Planning – end of term review

In the lead up to the term I’ve just completed, I’d participated in a webinar which awoke an interest in reflecting on how I plan lessons.

I decided to use the questions below to analyse the way  that I plan.

What do I take into consideration?

Why do I decide on certain activities and others?

Do I use certain activities too frequently?

Why do I change activities?

What happens in the classroom?

Why do I alter items in class?


It’s been an interesting term for planning, mainly because I’ve had to deal with two new modules (as mentioned in a previous post). Adding an extra layer of complexity the planning process were students joining the course right up until week 5. Luckily, the other students needed quite a bit of recycling (although this did make it difficult to cover all the content). Due to the nature of the course I had to cherry pick and heavily adapt the coursebook material to ensure all aspects required for assessments were covered.

At the start of the term I was very conscious about presenting more (i.e. talking) then I ordinarily would. I think this was because (1) in lieu of a coursebook I was using powerpoints to present information; (2) my unfamiliarity with the modules and (3) not being quite sure (or confident enough) of areas I could easily hand over to students.  This meant that there was a bit more ‘heads up’ (teacher fronted) than ‘heads down’ (student led) time. However, as term progressed ‘heads up’ time didn’t necessarily mean that the activity was teacher led. As I became more familiar with the modules’ content I began to look at making it more interactive and varied: I used Kahoot!, PollEv , Kubuu and the like to introduce and review content; I incorporated Google Docs (which students could access via links on powerpoints and the college VLE) and Nearpod; I asked students to bring their own materials, to conduct surveys to create their own graphs and included activities such as ‘speed speaking’ (a bit like speed dating).

It’s been interesting to see how my planning has changed over term and although I wasn’t able to review my planning in the way I’d originally intended I did notice aspects I took into consideration when planning and when altering a plan in class. The themes I found are

  1. involving students as much as possible (i.e. having students actively participate)
  2. making the content as interesting as possible (from a student’s perspective)
  3. making the sessions as interactive as possible
  4. ensuring that different mediums are used
  5. bringing the coursebook content ‘off the page’ as often as possible
  6. changing the pace of a session (in the class especially  as a reaction to students’ moods)
  7. altering activities if I had seen a better way of doing them (in the class)
  8. adding extras to challenge students (in the class)

These areas indicate students tend to be the focal point of my planning and my lessons are designed to motivate and encourage students to learn  – where possible in their own way.

It’s a shame I’m not teaching the same modules again this term. If I were I could look in more detail at the frequency of the activities I use. But no, it’s another new module, set of assessments and coursebook for me! No peace…




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eBeam – the students’ perspective

At the end of the eBeam trial I asked students to (anonymously) write down what they thought of it.

Here are their responses (with permission):

“It’s not really neccessary, we can use it sometimes, but not each course. Sometimes it doesn’t work. We can use another way to activate classroom atmosphere. Maybe weekly we can use it.”

“It’s not really useful and nessary because that electronic pen soemtimes is not flexible. It could take long time to be ready for preparatory. There is a advantage which save resource. If that pen is flexible that could replace for the normal use.”

“Dear Teacher , I think it is very useful. Convenience our look at from broad.”

“I think it is useless and use it is very difficult”

“I think this pen is great fun. can adjust the classroom atmosphere”

“It doesn’t effect our study environment unuseful and useful is ok.”

“Tech-pen: unnecessary.”

“I think the equipment is not good because teacher is very difficult to use and not clearly.”

“I think it ok. Maybe not very useful in class but sometimes can help us and I  think it very facility when you writing something on screen.”

“I think this electricity equipment is useful. but teacher don’t have to write very beautifully and tidyly, we could understand your meaning. sometimes words are wrote badly, No problem, cause isn’t affected by them we could know it”

“I think the pen sometimes useful sometimes useless for the student”

“I think you don’t need this pen. It’s doesn’t matter.”


I find that the comments provide a very useful insight into how the students experienced eBeam and how they see it in regards to the class and what it adds (or detracts) from the atmosphere. It’s interesting that many of the students have focused on the pen in their feedback and not the activities. I’d be curious to see how the comments might change once I was able to write clearly and confidently with  the pen.

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Unplanned planning

The research into my own planning process has been of to an interesting start! I was hoping to be comparing the process I’ve been going through with the responses I’ve had about how teachers plan this week, but hey, best laid plans and all that!

The course that I was scheduled to teach  has now been cancelled (students couldn’t get visas in time), so all that initial planning is out the window. This isn’t really a problem as I was very familiar with the course: many of the extras I  planned to use, had been created for previous terms and I’m sure I can use them again. The challenge is that I’m now teaching on two courses  I’m not so familiar with, in fact I’ve not taught on them before. However, this has given me a new aspect of planning to consider: whether planning for new courses alters my planning process.

My timetable was altered a short time before the new courses were due to start, so I’ve been in a bit of a spin trying to get my head around course content, assessments and marking descriptors.When I teach a new course I like to understand the course requirements, assessments and content before I start planning. When I use a new book I tend to go through and add the answers ahead of the class, as this helps me understand the teaching point more clearly and/or the intended angle (which isn’t always clear from the book) and visualise any potential challenges the students may face. This isn’t always straight forward  if it’s unfamiliar.


Observations from the first week

Most of my planning time has been taken up with looking through the assessments and course materials, so I don’t feel that I’ve planned in the same way as I had for my original timetable. My focus has been on understanding the requirements of the new modules and ensuring I can pass the correct information on to the students, rather than how the information is passed on. I’ve spent  a good amount of time reading through the course books to understand the teaching points and find ways to take these ‘off the page’. This has been the main challenge, as I’m unfamiliar with the content and so being creative with it isn’t so easy. I have succeeded in adding some activities, for example using and Kahoot, and having students match items, that (hopefully) make the content more student focused.

I have managed to plan the first week for both courses, but I’m not confident that they will be successful.

I taught the first lesson yesterday. The lesson went as planned and  the activities seemed to be well received. I think the main stumbling was my own confidence in delivering the lesson. Since meeting the first group of students I’ve  started to rejig the week’s planning. I’ve changed the order, created and added new exercises.  I’m still not so confident that these will work, but that should come as I become more familiar with the course. I’ve also created a rough overview for the whole term to give me the confidence that I know what’s coming (I just need to match it to the course book now!).  I hope that in the coming weeks I can start to concentrate more on the students and tailoring the content to their needs and less on the content itself – by that I don’t mean ignore the content, just manipulate it more confidently.

Teaching on new modules has clearly influenced the way I initially plan.   – time will tell if it effects the whole course. It also seems to have had an impact on my confidence: I think this is because I’m not familiar with the course expectations and content (the teaching bit is fine!).


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Lesson planning

A few weeks ago I participated in a webinar on lesson planning (Perspectives of lesson planning. John Huges. Oxford University Press), introduced through a blog post of the same name ( It spurred me into thinking about how I plan my lessons and what I take into consideration when planning. It’s not really something I’ve thought about for a very long time (i.e. about 15 years!).

My plans are usually pretty short affairs with minimal detail (below is a plan for 3 lessons – 6 hours of teaching).


This is generally because I plan about a week ahead and only sketch out a rough outline of each lesson. Once I’ve started teaching from them, they start to look quite different!


This seems to chime with what the webinar said: that plans are mainly written for the teacher to use and only as a base for  the lesson. Most teachers adapt what they are doing as they teach. If this is the case what do teachers (or myself) do in the planning process?

Before I attempt to answer that, I should start with my current planning process:

  1. Write a rough outline of the content to be covered, including possible extensions, quizzes, games… (this is what gets put into my planning book)
  2. Create any extra materials that come up from the planning
  3. Alter plans, re-adjusting and adding more appropriate activities (for the students or current atmosphere) as the week unfolds.

Most of  my planning time is spent on parts 2 and 3 (part 1 may only take 15 minutes). I’m not really sure why I plan like this (or if others do the same). It seems to have evolved this way and it works for me.

So why am I looking at it? I felt it would be interesting to find out (or at least try) what my thought processes are (hopefully there are some!) – namely

What do I take into consideration?

Why do I decide on certain activities and others?

Do I use certain activities too frequently?

Why do I change activities?

What happens in the classroom?

Why do I alter items in class?

In other words to look at the ‘unconscious’ part of my planning I guess. This term I intend to keep a diary of my planning and from this I’ll see if there are any aspects from the webinar that I should be taking more into consideration. It’ll be interesting to see what comes from it.

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Language acquisition

As a linguist interested in first and second language acquisition, I’m in a very privileged position of bringing up a child in a bilingual environment.  I’ve been listening to the language acquisition with great interest (I should really note down more examples though). I only wish that I were able to record more of the speech and write a PhD on it.

I’ve noticed that the little one seems to favour one particular preposition (on at the moment) and uses this whenever a preposition is needed. He uses the preposition in the correct place (e.g. I’m on the bath; Teddy’s on the kitchen…), he just doesn’t vary it. I’ve also noticed that he misses out certain prepositions (mainly with  -I playing Grandma), although the rest of the utterance is accurate. I find this particularly interesting as many of my students find prepositions and choosing the correct one quite challenging. To be honest it’s also something I’m not sure about when I speak French and German and often hesitate, asking myself which one I should use (a fatal move: my instinct has usually chosen the correct one and pausing puts me off!). I wonder if this is because the prepositions aren’t key to the message, in most places, as the context supplies the meaning – in the case of first language acquisition, in second it might be more complex.

I’ve also noticed that he inverts nouns and adjectives (e.g. banana yellow). He doesn’t do this all the time, just on occasion. I wonder if this is the influence of the ‘second’ language  (Arabic), or just a normal part of acquisition, as with the generalisation of grammatical patterns (e.g. feets, sheeps – I’m getting quite a lot of that as well at the moment). It would be interesting to be able to study this further and see if languages bi-, or multi-, lingual children learn influence each other and if so to what extent.



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Using eBeam tools

It can be gleaned from my previous eBeam post that eBeam didn’t work as I had hoped it to as a whiteboard, but I thought it wasn’t too big a deal (I’ve managed without whiteboards for years) because I could use it to enhance teaching (and learning) in other ways. And so I set out to experiment.

Given that I teach a substantial number of low-level EAP students and consequently use a lot of imagery, I decided to use images and record vocabulary on the screen. The intention was that it would be easier for students to understand and retain the words as they would be recorded on the images, rather than on a separate board (see below).eBeam lesson 1.

As with using eBeam for a whiteboard, the main issue is the clarity of the writing. It was also quite a challenge to select the right colour: what was clear for me and those at the front, wasn’t necessarily clear at the back of the classroom.

Along a similar vein, I used a tool to hide most of an image, leaving just a ‘spot’ visible (see below).

eBeam lesson 4 - cat (covered)

This was used for students to guess the image and lead into introducing the lesson’s topic and elicit topic vocabulary that was hard to describe (i.e. fur, claws, whiskers…). Before revealing the image, students’ suggestions for the topic were recorded on a board. Once revealed the key vocabulary was written on the image (see below).

eBeam lesson 4 - cat and vocab

The activity itself worked really well and students were engaged, offering interesting topics and most of the key vocabulary. Again the main stumbling block was the legibility of the text.

As students were becoming more familiar with the technology, I asked students if they wanted to write on the image. I wasn’t taken up on the offer, so to encourage students using the technology I decided to use a listening script and have students underline the answers in the text (on screen).

eBeam lesson 4 - audioscript 1

This worked well and some students did use the stylo. However, due to the script length I had to create two documents: the saving and uploading of which interrupted the flow of the activity, as well as making it a little disjointed. On reflection, this is something that may have arisen from my experience and knowledge of eBeam, rather than the technology itself.

Encouraged by  students involvement in the above activity, I decided to see I could take it a step further and created word documents (i.e.tables to fill in, answers to add…) for students to complete. Unfortunately, this was perhaps a step too far, too soon and students weren’t confident enough it use the technology: possibly not helped by the misalignment of board and pen (I had to revert to the whiteboard) and what I called the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ area of the board (where no writing would appear).

eBeam lesson 4 - table

eBeam lesson 3 - audio answers

In short

On the plus side, eBeam can be integrated quite easily and effectively into teaching. On a practical side, it seems that certain salient features demand a lot of practice (on the part of the teacher and students), especially the use of the stylo.

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Using eBeam as a whiteboard

Using eBeam as a whiteboard was one of the eBeam  features that I was most excited about (yes – I should get out more!). Most teachers, especially those in EAP using university teaching rooms, have at some point been in a projector only classroom. Last term, I had such a classroom, well there was a white board, but I had to literally (and I do mean literally) climb over the students to get to it. There was however, a projector screen.

When I was asked to be involved in the trial I thought “Brilliant. It’ll make my life much easier; I won’t have to scribble on bits of paper and hold them up or sellotape flip chart paper to the door any longer”  (there was no flip chart in the room).   I’m sure most of you know what’s coming  -it wasn’t really the solution I’d hoped it would be (possibly a bit naive of me to think so in the first place really).  The main stumbling block, was actually trying to write. The stylo, not surprisingly, produced very electronic looking writing. It proved very difficult to write and most of the time my writing was illegible. The image below shows some of the board work.

eBeam as white board 1

You might think that it looks quite clear (despite the size). It took me quite a long time (about 15 minutes) to get these eight words to look this clear. The stylo seemed to have a mind of its own (or wasn’t calibrated correctly) and often a mark would appear in a different place to where I was writing. As  the ‘writing’ was electronic, it was also very difficult to form  the individual letters clearly. Consequently, I spent  a lot of time rubbing out; not really great for holding students’ attention.

Another challenge was that there was an area on the projector screen that just didn’t react to the stylo and I couldn’t write anything there. This happened to be in the middle of the board about two thirds of the way down. I think this may have been because the ‘beam’ was interrupted at that point. This meant it was difficult to show patterns and relationships and the board work looked a mess, as shown below.




eBeam as whiteboard 2 (lesson 3)

The singular (s) and plural (pl) information should follow on from one another, so that students can see the difference clearly.

Again, from a student’s point of view (as well as mine) this is less than ideal.

These aspects of using eBeam as  a whiteboard, not only limit by ability to write on the ‘board’ (and teach as effectively as possible), but also the students. How are they going to feel about participating on board work activities when it’s a struggle to write? Many find it challenging enough enough to come and write on the board and this, in my view, adds a challenge too far.

I’m sure that with time, the quality of my writing would improve – perhaps to the point of being legible on the first attempt! However, I’m not convinced that it’s worth the effort. Numerous students would have to experience ‘dead’ time while I try to ‘perfect’  my writing (and as I mentioned before this can take 15-20 minutes to write very little).

Overall, I don’t feel that students, or teaching, will benefit (or have benefited) from using eBeam as a whiteboard.

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eBeam me up scotty 1

At the beginning of this teaching term I was asked to trial the eBeam for the college I teach at. I hadn’t heard of eBeam  before, so the first thing I did was google it.

What is eBeam?

What I saw (and what can be seen in the YouTube clip) seemed interesting  and quite straight forward, but I wasn’t majorly convinced that it would add to the teaching and learning experience. I went to a couple of training sessions set up by the college and learned a few ways in which it could be applied in language teaching. After the training I decided to divide the trial into 3 stages:

Stage 1: familiarising myself with the software and developing lesson plans that are suitable for my context (students and logistics);

Stage 2: trialing the technology in the classroom in as many possible ways;

Stage 3: reflecting on how the lessons went.

Stage 1

The set up in my college means that I am not able to use eBeam as demonstrated in the clip above. Our projectors beam onto a screen and  most classrooms (including those I was teaching in) don’t have a whiteboard behind them. This means I’m unable to trial the whiteboard markers. However, one of my classrooms has no whiteboard whatsoever, so it would be perfect to experiment with the eBeam as a whiteboard using the stylo.

Some of the functions enable you to reveal only a part of an image, these functions seemed ideal for introducing topics (in a slightly more interesting way than just having an image). Projecting images on which related vocabulary could be written might also work in  my context. This would also offer the opportunity for students to write on the images (rather than at the side). Developing this idea a little, I think it will be interesting to see if prepared materials could be written on (much like the old OHPs) and answers underlined in audio scripts (I’m teaching Listening only again this term).

So in brief my eBeam teaching ideas are to:

  • use eBeam as a whiteboard
  • present images (using a ‘discover function’)
  • write on projected images
  • underline answers in audio scripts
  • fill in answers on prepared documents

I plan to enable students to write  with or use the stylo at any stage should they wish to do so – if, of course, they feel confident enough.

I’ve taken these ideas and built them into my lesson plans. This has been easy to do, which shows that the technology can be used in my context without the need to adapt teaching styles.

The software has been installed on my computer (in addition to my teaching rooms), so I have been able to play with it and address potential issues, before trying it in the classroom. I can’t wait to have a go (and see if my original skepticism was justified).  It’ll be interesting to see how the students react.

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Demotivating feedback

Quite recently I was approached about writing short stories for German KS3 (I had applied for another project, but I was asked to work on this one). I was really excited about the project. I relished the challenge of writing materials in German (not something I’ve previously done) and being creative. I thought it would also do my German the power of good. I miss speaking it and am not using it as much as I’d like.

I was to write 7 short stories, with one based loosely on a fairy tale, and a poem based on the theme of crime, spies and detectives. I love a good spy/detective novel (my bookshelves at home are full of them (English and German!)), so I was more than happy with the topic. Straight away I scribbled down possible plot ideas, and, to my surprise a few lines of a possible poem. In quite a short space of time I had my preliminary ideas sketched out, so I started on the first short story. I wrote my first draft quite quickly and started revising the story, ensuring it was simple enough and was within the word limit. I also checked that the language used would be familiar to pupils (i.e. daily routine and hobby vocabulary) where I could, with some unfamiliar words (which would be possible to guess in context) to add a bit of challenge . I finally checked my German for accuracy: I was most worried about this, as I’ve not written in German for a long time. Once I was vaguely happy with the story itself, I added the pre- and post reading exercises.

I sent the first story off for review, with some trepidation: it was the first time I’d written for this publisher and my first German material. Having said that I was more than willing to take feedback, however harsh, as I see the project as a great chance for professional development and know I’m a novice in writing MFL materials. When I received the feedback I was genuinely very happy, it was mostly constructive and developmental. Some of the feedback I didn’t really agree with (i.e. introducing and translating all possibly unknown vocabulary before reading), but thought it’s what the publisher wants, so I’ll accept it. However, one comment I found very hard to deal with (and still struggle with). As part of my pre-reading activities I had included a prediction exercise which apparently “is not enhancing their knowledge of German or their understanding of the text”.

Ok, so all the research into prediction and how it helps to deal with unknown language (as readers can guess meaning through context), is not valid? All these EFL books that use prediction aren’t helping students’ language skills? I was, and still am, a little shocked that an educational publisher actually gave this feedback.

Since receiving this feedback my enthusiasm for the project has waned, pretty much to the extent of disappearing.  I feel that I’m being asked to produce something very robotic, encouraging mechanical language use and over reliance on having vocabulary provided,  and not something that would truly develop pupils’ language skills. The feedback has really negatively affected my attitude towards the project.

This experience has, again, highlighted the importance of good feedback, and not just ‘good’ in the sense of developmental and supportive, but also in terms of being aware of what’s happening in education and learning.

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Where am I?

I returned to work from maternity about a year ago and I still feel a little unsteady on my feet: not so much in being in  the classroom or the subject knowledge side, rather in a kind  of ‘where am I’? feeling.

I am in a very lucky position because I teach two days a week and work as an editor and materials writer for two days and am able to spend 3 days with my son. I’m employed (rather than self-employed), so I don’t need to worry about  where the next job is coming from. However, I just don’t feel stable, or where I want to be, career wise. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my job, but , I think, that I feel a little stale and as if I’m not going  no where fast. I’m not sure if this is because I’m working for two different departments and have the impression  I don’t really have a hand in either: I can only be given a certain amount of work and be involved in projects on a certain level. That said, I don’t wish to alter my work pattern, as I am gaining experience as an editor and I would ideally like to become a freelance editor (development and copy) and EFL materials writer (this is a very long term goal), so all practice (and knowledge gained through it) is useful. Some of the projects I’ve been involved in for a few years (before maternity) are very fast moving and I sometimes feel that things have passed me by and now that I’m no longer working full time, that I’m overlooked. It’s the same on the teaching side as well. I sometimes feel quite forgotten! I’ve no idea if this is actually the case or my feeling insecure. Is this what all recently returned mothers feel?

All that said, I am doing what I can to counter-balance my mood;

  • I’ve set myself goals that fit where I want to develop (we have to set goals as part of our appraisal system)
  • I’ve started completing training courses on MOOCS such as Coursera  and FutureLearn
  • I participate in online webinars from CUP, Macmillan and the like (including IATEFL online),
  • I’ve set up a Facebook page to contact other professionals in the field 2015-05-28_1446
  • I tweet for the same reason (@sarahaliefl)
  • I’ve started to blog on a more regular basis

In doing this I’ve started to take the long view and hope that while I feel I’m not currently moving forward where I am, all these little things will add up, so that when an opportunity does come my way I’m ready to grab it

(good things come to those who wait – right?     hic!).

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