chocolate with filling and then told them to pretend that it was the Earth. Then, she asked them to press the chocolate bar in the middle, pull the chocolate apart from the two ends and push them against each other. In this way she taught them how the boundaries of the tectonic plates spread, collide or slide. The students also recorded what happened during each step of the experiment in their notebooks.

                                                                                                                     photo by Linda Manney

At the end of the unit, the students sang again the song “The rock cycle.” Since they had analyzed every stanza of the song and they had experimented with the concepts, singing the complex language was very easy for them this time.

The second part of the presentation was a History lesson about “The burial of the Dead” in Catal Huyuk, Turkey. In order to integrate the content of the lesson, the teacher used pictures, maps, a clay project and a reading activity followed by a short play. This reading activity, called “Adventure in Catal Huyuk,” related to the content of the unit and acting it out, at the end, was a lot of fun for the students.

Coming to the end of her presentation, Mrs.Varsakopoulos noted that beyond fun, in planning her activities, she thinks of the enduring knowledge the students can take along with them, the essential questions they can answer and the skills they will be able to use.  She stressed the fact that multisensory activities help students learn. For this reason, she uses anchor charts, graphic organizers, lots of literature, and Software sources, for example, A-Z Learning, the History Channel, Google apps, brainpop, etc.

All in all, Mrs. Varsakopoulos reminded us that in a CLIL approach, the teacher should:
- Keep students focused but let them have fun, too.
- Use authentic multisensory material and activities. 
- Activate the multiple intelligences by breaking up the routine.
- Get out of the book.
- Let kids explore, analyze, experiment, observe and explain.

Report by Evie Kota

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

24th TESOL Macedonia Thrace Annual Convention Sponsors

We would like to thank our dear sponsors for their valuable contribution and help. Without them nothing could have been possible to happen. Their generosity gave us the opportunity to turn our ideas, thoughts and dreams into reality and led the 24th TESOL Macedonia Thrace Annual International Convention to a great success. Without this huge support, we would not have been able to reach our goals and make this Convention special and bright! Thank you once again.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Meet Our Pleanry Speakers - Marina Mattheoudakis

Prof Marina Mattheoudakis is an Associate Professor at the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She holds an MA in TEFL/TESL from the University of Birmingham, UK and a PhD in Lexicology from the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She has taught English as a foreign language for 10 years in all levels of education and she has been a supporter of TESOL Macedonia Thrace Northern Greece all these years. Her plenary is on Sunday 12/2 at 11:30 and it's entitled ''ELT in Greece: What has actually changed?" Join us The American College of Thessaloniki