Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


11 Comments

5 Ways to Prepare Your Students for the 21st Century

young boy reading a workbookIn the first in a series of blog posts about 21st Century skills, (to accompany our teacher training videos on the same subject), author and English language teacher Charles Vilina provides some great tips on why 21st Century skills are important, and how to incorporate them into your classroom teaching.

When I was a small boy in the 1960s, drawings of the 21st Century always showed the same visions. People of the future would wear shiny space clothing, travel on moving sidewalks and in flying cars, and talk on portable phones.

Isn’t it interesting that many of these visions have come true? We now have personal computers and smartphones that let us share information instantly around the world. Modern air travel can take us anywhere on the planet. And while I don’t wear space clothes, I do use those moving sidewalks in airports! I think we can all agree that the 21st Century is a very exciting time in human history.

So when I talk to teachers about new developments in English education, and go on to mention the term 21st Century skills, why do so many begin to look uncomfortable?

Let’s start by looking at these skills a bit more carefully. 21st Century skills can actually be listed as a group of words that begin with the letter “C”.

Communication          Creativity          Critical Thinking          Collaboration

To state it simply, these are the four skills that your students will need to be successful in the 21st Century.

21st Century skills are being taught in primary classrooms in many countries. Many international schools are also committed to teaching these skills. However, I would argue that your English language classroom is actually the PERFECT place to build these 21st Century skills. Here’s why:

In essence, the English language classroom exists to prepare students to communicate across cultures, across borders, across perspectives. As the world evolves toward greater interconnectedness, it is our students to whom we entrust the responsibility of building a better global society. Yes, basic language skills are essential. However, equally essential is an individual’s ability to think outside the box, find future solutions to future problems, collaborate and reach a consensus across cultural and national borders.

So let’s get to some specifics. How easy is it to teach 21st Century Skills in your classroom? Well, chances are good that you’ve already started. The English language classroom has been evolving for decades, and continues to do so.

As a general guide, however, here are five “essential strategies” I would recommend that you develop in your classroom to encourage 21st Century thinking and learning. They may involve a change in perspective about how your students learn best, so feel free to take small but steady steps toward these goals. Practical information on how to implement these strategies will follow in future blogs.

1. Let Your Students Lead The Learning

Learning takes place best in environments where students feel empowered to learn. Effective teachers are more like moderators, offering inspiration and guiding students to discover for themselves. Give students the opportunity to be self-learners, which guarantees lifelong learning. This brings us directly to the second point.

2. Create an Inquiry-Based Classroom Environment

If students are to lead the way to learning, they need to be able to ask questions – and then find the means to answer them. Students (and teachers) need to “wonder out loud” as they encounter new information. A KWL chart (What do you Know? What do you Want to know? What have you Learned?) can guide students toward true self-motivated learning.

3. Encourage Collaboration

We are greater than the sum of our parts.”  Herein is the heart of collaboration. A healthy, active classroom is a sharing classroom. Students are social beings, and even more so in a language class. Find every opportunity to allow students to form pairs and small groups. Not only does this encourage the development of speaking and listening skills, but it also teaches students how to effectively achieve goals together.

4. Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Learning is more than memorizing and remembering. Critical thinking skills take students well beyond simple comprehension of information. Students use these skills to solve problems in new situations, make inferences and generalizations, combine information in new patterns, and make judgments based on evidence and criteria. Introduce activities in your lessons that build critical thinking skills along with language skills.

5. Encourage Creativity

Encourage your students to be creative throughout each lesson. Creative activities allow students to express what they’ve learned in a new way. This synthesizing and personalizing of knowledge consolidates learning, and creates an experience that remains with students long after the class is over.

By keeping these strategies in mind as you plan each lesson, you will be encouraging the development of 21st Century skills. Of course, your students may also need time to adjust to this new way of learning. However, they will soon begin to feel empowered to think more critically, to ask questions and seek answers, and to express themselves creatively. Most importantly, their communication skills will become much stronger as a result, which always remains our main objective!

Keep an eye out for more in-depth blogs in the 21st Century skills series. In the meantime, I wish all of you the greatest of adventures in this wonderful vocation that is English education!


11 Comments

How To Teach ´Great Openings´ for Presentations In English

Young businessman giving presentation

Photo via Dries Buytaert under Creative Commons license

Christopher Wright has worked as a Business English Teacher and a Business Trainer in the UK, US, Spain and France. In his first guest post for OUP, he outlines techniques for teaching Business English students the art of opening presentations.

Doing presentations, like anything in life, is a question of preparation, positive attitude and ´practice makes perfect´.

Just like in the popular BBC TV Show Dragon´s Den the more preparation and practice participants (students) have, either in front of an audience (no matter how small) or recording themselves on a web camera, the more relaxed and confident they will feel when they actually have to give their presentations.

So what can we do as teachers and trainers to help? Here are 6 tips:

1. Visual Aids

Visual aids such as images, objects, sculptures and models are a fantastic but under-exploited tool for making ´great openings´ in presentations in English. A visual aid immediately helps grab the audience´s attention and piques their curiosity. And once the audience starts thinking “what is it?”, “how does it relate to the presentation?” and “why have they shown me this?”, the presenter starts winning their battle to achieve their presentation objective (to inform, persuade, entertain etc.). Visual aids also act as a great support for non-native speakers who are nervous speaking in front of people, as it removes them from the spotlight. Also it helps focus their attention on the presentation opening instead of worrying about the audience´s reaction. Watch this great example, a 5 minute TED Talk by a Dutch Engineer, and how he uses a visual object to make a boring presentation really come alive. Count how long it is before he actually starts speaking.

2. Petcha Kutcha 20×20

Petcha Kutcha events are organized around the World. They were started by a group of young designers in Tokyo in 2003 and have become world famous. Their goal is to improve ´The Art of Concise Presentations´. Each presenter is allowed to show 20 images (one per slide), with each slide lasting up to 20 seconds, hence the 20×20. So how does this relate to teaching presentations in English? In an internet obsessed world that has become more visual, faster paced, and now suffers from information overload, the ability to quickly communicate your key messages is vital. Other advantages include: being a useful technique for teaching time-poor professionals and managers; helping long- winded students become more concise; and finally there is a cross-cultural aspect.

3. Storytelling

Nancy Duarte wrote an excellent book called Resonate (Wiley, 2010), which helps any person learn how to craft visual stories and present them using the techniques normally reserved for cinema and literature. With Resonate, presenters learn how to: connect with the audience empathetically; craft ideas that get repeated; use story structures inherent in great communication; create captivating content; inspire and persuade audiences. It´s a book full of quick and easy-to-use communication techniques for creating great presentation openings.

4. Power of your Voice

Following on from point 3, great story-tellers also know how to use the power of their voice to captivate, entertain and influence their audience. There´s a reason why children (and some adults) will sit quietly, attentively and listen for a long time to a good story-teller. What is it they do? They vary their tone, pitch, volume, speed, intonation, emphasis and pauses to create moments of suspense, excitement, danger and happiness. There are hundreds of good examples on YouTube you can analyse with your students to show them the effect of the power of their voice when giving a presentation. Try comparing a presenter with a monotonous tone and one who knows how to use the power of their voice to see how different they are.

5. Using Quotes

This can feel like a very American presentation style, but its appeal is much more international than you´d think. They key is to select quotes from internationally known and famous authors, figures and people both from the past and present. Here is a good source for presentation quotes. Why do presenters use quotes? For two reasons, firstly it helps them quickly frame an argument or key message for the audience. Secondly, it gives their own presentation a little more credibility as people tend not to question these quotes as much as they would if they’re the presenter´s own.

6. Evaluating and Giving Feedback

At the beginning of this post I mentioned ´practice makes perfect´ and also the TV program Dragon´s Den. Why? Both highlight the importance of ´Evaluating and Giving Feedback´ to perfect a presentation. As teachers we can work with our students to develop criteria to evaluate their own and other presentations so they can learn through watching others as well as themselves. Technology (webcams, private YouTube channels, etc.) gives students the option of peer review of their presentations, either by themselves, or by teachers and classmates.


12 Comments

Using Twitter with your Students

Twitter birds on a wire

Image credit: StartBloggingOnline.com CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Sean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at how teachers can continue to support their students’ learning outside of the classroom through the use of Twitter.

Twitter is an online social network website and microblogging platform that allows users to post and read text-based messages (often with attached images), called tweets, up to 140 characters long. According to Statistic Brain (2013, May 7), there are over 554 million active registered Twitter users who tweet 58 million times per day, and projected revenue for 2013 is almost $400 million. In this post, I will make some suggestions as to how to use Twitter with your students.

Getting Started

To use Twitter, both you and your students will need to set up Twitter accounts. Once set up, get your students to start following you and their classmates’ Twitter accounts. Figure 1 below shows a typical Twitter home page. There are areas for composing new tweets, keeping track of who follows you and who you are following, viewing trending tweets, and viewing a stream of your tweets and the tweets of people you are following.

Sample Twitter home page

Figure 1: Sample Twitter home page

Using tweets for teaching and learning

Starting conversations: Ask a question. Get students to reply.

A sample conversation initiated by teacher

Figure 2: A sample conversation initiated by teacher

Encourage your students to start conservations. These could be about their learning, but could also be about their daily lives and fun things. One of the advantages of using a tool like Twitter is that it introduces an element of fun into learning, so use this to motivate students. Another advantage of using Twitter conversations rather than open classroom discussions is to give all students, particularly those who are perhaps shy about speaking in English, more opportunities to participate.

A sample conversation initiated by a student

Figure 3: A sample conversation initiated by a student

Posting links to learning materials: Long links will soon use up most of the available 140 characters, so use a service like bitly to create much shorter links. These posts could also be the starting point for more conversations.

A post with two shortened bitly links

Figure 4: A post with two shortened bitly links

This use of Twitter is an effective way to blend the longer, more static posts in traditional blogs with the shorter, more dynamic posts of a microblog. A traditional blog could be used to set up and deliver the learning content of an actual lesson, but Twitter could be used for real-time interaction during the lesson.

Continue reading


7 Comments

5 top tips to encourage reading for pleasure

man reading a book

People usually read in their mother tongue. Foreign language readers encounter many obstacles that wipe all the pleasure out and can make it a real pain! On the other hand, reading in English undeniably enhances the learning process.

What does reading for pleasure mean?

It is everything that drives us to read and read again, all the reasons why we say ´I like reading books,´ everything that helps us immerse ourselves in the content! We like reading because it encourages our curiosity, our fantasy, our desire to know more. What’s more, we enjoy reading in a safe environment without any stress, pressure or assignments.

Reading for pleasure in ELT is invaluable for developing communicative competence. With the proper material it improves students´speaking and writing skills, social skills, cognitive and pragmatic skills, and much more. Furthermore, students build a positive attitude towards language and develop their critical thinking and creativity.

How can you encourage students to read for pleasure?

My idea of how to incorporate this into the school syllabus is to establish a readers club.

It offers students the chance to spend their free time with a good book, reading in English.

What can students do in a reading club?

  • Cocktail reading: illustrations, segmented text, reading aloud, silent reading, key words in bold, dramatized audio recordings – all these features help readers grasp the content of the text. They understand better, they imagine the scene and predict the text, they experience the feelings of the characters. Graded readers eliminate barriers and provide high quality language input.
  • Chain game: What is… the most interesting information you have read today?/the nicest thing XX did in this story?/What have you learned from this book?/What do you think about …? Asking for personal opinion capitalizes on students´engagement. Everyone is involved and practices expressing an opinion.
  • Quiz exchange: groups read different chapters of a book and prepare a quiz about the content. Then they swap chapters, read the text and complete the quiz . Students always learn something new and get practice in teamwork.
  • Activity time: graded readers usually contain fun activities focusing on content and vocabulary. Students can develop their critical thinking through activities like: true and false, answer the questions, complete the sentences, label the picture etc. They work intensively with the information from the text.
  • Real projects: This is good practice in interpreting the text. Students make projects using surveys, searching for the information, evaluating collected data, etc. Projects can take many different forms: poster, presentation, art work, picture book, school play.
  • Tricky cards: After reading a few books in club, students prepare a set of tricky cards with indications for others to guess which book it is. Names, dates, numbers and places shouldn´t be included – just to make it a bit more challenging!

I know that their attitude might be: ´Why should I stay at school for longer than I have to?´… ´It´ll be a drag. I can´t be bothered sitting and reading for the whole lesson.´… ´What for?´. So – how do we get over these objections and encourage students to give up their free time for reading?

Here are some tips for a readers club that can attract them:

1) Make sure the content is appealing

Good texts are essential – they need to be comprehensible but still challenging enough to make students work to understand them. Graded readers, such as Oxford’s Dominoes series, are perfect for maintaining a reading library that is appropriate for many levels. And it‘s important for club members to read real books, not photocopies, to give them a real sense of achievement and satisfaction.

2) Membership privilege

Members of the readers club will most likely   improve their English. This should be taken into account in the end-of-term evaluation by giving them a wildcard: a privilege to give a presentation on what they have read or created in the club.

3) Membership badge with a logo

Wearing the badge at school or on special occasions could provide the members with  sense of prestige for working harder than others.

4) Reading club council

Set up positions of responsibility for the members – e.g. chair – the teacher; custodian – a member responsible for the room and keys; secretary – a member responsible for keeping on the club rules, checking attendance, librarian; interlocutor – responsible for publishing info about club activities for the school.

5) Motivation for high achievements

Word count – a long-term competition for the highest  number of the words read in the books; read books grid with members´ names – for entering the titles of the books being read, reward – e.g. a voucher for choosing a book in a local bookshop.


Have you set up a reading club at your school? If so, how do you keep it interesting? What reading materials do you use? Share your experiences in the comments below.


Eva Balážová, an ELT Consultant for Oxford University Press in Slovakia, highlights the importance of encouraging students to enjoy reading in English as a way of improving their communicative competence.

Bookmark and Share


1 Comment

Projects should be creative, collaborative, challenging and fun!

Teacher and students at computerOlha Madylus, a teacher and teacher trainer specialising in both primary and secondary education, shares her thoughts on what makes a great class project.

I visit a lot of classrooms around the world and teachers proudly point out posters on the walls and say “look at my students’ projects.”

Although the work looks very nice, I would argue that it isn’t a project. This work is usually a piece of writing with a picture. What worries me is that the text often seems to be directly copied, or merely cut and pasted, from the internet.

Such work may have some merits (encouraging students to look things up on the internet and designing the final product) but I have two main worries about it. One is that students should be discouraged from what is, in fact, plagiarism and, for me most importantly, that students aren’t getting involved in the challenges and satisfaction of what a full-blown project consists of – it’s not very interesting for them!

The important characteristics of a project are:

They are collaborative – a group of students work together to produce a final product.

By working together students share ideas, divide up responsibilities (depending on what they like to do or are good at), and learn crucial lessons about respecting each others’ opinions and finding a good compromise. They also discover talents in themselves and in their friends.

The final product is important and can be extremely varied, ranging from interviews, to songs, to magazines, to drama.

Choosing how they will present their ideas in the final product is a major part of the project. If it is a PowerPoint presentation or a video drama, these need different types of organisation, materials, and perhaps help from their teacher.

Because the final product can be so varied, the language skills involved are not limited.

Ideally students will have lots of opportunities to use the English language in different ways that are meaningful to them. At lower levels they may not use English to discuss the projects, but they will still be discussing what English they need to get the job done.

Other skills like design, acting, directing, negotiation are involved

And this is where a lot of the challenge (and fun) lies – in putting it all together.

Take a look at this example of a project a class in Serbia created, with the help of their teacher. Notice, although the project is based on one piece of grammar – the conditional – how:

  • it obviously needed lots of planning and collaboration
  • all the students are involved
  • language is used to make meaning in a fun way
  • all the students are enjoying themselves
  • the final product – the video – can be shared and enjoyed by the class and others

Take part in our Engage 2nd edition Project Competition using these tips and you could win a video camera for your school. Competition closes 11th November 2011.

Bookmark and Share