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Technology & TEFL

This section contains articles about CALL – Computer Assisted Language Learning. From specific CALL activities, to information on CALL in general, to useful software available for the classroom. Finally there are articles slightly more general in nature about teachers and technology – using social media sites like Facebook, for example and the pitfalls for teachers.

A Word A Day

A Word A Day is a simple daily email which anyone can sign up to which sends out a word and definition each day which is useful to help enrich and enlarge vocabulary.

For TEFL teachers it is ideal; with students it is perhaps better suited to advanced learners.

The email is sent out to over 600,000 people daily and consists of

the word…

Action Mazes in TEFL

In an Action Maze students are put in a difficult situation and they need to decide what to do next. Often they’ll be given a few options to choose from.

As a result of their choice, the students are then faced with the next situation in the story and with other sets of options to choose from. Working through this branching tree is like negotiating a maze…

AntConc‏‎ (CALL Software)

AntConc is a freeware concordancer and is very useful for searching through large swathes of texts to look for patterns of usage and so on.

As an example, the screenshot on the right shows a concordance search for the word, word. The program has searched through a number of corpora (collections of texts) and displays where the word word has occurred in context (known as KWIC or KeyWord in…

Audacity – sound recording software

Audacity is a piece of freeware software which you can use to record audio. This can later be incorporated into a Podcast or used as a simple audio file for playing in class or mixing with other media.

This article explains how to get the software, install it on your computer and then make a first recording.
First visit the Audacity Download Page and select the right…

Authoring for Computer Assisted Language Learning

Authoring is the term used to describe the ability to change the content in a CALL computer program.

For example, some off-the-shelf CALL programs come supplied with a bank of questions in English. However, these may not quite be suitable for a class in terms of level and content.

An authorable program, however, will allow the teacher to write their own questions and set different levels, etc. These questions…

Banned Commercial (TEFAL)‏‎

The following commercial was apparently banned for the taboo language it used: Banned Commercials – Learn English 

Don’t listen if you’re easily shocked.

The commercial was made for the Soesman Language Institute and entitled, A Day Trip. It features a middle aged couple and their children going away in a car and listening to the radio. They sing along to a song, unaware of its meaning.

It was designed…

CALL‏‎ – Computer Assisted Language Learning

CALL or Computer Assisted Language Learning is using computers in the classroom to facilitate learning. In general, CALL is used as an adjunct to traditional teaching rather than a replacement (much like video has been used in the past). While in the past CALL was usually just about using a computer program in the classroom so that students could practice repetitive tasks like filling in blank spaces with the right…

Chatroom Lesson‏‎ for your TEFL Class

The following is a basic chatroom lesson you can use with your CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) class. Ideally this is best with a class who all know each other fairly well. Preparation First off, prepare a list with all the names of the students in the class. Then, before the students arrive, set up a private chatroom (see Instant Messaging & Chatrooms for English Teaching‏‎ on how to do…

Computational Linguistics

At its simplest, Computational Linguistics (or CL) is all about trying to create a computer which uses language in the same way as a human does. The Holy Grail would be a human having a conversation with a computer but thinking they were talking to a another human.

But this is just the tip of a giant linguistic dark continent which has never been fully mapped and since it…


A concordancer is a computer program which examines a large collection of texts and then retrieves examples matching a particular search string. This is known as KWIC or keyword in context.

They are particularly useful for working out patterns and examples of language usage and can be used very effectively in the classroom. To take a simple example, do we say that we fill out or fill in a…

Corpus (pl Corpora) and TEFL

A Corpus (plural Corpora) is a large collection of written texts which are used in computational linguistics for analysis of the way language is used. They are most often analyzed using a concordancer‏‎.
Types of Corpora
A corpus can be one or more of the following:

general texts
texts on a specific subject or genre e.g. scientific papers, Shakespeare plays only…

Crossword Compiler‏‎s in English Language Teaching

A Crossword Compiler is a program which allows you to produce crosswords for the class – or have your students produce them for each other. There are a number on the market which include features such as: alternative layouts easy printing and/or publishing automatic grid filling In using crossword compilers the important thing to remember is to make them suitable for the level of the class you are teaching. First…

Dropbox for TEFL Teachers

Dropbox is a simple – and free – method of keeping your files up to date between your computer, laptop and smartphone.

It’s incredibly useful for English teachers (amongst others) in many ways, not least because it means you can work on materials at home and have them instantly available in the classroom or any other location for that matter.

It also syncs your work so…

Email in the TEFL/TESOL Classroom‏‎

I’m an online English teacher here’s an idea I’m experimenting with. I’ve got 3 online students I teach. One is in China, the second in Poland‏‎ and the third in Italy. Until last week they’d never even heard about each other, they’d just dealt with me online (sending emails, having Skype chats and so on) and then I read a post on a forum about email communication between students. That got…

English Teachers – the series‏‎ (TEFAL)

English Teachers – the series, is a fictional webseries about the lives of English teachers in a language school in Japan. The first episode aired in September 2010.

It is directed and produced by Anthony Gilmore who teaches English part-time at the Nagoya University of Foreign Studies in Japan and has also worked at language schools in Japan and South Korea.

Note: although the first season is still…

ESLdrama – Using Video Drama in the Classroom

ESLdrama is a brand new web series produced especially for learners of English.It’s stylish, clever and well produced. I watched the first episode earlier and found it completely engaging. Then I spoke to Sean James Sutton, the director of the series, to find out more…

Jenny – Sean, why produce a series like this? Surely there are plenty of video resources for ESL learners already?

Sean – The…

ESLdrama Web Series

ESLdrama is a web series (a drama for ESL students) designed specifically for learners of English.

It is essentially a soap opera built around the lives of half a dozen or characters. Each episode features several short scenes and the language used is basic. It has been designed to be both entertaining and also useful for all levels of classes from beginners‏‎ to advanced.

The video is the…

Facebook for TEFL Teachers

The chances are that you have a Facebook account and there is more than a fair chance that some of your students do too.

But this raises a number of questions and if you get the answer wrong, it can sometimes have dire consequences.

Do I become “friends” with my students?
Can I post photos of me on holiday?
How can I tell…

Hot Potatoes‏‎ (CALL Software)

Hot Potatoes is a suite of 6 applications which allow a user to create interactive multiple-choice, short-answer, jumbled-sentence, crossword, matching/ordering and gap-fill exercises for the internet. The software has recently been made freeware. The suite consists of the following programs: JQuiz (question-based exercises) JCloze (gapfill exercises) JMatch (matching exercises) JMix (jumble exercises) JCross (crosswords) The Masher (buildling linked units of material There is also Quandary which creates Action Mazes…

Illustrate: The Video Dictionary – app review

Essentially Illustrate – The Video Dictionary is a dictionary. But it does things slightly differently.
After you look up a word you have the option to watch a short animated video.
Let’s say you look up the word POUT. You see an explanation and there’s also the option to watch an animated video which helps illustrate the word: up pops Dad explaining to his daughter that he has to cancel their appointment…

Instant Messaging & Chatrooms for English Teaching‏‎

Instant Messaging (also IM or Chat) and Chatrooms are a way of sending messages online and having a real-time text conversation. Instant Messaging is usually one-to-one while Chatrooms are usually with large groups of people. For the TEFL teacher, the goal of IM/Chat is to have your students interact with other students from different locations and cultures. It is, if you like, an update on the penpal system. It offers…

Internet Trivia‏‎ Activty for TEFL

Internet Trivia is an interesting and useful CALL‏‎ (Computer Assisted Language Learning) teaching activity which gives your students different kinds of practice in the different reading‏‎ skills found in TEFL‏‎: scanning skimming (reading for gist) reading for detail The idea behind this activity is for your students to firstly get practice scanning a text, that is quickly glancing over a text to see if it is useful to them. They then…

IPA Decode!‏‎

IPA Decode is a great game to play with the class which helps them understand and use the IPA or International Phonetic Alphabet.

It can be used with a reasonably proficient class who are familiar with the IPA already and who would benefit from a little more practice.
Firstly take a text of an appropriate level to the class and transcribe it into the IPA.

If this sounds…

IPA Transcription

There are a number of programs and websites now which allow you to transcribe normal text into the IPA – International Phonetic Alphabet. These usually have options for for both British English and American English‏‎. Transcribing Text Essentially you type a text into the program, click a button and each of the words is looked up in the appropriate database (AmE or BrE) and then “converted” to phonetic text. The screenshot shows…


Lingro is a useful online tool allowing language students (and teachers) to read a webpage with immediate access to dictionary definitions of unknown words. For example, this is a screen shot of a TWW page after a number of words have been clicked on using Lingro. In this case it shows words from English to Italian. In this case above, you can click on anyword on the page and see…

MemoryLifter‏‎ (CALL Software)

MemoryLifter is a freeware program which displays flashcards. Although it’s not specifically for English, there are English modules and you can create your own set of materials for your students allowing them to study and learn the items appropriate for their level and needs. The program can use not only standard text flashcards but also images and sounds to enhance, speed up and improve learning. Free flashcard sets for English…

n-grams and TEFL

In the fields of computational linguistics an n-gram is a sequence of items from a corpus‏‎ of language.

An n-gram could be any combination of letters, phoneme‏s, syllable‏‎s or words‏‎, etc. Looking at n-grams is useful to help work out how language works and is used in everyday situations.

Google Books offers an n-gram search online. This allows users to see how a word, etc, is used. It…

OHPs or Overhead Projectors

OHP stands for Overhead Projector. This is a device for displaying a page from a book or a transparency enlarged on a wall for all the class to see. These days it has largely been replaced by interactive whiteboard‏‎s although many schools still employ their use, especially in less developed countries.

Overall the OHP is a good teaching tool but it needs to be used well, and…

Podcasts‏‎ in Teaching English

A Podcast is a series of audio or video files distributed over the internet (in the same way as a broadcast in traditional media). Podcasts can be accessed either live or transferred onto a local PC or iPod to access later. Podcasts in Education Podcasts can be integrated into your classroom to complement instruction. The flexibility and portability that podcasts offer make podcasting a valuable educational tool for both teachers…

Price Comparison‏‎ (CALL Activity)

Price Comparison is a simple activity designed for all levels‏‎ of class from beginners‏‎ to advanced and from General English‏‎ to Business English‏‎, teenagers to adults. It can be used to practice skimming‏‎ as well as reading for specifics. Best done as a CALL‏‎ activity, it can also be adapted for a normal classroom (see below). Preparation Your class are going to find comparative prices for a range of products. The…

Quick Edit‏‎

Quick Edit is a simple CALL‏‎ activity which lets students work together in writing texts. It helps with critical reading and also allows peer checking which means grammar, spelling and vocabulary checks. Essentially it is a form of Peer Correction. Note that although this is presented as a CALL activity, with very little change you can use it in a class without computers! Requirements Each student will need to have their…

Rosetta Stone (CALL Software)

Rosetta Stone is the name of proprietary piece of software for language learning. The name comes from the Rosetta Stone, a large carved stone from Ancient Egypt‏‎ with a single text in 3 languages which was used as an aid to translation.

The principle of the Rosetta Stone software is the Audio-Lingual Method, that is using set phrases over and over again until they are drilled into the brain…

Strange English (TEFAL)‏‎

Strange English is a collection of statements about English which deserve more thinking about. If you take an Oriental person and spin him around several times, does he become disoriented? If people from Poland are called “Poles,” why aren’t people from Holland called “Holes?” Do infants enjoy infancy as much as adults enjoy adultery? If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled? Why is the man who invests all…

Stripes – Basic English (TEFAL)‏‎

Can we teach like this?

Of course not because we’re mere mortals. But Harold Ramis in the 1981 film classic, Stripes, can.
Stripes – Basic English
The film opens with Russell Ziskey (played by Harold Ramis) teaching a brand new class to speak English when he himself has never taught before. (In actual fact, Ramis, an English Lit graduate, was a substitute teacher in Chicago during the late 1960s.)…

TEFL Jokes (TEFAL)‏‎

Although there are jokes we can use in the class to drive home a language point and make the lesson more engaging, these are jokes about teachers and students in general and especially about the English language and the way we use it.

Some of them are terrible and will get a good groan. Others are a little better. The good ones are sometimes attributed (where we know)…

TEFL Teaching English Online

Teaching English Online or Virtual English Teaching is a growing business. Essentially it means teaching students – usually 1-to-1‏‎ – from your own home and thus bypassing a school. With the advent of new technology and the prevalence of broadband internet (allowing audio/visual communication) it is gaining ground on traditional methods of teaching.

This article explains exactly how to teach English online.

Some of the features of…

TEFL to Blind & Visually Impaired Students

This article looks at a few ideas you should bear in mind if you have blind or visually impaired students in your TEFL class.

Over the years we at ICAL TEFL have had a number of blind and visually impaired teacher trainees taking our course and we have worked with them in preparing material and instruction based on their individual needs. We have also had sighted teacher…

Television from Back Home for TEFL Teachers Abroad

Sometimes living in a foreign country can be lonely but one way to keep in touch with home and get a little light relief is to watch On Demand Television (or Catch Up Television) on your computer. It’s the perfect way to keep up with current affairs back home as well as your favorite television shows while you’re living and teaching on the other side of the world…

TextSTAT‏‎ (CALL Software)

TextSTAT is a simple text analysis program. The first step is to make a corpus. This can be done by adding files from a PC in HTML, TXT and WORD format, etc. In addition, there is also the ability to add in web pages using a spider to collect them from a particular site. The program can then do word frequency searches and concordances. It is fast and simple to…

This Will Revolutionize Teaching

For years they’ve been telling us that new technology will revolutionize teaching.

First it was film. Then radio. Then TV. Then video. Then computers. Then MOOCs…

And they were wrong. Wrong every time. Wrong all the time.

In this insightful video from Derek Muller he explains that the reason why all these ideas failed was simple: they got the role of a teacher wrong.

You see…

Tips on Using Blackboards & Whiteboards

Here are a few quick tips for TEFL teachers on using your blackboard or whiteboard or interactive whiteboard in class.
Face the Class‏‎
Don’t stand with your back to the class!

Doing this is an opportunity for them to tune out and start talking.

While you are writing on the board, stand at an angle so that the class will see your face while you talk…

Vowels to Bosnia (TEFAL)‏‎

During the war in the Balkans (1992-1995), much was made of the spelling and pronunciation of placenames in Serbia and so on. This satirical news item was popular at the time. {AF}Before an emergency joint session of Congress yesterday, President Clinton announced US plans to deploy over 75,000 vowels to the war-torn region of Bosnia. The deployment, the largest of its kind in American history, will provide the region with…

What Students Say (TEFAL)‏‎

The following gems were picked up over the years by English teachers around the world.

The interesting thing is that if you look at them, often they make profound sense in a strange way. Comments like When I grow up I’d like to be a kindergardener do somehow ring true.

Anyway, if you have any bloopers of your own you’d like to share, please do get in touch and either…

What Teachers Say (TEFAL)‏‎

Teachers mess up as well. Many of us have spent time teaching in a foreign country and grappling with the problems of the local language. Here are a few problems which arise:   A class were playing a word game where they had to explain a word to the rest of the class. The teacher gave an Italian student the word tramp. As the student did not know what the…

Why MOOCs Fail

A recent article in the New York Times has highlighted a number of disturbing statistics that shake the current craze for those free online educational courses known as MOOCs.

Basically put, an appalling number of students are dropping out. MOOCs are being abandoned in droves. But why is this happening and how can it be reversed?

about 50% of MOOC students don’t look at any material…

WordWeb (CALL Software)

WordWeb is an extremely useful piece of freeware dictionary and thesaurus software.

It installs on your Windows PC or as an Android App (however, it’s not available for Macs) and runs in the background. Then, each time you want the definition or the spelling of a word, a simple hotkey combination will bring up the software and give you the answer.

It can also look up words from…

You know you’re a TEFL teacher when… (TEFAL)‏‎

You know you’re a TEFL teacher when… …you watch Eastenders and want to correct their pronunciation and grammar. …you think it’s perfectly fine to say close the light. …you meet the parents and understand immediately why the child is the way it is. …you want to correct the apostrophes outside greengrocers’ shops. …you want to laminate your birth certificate, your shopping list, post-it notes and any other random piece of…