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English Language Teaching Global Blog


Beyond the classroom…involving parents in learning

shutterstock_220645462Vanessa has been teaching English as a Foreign language in Portugal for the past 20 years. She is currently teaching at Escola Superior de Educação.  Her areas of interest are teaching YLs, Teens and Pre-Teens. She joins us today to preview her webinar, ‘Beyond the classroom… involving parents in learning’ taking place tomorrow, 28th June and Wednesday 29th.

While it is true that as teachers our main mission is to teach the students in our classrooms lots of exciting new language and skills, it’s also true that as professional educators we often invest a lot of our precious time in speaking to and dealing with students’ parents. For example, we may just say a friendly hello, offer a friendly reminder, provide a word of warning or perhaps simply give a student’s family and loved ones some feedback about their child’s progress. Whilst this may suffice for some parents, some teachers assert that this is just the tip of the teacher parent relationship. I would argue that there is so much more that could be done to encourage both parties to join efforts to guarantee that each student reaches their personal learning goals successfully.

This webinar aims to look at how we as teachers can actively involve our students’ parents in their children’s school learning process. Generally speaking, by nature, most parents are interested in their children’s academic life and progress, and want to help their children be successful at school. It is also true that more often than not they are true specialists when it comes to knowing their children’s strengths and weaknesses. Yet, in many cases this natural interest turns out to be a source of frustration as it is not always channeled correctly, and rather than feeling useful and engaged, parents end up feeling lost and frustrated. They know that there is so much more that could be done to help their children, but don’t know exactly how to go about doing it.

In order to revert this, we will begin the webinar by discussing and analyzing how parent involvement outside school can be set up in a practical manner. The webinar will be structured as follows:

  1. Setting up a clear and open channel of communication between teachers and parents.
  2. Suggesting and exploring various ideas and activities to get parents started on the right track and gently guide and encourage them to become active participants in their children’s learning process.
  3. Suggesting and considering ideas like how to plan and set up a revision schedule for their children, how to choose appropriate learning resources and how to use the Oxford parents’ website to find appropriate tasks and activities.

By the end of the webinar participants will have a fair idea of how to go about creating a game plan to apply in their schools to involve and engage parents to help maximize their students’ learning. We will end the webinar with an opportunity for participants ask questions and to share any valuable experience and tips that they may have.

If you’re interested in taking part in Vanessa’s webinar, register for free by clicking the button below.




#IATEFL – The digital classroom: change of medium or change of methodology?

shutterstock_198926996Stacey Hughes, an Oxford teacher trainer with 20 years teaching experience, joins us to preview her upcoming talk at IATEFL, ‘The digital classroom: change in medium or change in methodology’, held on Friday 15th April at 3.30pm.

Today’s e-coursebooks and e-readers offer learners a range of tools that can enhance the learning experience, but is using an e-book really different? Does it require a different methodology? Does it have an impact on classroom management?  What are the benefits an e-book can offer?

First let’s think about a fairly standard lesson that uses a coursebook. You probably spend some time with students paying attention to you or to a listening track or video, some time with students working in pairs or groups, some time with them working alone. E-books don’t change that dynamic:


If we are happy with the scenario in the left column above, why should we bother changing? Why introduce e-books? Firstly, e-books can add flexibility: in the above scenario, teacher could choose to allow students to listen to the audio track on their own with headphones or in pairs.  Secondly, e-books have some features that can be beneficial to students. For example, students could listen to a graded reader and read along. They can speed up or slow down the audio or pause it and rewind to listen to a section again. Some students might even replay a section again and record themselves at the same time in order to compare their intonation or pronunciation of words.


Another reason for using e-books is that they are on tablets where students can also keep other learning resources: a learner’s dictionary, all their e-readers, and educational apps are a few good examples. Of course, with tablets and a wifi connection, students can use the internet to do webquests for projects that really open up and contextualize learning.

What about classroom management? Of all the fears that teachers say they have regarding introducing technology into the classroom, classroom management ranks highly.  However, managing a class with e-books need not be any different from managing a class with more familiar tools. The same management principles apply.

At my workshop at IATEFL, I’ll be asking teachers to think about some of the things they do in their class now before looking at some of the functionality of e-coursebooks and e-readers on Oxford Learner’s Bookshelf. We will talk about classroom management and think about how a class might look using an e-book. I hope you can join me!


#IATEFL – What are reading skills? –They’re not (only) what you think

reading process

Rachael Roberts will be joining our line-up of authors speaking at this year’s IATEFL with Caroline Krantz for their talk, ‘Cracking the code of English’. Today she joins us to preview that talk, focusing on decoding skills most useful for reading English as a language learner.

When we talk about reading skills, what usually comes to mind? Prediction, reading for gist, reading for specific information and skimming and scanning?

If you’ll forgive the clickbait style title of this post (I couldn’t resist), the fact is that there’s a lot more to the skill of reading than this.

Let’s start by looking at these commonly referred to skills, and then look at what else we could (and should) be teaching our students.


Students are very often encouraged to use the title of the text, or any accompanying pictures to make predictions about the content. There are good reasons for teaching students to do this; the idea is to activate whatever students may already know about the topic and help them to start creating a context. Without context, comprehension is much harder. Think about those moments when you turn on the radio and have no idea for a few moments what is being discussed. It only starts to make sense once you realise what the basic topic is.

Reading for gist

This doesn’t mean telling the students , ‘read the text to get a general idea of what it’s about’. That is never a very helpful task because it doesn’t give the students any reason to read, or any orientation to the topic or context. A gist question should mean that the students have to read the whole text, though not necessarily very thoroughly, in order to answer the question. For example, students might choose which title or picture most closely matches the content of the text. The idea is for students to get an overview of the text, which can help them when they return to the text to find more detailed information.

Reading for specific information

In contrast, reading for specific information means setting questions or a task which require the students to read the text much more carefully. This isn’t really a skill so much as a way of testing comprehension.

Skimming and scanning

These two words sound nice together, and make a memorable pair, but most people are a little vague about what they actually mean. Skimming has some crossover with reading for gist, because they are both about getting an overview. However, I would suggest that skimming and scanning are more properly called strategies rather than skills. They were originally both methods of speed reading. Skimming strategies are often taught as part of EAP (English for Academic Purposes) because these students have to read a great deal of content in English. So students may be taught, for example, to read just the first line of every paragraph, as this is often the topic sentence, which contains the main idea of the paragraph.

Scanning is a way of reading text quickly by only looking for specific bits of information, and not reading everything. For example, looking at the index or contents page of a book to find a specific topic you’re interested in, or picking out the figures in a text to see what the results of a piece of research were.  Again, this strategy can be particularly useful in academic contexts.

Understanding that we read different texts in different ways, using different strategies, is very important for learners. The way we read a novel on the beach is very different from the way we read a legal contract. We probably read the novel much faster, with more of a skimming/gist approach, whereas we are likely to read the contract carefully and slowly, checking that we understand the details. Students reading in a second language often fail to transfer these different ways of reading across from their first language.

Teaching reading skills

However, while looking at different ways of reading, and different reasons for reading,  is important, to what extent are these traditional reading activities actually helping students to read more effectively or fluently? Aren’t we mostly just giving them practice and/or checking their comprehension?

A reading lesson usually goes something like this:

  1. Set the scene/pre-teach vocab/elicit predictions.
  2. Read for gist (hopefully by setting a suitable gist question)
  3. Read again to answer for detailed comprehension questions.
  4. Discuss the content/focus on language in the text.

By encouraging students to predict and to read for gist first, we are perhaps helping them to develop their top-down skills- using context and their previous knowledge to make sense of what they are reading. However, there is a lot more to the reading skill than this.

According to Grabe and Stoller (2011:23) in each and every two seconds of reading fluent readers:

‘1) focus on and access 8-10 word meanings

2) parse a clause for information and form a meaning unit

3) figure out how to connect a new meaning unit into the growing text model

4) check interpretation of the information according to their purposes, feelings, attitudes and background expectations as needed

5) monitor their comprehension, make appropriate inferences, shift strategies and repair misunderstanding, as needed.

6) resolve ambiguities, address difficulties and critique text information, as needed.’

Fluent reading means that readers must be able to carry out all of these reading comprehension processes simultaneously and very quickly.  Just like driving a car, some of the processes taking place simultaneously must be automatized. If the reader is struggling to decode the words, or understand how the words fit into the sentence, or how the sentence fits into the discourse as a whole, their working memory will become overloaded, and they won’t be able to hold onto the overall meaning of the text.

So helping students to develop their reading skills must, I believe, include specific and conscious work on bottom up or decoding skills as well as top down skills, such as predicting.

Decoding skills

Whereas top down skills start from the reader and what the reader already knows or understands, bottom up or decoding skills start from the text. At the lowest level, students need to recognise alphabetic letters and then the words formed from these letters. Clearly, recognising and understanding written words is a key part of reading, even though we would usually deal with it under the heading of vocabulary. According to Paul Nation, in order to understand a written text without any assistance, students need to comprehend 98% of the words. So, if we want to work on developing reading skills (rather than using the text as a way of introducing new language) it is important that students aren’t getting stuck on too many unknown words.

Assuming that students recognise and understand enough of the vocabulary, the next layer of difficulty comes in putting those words together, understanding sentences, how those sentences fit together, and how what we are reading links with what we’ve already read. This is an area where there is huge potential to help students, and yet, outside academic reading courses, it is rarely a focus.

This is why I was so excited to work on Oxford University Press’s new series, Navigate. In this series, there is a clear syllabus and focus on these kinds of decoding skills. At lower levels, this might be understanding conjunctions or pronoun reference. At higher levels, we also focus on understanding complex sentences, ellipsis, paraphrasing and so on.

If we don’t focus on these kinds of skills, we are only teaching students part of what they need to know in order to improve their reading skills, and most of our focus is on testing comprehension rather than teaching.

This post was originally published on Rachael’s blog, elt-resourceful. Don’t miss Rachael and Caroline’s talk at 4.25pm on Thursday 14th April at IATEFL Birmingham.

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#IATEFL – Focusing on the Creative Self in the mixed-ability classroom

close up of colors art supplies on white background with clipping path

Erika Osvath is co-author of ‘Mixed-Ability Teaching’ from Oxford University Press’ ‘Into the Classroom’ series. Today she joins us ahead of her talk on Saturday April 16th at this year’s IATEFL conference to preview ‘Focusing on the Creative Self in the mixed-ability classroom’

As many language teachers and researchers around the world attest, the self-esteem of language learners, being so fragile, is an important aspect to consider in the mixed-ability classroom.  Students with lower language level tend to be less confident, quieter and thus attempt to engage in much fewer opportunities to work with language. Meanwhile, stronger students may feel confident that they can perform well in most tasks the teacher sets and they are also likely to be more ready to take risks when using new language. The two scenarios described above are fairly typical in the mixed-ability classroom and it is easy see how they will inevitably lead to further increase of the gap in the language knowledge and abilities of these students.

So our job is to create opportunities where we support the self-esteem of all the students while at the same time reach the desired language teaching goals.  One way of achieving this in the classroom is by setting tasks that build on self-expression through flexible frameworks that can be easily used by students of mixed language levels. Through activities that involve art, music and poetry we can help students to drawn on their own content, to focus on their creative selves primarily, allowing language to emerge as a result. These forms of expression are highly personal and unique for every student, therefore they become a lot more engaged and actively involved in the learning process. Art, music and poetry become a channel for students to express themselves in meaningful ways, and the added benefit of these forms of creative self-expression is that they bring about an audience too, having a further positive effect on how students perceive themselves in the language learning process.

So let’s look at a few examples of such tasks:

Doodle exhibition

Play some soft instrumental music in class and ask students to doodle, to draw lines and shapes that the music evokes. The only rule is that they cannot pick up their pen from the paper, but let it move as the music leads it. Then post their doodles around the room and give each student a few post-it notes. Write the following stems – or anything appropriate for the level of the students – on the board to help them comment on the doodles displayed.

This is/looks … (adjective)
I like it because, …
It’s interesting because, …
It reminds me of …
I think you may have thought of …

Students should walk around the room, look at the doodles, write one positive comment on a post-it note, and stick it on the appropriate doodle. Once someone has already commented on a doodle, they should read it and put a smiley emoticon or a tick if they agree, but they cannot add a new comment until all the doodles have one, i.e. a post-it note.
Let students walk around the room, enjoy the doodle exhibition and read each other’s comments.  If you find it appropriate, as a follow up you could also ask them to share their thoughts and reactions to the doodles in speaking in small groups too, again, using the sentence stems from the board.


There are various ways you can ask students to write poems about their own feelings and thoughts. In my experience, students respond very well to ones which contain repetitive structures. These, of course, are ideal language practice opportunities at the same time. For example, ‘I will …, but I will not … ‘ for future promises or ‘I didn’t …, but I …’ for describing their last holiday, etc. You may also want to use a short and simple model poem for them to read and be inspired by, but make sure these are not challenging linguistically. In each case, it is crucial that students are asked to brainstorm ideas based on their personal feelings and their own experiences before they see the model poem. Otherwise, the model poem may become an obstacle for students to write their own, especially to learners who might think they have to produce something similar. For an example lesson with a model poem, see here.


#IATEFL – Language Learning Psychology: Getting into the ‘right mind’ for teaching and learning

EAP English for academic purposes

Leading up to IATEFL Birmingham from 13th – 16th of April, we asked our delegates to preview their scheduled talks for our blog readers. Today we’re joined by Sarah Mercer who will discuss ‘Exploring psychology in language learning and teaching’ at the conference on Wednesday April 13th.

How we approach language learning, whether as a learner or a teacher, is crucially defined by our psychology; the way we view ourselves and our abilities, our motivation for engaging with or persisting in tasks, our beliefs about how the language should be learned and taught, our emotional experiences of the undertaking, and our relationships with others. It is important that we understand how our thoughts, motives and feelings can affect how we learn and teach. As such, the field of psychology represents a rich and important source of information for teachers to enhance their practice and their sensitivity to their own and their learners’ needs.

In my own work to date, I have focused largely on the psychology of language learners. As teachers, it is important that we reflect on how we understand our learners as individuals. How an individual engages with learning a language is less dependent on the materials and subject knowledge of their teacher, but is rather more connected with their teacher’s interpersonal skills and ability to create motivating and enabling learning conditions in the classroom. As an example, a key facet of language learners’ psychology is their self-concept, which is what they believe and feel about themselves as language learners – do they feel confident in their skills? Do they feel comfortable using the language? Do they believe they are able to improve their skills? All of these beliefs and emotions impact on the learner’s motivation and behaviours. As teachers, we can work on creating the right kinds of conditions in our classrooms for our learners to develop healthy self-related beliefs which ensure they are in the best position to learn a language to the best of their ability.

However, one thing I have increasingly become aware of is that teacher and learner psychology are in fact two sides of the same coin. As social beings, we are all aware of the moods, emotions and beliefs of those around us, especially those we are close to or respect. For classroom life, this means the teacher has an enormous influence on the psychology of the students they work with. In turn, teachers are influenced by the moods of their learners and the atmosphere in the group. To start a positive cycle of interactions in the classroom, we need to ensure that as teachers we have high levels of professional well-being alongside positive personal and professional psychology. Only when we are in the right frame of mind for teaching can we ensure our learners are provided with the best conditions in which to develop their own positive attitudes, emotions, motivations, and engagement.

In the end, psychology for language learning is not just about the psychological well-being of our learners, although this will always remain a prime focus, but it is also about the psychology of teachers and how we can ensure that they thrive in their jobs, for their own sake as well as for that of their learners.


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