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What Learners Can Do with Texts

The importance of content rich texts to learners and teachersNigel Caplan, assistant professor at the University of Delaware English Language Institute, holds degrees from Cambridge University and the University of Pennsylvania, and is finishing his PhD in Education. His research focuses on genre theory and collaborative writing. He has presented at TESOL as an invited speaker, the European Association of Teachers of Academic Writing, and the Symposium on Second Language Writing. He is the co-author of Q: Skills for Success and Inside Writing (OUP).

As a teacher and writer, I believe that two of the main questions we face in the classroom can be summarized as: How do our students learn, and how do our lesson plans and materials promote learning?

I’m especially interested in how this applies to our use of texts. And I say texts not readings to emphasize my belief that the articles, reviews, websites, essays, and textbooks that we assign can be used for more than teaching reading.

Here are four of the ways I use texts in my teaching:

  • To challenge students to reconsider the world. For example, in the second edition of Q: Skills for Success Reading/Writing 5, we have a fascinating new reading about how graphs can lie: what appear to be hard numbers may turn out to be visual distortions!
  • To encourage critical thinking by presenting multiple viewpoints. When we were writing Q: Skills, we were always looking for two different ways to answer the unit question, often from very different academic fields. So, for instance, how do we define a private space after reading articles about shared spaces such as roads and public buildings?
  • To model written genres. We all learn to write by reading other texts in the target genre. That’s how we know what a wedding invitation, or a conference proposal, or a blog post should look like. In Inside Writing, we present one or more models for every genre we ask students to write and invite them to discover how and why it is written.
  • To focus on language. Reading widely is certainly important for language acquisition, but research has shown that it’s not enough. Learners also need to focus on the structure of the new language. After reading a text for meaning, I like to dig into the language and help students discover useful vocabulary and grammar structures that they can use in their own speaking and writing. For example, why does a summary of a research article begin with “The author claims that poor exercise routines can be dangerous” rather than “The author presents the dangers of poor exercise routines”?

At the JALT 2015 conference in Shizuoka, Japan (November 20-23), I’ll be talking about these ideas in more detail, including a language-based approach to teaching critical thinking, and a genre-based approach to teaching writing through the Teaching/Learning Cycle.

The Teaching/Learning Cycle

The Teaching/Learning Cycle (Rothery, 1996)* is a well-developed method for helping students to write in target genres. The Teaching/Learning cycle starts with an activity called “Deconstruction,” which is basically a teacher-led analysis of several writing models to help students deduce the staging (the typical structure of information) and language used (especially for ESL or other linguistic minority populations). For example, we teach the online product review as a genre that requires students to describe an item in detail and evaluate it, giving specific reasons. So, first we have students read several reviews, adapted for the level, and then together we figure out that reviews typically follow a predictable pattern: establishing the writer’s expertise, describing the product, giving opinions with specific support, and then closing with a recommendation. You can find this assignment in Inside Writing 2.

The trick with deconstruction is to avoid structural labels and focus on functions. For example, if I ask my students what the structure of any genre is, they will invariably reply “introduction, body, conclusion” because that’s what they’ve been taught. But pretty much every piece of writing has a beginning, middle, and end, so it’s just not very helpful to students learning how to write. In the case of argument writing, for instance, “claims” and “evidence” are much more useful than “introduction” and “body.”

At this point, we also need to focus on language. How are adjectives used to strengthen a description? What shifts in tense do you see? What verbs do the authors use to introduce evidence? What tenses do they use? Do you see certain types of grammar in the claims and opinions but not the evidence and support (e.g. modals)? How do the writers use relative (adjective) clauses? Once you start asking these questions, you’ll be amazed what you and your students notice about your genres!

Join me at JALT to practice the other stages of the Teaching/Learning cycle, Joint Construction and Independent Construction. I’m also going to discuss teaching critical thinking by using thought-provoking texts as prompts for discussion and writing.

Nigel will present at JALT on Saturday, November 21st and Sunday, November 22nd. Click here for more details.


* Joan Rothery’s chapter, “Making Changes: Developing an Educational Linguistics” is in the book Literacy in Society (Hasan & Williams, 1996). The pedagogy is also summarized in my essay, “From Generic Writing to Genre-Based Writing,” available from the OUP website.

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Using e-books to enhance the learning experience for your students

webinarpicAhead of our webinar on using e-books in class, Stacey Hughes, an Oxford teacher trainer with 20 years teaching experience, looks at how using e-books can enhance the learning experience for your students.

As e-books become more popular, you may find yourself asking what all the hype is about. After all, an e-book is just a book on a screen, right?

Not anymore. While early e-books just replicated the print book, today’s e-books have enhanced features.  Video and audio plays straight from the page, and some e-books let students slow down the audio, record their own version, and compare to the original.  Students can answer questions, and then check if they’ve got the answers right straight away with automatic marking.  They can create written or voice recorded notes, draw on the page, and highlight words they might be struggling to pronounce so they can go back later to practice them. And if you set your students a page to complete for homework, once they’ve finished the student can email the page to you for marking.

All these interactive features are great, but pose a challenge for teachers who are new to e-books. How do you teach with an e-book?  How do you manage the class?  How do you balance the activities in class to include pair and group work alongside the e-book?

In my upcoming webinar I will talk about different types of e-book and how you can start using them. I will highlight common interactive features and tools and give practical ideas on how to exploit these for learning. I’ll also give tips for how to effectively manage the use of e-books in a class.

e-Books have been shown to increase student motivation and their popularity is on the rise, so now is a great time to see what they’re all about and whether they’re right for you and your classes. Join me for my webinar entitled ‘Using e-books in class: practical tips and ideas’ on 9th or 10th September 2015.



Teaching a lesson with e-books

Asian woman sitting using laptopHave you ever used e-books in your English classroom? Stacey Hughes, our Professional Development Services teacher trainer, tried out a lesson with adult learners using an e-book on the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf. Watch the video below to see how she got on

I was really excited about trying out the American English File e-book and also a little bit apprehensive. My excitement came from knowing students would be able to watch the video at their own pace – pausing if needed to take a note or jumping back to catch something said. I was also interested in seeing how often students used the repeat function for the audio. This ability to focus bottom-up on a phrase or word was a real bonus since my students came from different countries.

At first, I was slightly nervous about using the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf tools so experimented with the different tools and functionality. I wanted to find out what was possible and also get comfortable with using the tools. I did some of the exercises as a student would. To my surprise, I enjoyed using the audio notes the best and I wondered if fast finishers might be encouraged to create some audio notes about vocabulary that would help them study later.

During the lesson, I found I could do the same activities that I’d always done, but with some that I wasn’t able to do before. I really liked that the students could watch the video and listen to audio and their own pace and I was also pleased that students could check their own work automatically. One thing I did miss was having something to write on, so next time I’ll bring in a flip chart or shrink the e-book when I need to write on the Interactive Whiteboard.

See how my lesson went here:

Are you interested in using e-books with your students? Visit www.oup.com/elt/fingertips to see our wide selection of coursebooks and Graded Readers available via the Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf. We have e-books for all ages, levels, and interests.

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Integrating video content into the EFL classroom – Part 3

MercedesBenzmuseumFancy livening up your classroom with some ready-made video activities? This is the third in a series of four articles in which Keith Harding and Rachel Appleby share ideas for using the stunning new International Express video material. Each unit of the course features a video directly related to the unit topic. Here, Keith offers some ideas for using the clip from Intermediate Unit 4 – Mercedes-Benz Museum, which focuses on making comparisons.

Watch the video

Before you watch

As with any listening or reading text it is important to prepare and predict, in order to maximise the learning potential from the video. Here are some ideas to get your students started before they watch the video.

1. Museums

Students in pairs/groups describe museums in their city/country, and talk about their favourite museum. Questions to ask include:

a. What do they like about their favourite museum?

b. Why is it better than other museums? (This will help to elicit practice of comparatives)

c. Do they know any unusual museums, e.g. for particular products and brands?

Plan a ‘Museum of Brands’

Elicit some top-of-the-range brands from the students, for example, Rolex, Apple, Nike, Mercedes Benz (prompt to elicit this one if necessary)

In groups, students decide what they would exhibit in a ‘Museum of Brands’ and what they would call each of the galleries.

2. Pre-teach vocabulary

This exercise is taken from the video worksheet that comes with the International Express Teacher’s Resource Book DVD. All the worksheets are also available for free here. You just need your Oxford Teacher’s Club log-in details to view them.


What do the words in bold mean?

  1. The story is based on a local legend.
  2. The prototype of the vehicle used a piston engine.
  3. He is a real football enthusiast. He goes to every game.
  4. My father collects a lot of Beatles memorabilia, like albums, posters, and concert tickets.
  5. Phone companies need to have cutting-edge technology to be successful.
  6. The documentary on deep-sea diving gave us a glimpse into life in the ocean.
  7. The book gives us an insight into life in South America.

While you watch

To maximise the learning opportunities, you need to set tasks for the students to focus on. Remember tasks can be graded to the level of the learners, even if the content is not. This will involve the teacher in using pause, rewind, and sound-off facilities.

3. Silent play on fast-forward

Play the whole video on fast-forward with the sound down. Students write down what they see, then compare in groups and then watch again on normal speed.

4. Recognising difficult or technical vocabulary

As you would expect, the video contains several terms relating to vehicle transport. Understanding lexical sets of technically-related vocabulary and the differences in meaning between the different items is an important skill for the professional adult learner. Play the video in sections and ask students to write down the names of any vehicle types they hear. They should identify the following:

motor car

horse-drawn carriage





sports car

rally car (‘rallying’ on the video)

Formula 1

racing car

lorry (lorries)

police car


fire engine

Check students’ answers, and ask them to give a definition of each type.

5. Numbers and names ‘bingo’

Design a bingo card for each student with numbers and names, including ones from the video, but other distracters as well. Students tick off the numbers/names when they hear them. When they have completed a line of three (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) they shout bingo, stop the video and check.

Here are two examples:

Example 1:

nine 60,500 Rolls Royce
Karl Benz Daimler AG one million euros
Formula 1 Ferrari300 SL

Example 2:

a million 16,500 Porshe
1954 seven Mercedes Simplex
13 300 SL convertible

After you watch

Follow-up tasks and activities will help to reinforce the language and will also provide the opportunity for more communicative and interactive language practice.

6. Practice vocabulary work on different forms of transport, and different brands and products

7. Conduct a survey of class members or any other accessible group (e.g. work colleagues, teachers and staff in school). Example questions could be:

a) Which museums have you visited?

b) Which is your favourite – or least favourite – and why?

c) What factors are important for you in a museum? Examples could include admission cost, interesting displays, interactive exhibits, a good cafe.

d) Use the results to plan a group outing.

8. Plan and present an idea for your own museum

a) Use the results from the survey (task 8) if available.

b) Decide the theme for your museum. For example, it could be a museum of your own life, with photographs, objects from your past and from your present working life.

c) Design the plan of the museum.

d) Present to the rest of the group.

I hope you enjoy trying out some of these activities in class!


Integrating video content in the EFL classroom with International Express – Part 2

Selexyz bookstoreFancy livening up your classroom with some ready-made video activities? This is the second of a series of four blog posts in which Keith Harding and Rachel Appleby share ideas for using the stunning new International Express video material.

Each unit of the course features a video directly related to the unit topic. Here, Rachel explores the clip from Pre-Intermediate Unit 10 – Selexyz bookstore, which focuses on using ‘will’ to talk about the future, Zero Conditional and 1st Conditional.

Before you watch

  1. Discussion in pairs

Before I play video in class, I find it useful to do plenty of lead-in activities to the topic. For example, you could start by giving students the following to discuss in pairs.

  1. Do you ever shop online? What do you buy?
  2. What are the benefits of shopping in real shops?
  3. Do you buy books or music online, or in shops?
  4. Do you think book and music shops will continue to exist in the future? Why? Why not?
  5. Describe your favourite bookshop. Explain why you like it.
  6. Check key vocabulary

Tell the students they are going to watch a video about a special bookshop in an historic building. Before watching the video, check they understand, and can pronounce, the following words. You’ll find the answers at the end of this blog post.

retailer, branch, archive, fiction, structure, design

  1. Number work

Focus on the following numbers from the video. You could dictate them, or put them on the board.

10%; 8%; 15; 13; 500; 1794*

First, check students know how to say them, and then ask them to guess what each number could refer to. You’ll find the answers at the end of this blog post.

* NB: This is a date, so it is pronounced “17-94”

While you watch

  1. More number work

Ask students to choose three of the numbers from above, and to listen, as they watch, for what they refer to. Tell them also to listen to compare their discussions from the beginning with what they hear.

  1. More vocabulary work

Do this exercise before watching the video again. Students work in groups of 3 or 4. Put the following words on the board, on cards (one set per group), or on a handout. Ask the students to try to remember what they referred to in the video. If they are not sure of the meaning of any words, they should check first in their group.


















stained-glass window


Give the students 5 minutes. You could give them dictionaries to check the meaning and pronunciation – in particular, word stress.

Next, play the video again. While they are watching, the students should:

  1. a) put the words in the order in which they hear them
  2. b) check what each refers to

At the end, ask them to compare their ideas in their groups, and discuss any they found difficult. Which words are usually associated with a bookshop or with a church?

After you watch

  1. A special shop, building or place

Ask students to think about a favourite or special shop, building, or place they would recommend to the others. Give them time to take notes and plan what they will say. Encourage them to use words from exercise 5 above. They should include:

  1. a) why they like it
  2. b) why it’s special
  3. c) where it is
  4. d) the best time to go

When they are ready, ask them to stand up and mingle with the other students. They should take it in turns to tell each other about their special place for approximately one minute. They should speak to at least three different people.

Ask them to sit down with a different partner, and compare what they heard. Which place would they most like to visit? Why? Are any of the places more interesting than their own? Why?

  1. Guess the word

At the start of the next lesson, give each student one word, on a card, from exercise 5 above. They should stand up and mingle, and explain or define their word to someone else, to elicit the word. In turn, they should listen to their partner’s explanation, and try to guess their word. They should then swap words, and mingle to find another partner.

I hope you enjoy trying out some of these activities in class! You can also find more on the video worksheet that comes with the International Express Teacher’s Resource Book DVD. All the worksheets are available for free here.

In the next part of this series, Keith Harding explores the Mercedes-Benz Museum, from the Intermediate level. Look out for it next week.


Ex. 2

retailer (n) /ˈriːteɪlə(r) / – a person or business that sells goods to the public

branch (n) / brɑːntʃ / – a local office or shop/store belonging to a large company or organization

archive (n) / ˈɑːkaɪv / – a place where historical documents are stored

fiction (n) / ˈfɪkʃn / – a type of literature that describes imaginary people and events, not real ones

structure (n) / ˈstrʌktʃə(r) / – a thing that is made of several parts, especially a building

design (n) / dɪˈzaɪn/- the general arrangement of the different parts of something that is made, e.g. of a building

Ex. 3

10% – the percentage of online shopping out of all consumer spending

8% – the increase in one year of internet sales

15 – the number of Selexyz shops in Holland

13 – the century when the church was built

500 – the number of years it was a church

1794 – the date when Napoleon took the church

Ex. 5

Numbers refer to the order each word appears in the video

ancient 10

archive 6

architecture 17

atmosphere 8

branch 4

browse 14

ceiling 11

consumer 1

customer 2

design 13

experience 18

fiction 15

interior 12

non-fiction 16

relaxing 7

retailer 3

stained-glass window 9


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