English Advantage Test Blog

All ELT, All the Time

Teaching Basic Computer Literacy Handout

Typing NinjaMy first webinar on teaching typing and basic word processing skills was a lot of fun! It seems like people enjoyed it. I think the take away was anything, even word processing, can be fun if you make it a race or a challenge. Also, every country has its own keyboard layout, not to mention alphabet, so there’s no shame in being a hunt-and-peck typer in another language!

If you want to check out the websites and model activities that I talked about, here’s my handout: What’s_a_Word_Processor_Teacher.

I also have some other resources I’ve discussed on teaching typing and text-formatting and word processing. These might be repetitive, but check them out:

  • A post on Microsoft’s fun game that has poor Clippy looking for new work and students exploring Office 2010 in a very independent and creative way: Ribbon Hero
  • More ways to teach Word Processing, with a lot of overlap from my handout.
  • A webquest which is better at teaching Google-fu (or Internet skills) but takes some basic typing as well.
  • And some ideas for interactive writing including using Twine, which is a wicked fun program!


Feel free to check back in and let me know how you used or adapted these activities in your classroom or with your students.


What's a Word Processor, Teacher?


Come check out my awesome presentation orienting students to basic skills such as typing and text-formatting. Not all our students grew up as wired and even students who are great on computers in their own languages get bogged down by the American keyboard and shortcut keysYou can’t get students excited about blogging and making wikis if it still takes them ten minutes to find the letter A. If you’ve got 25 minutes, I’ll introduce some of the websites and activities I do with students.

These are all things I’ve done in computer labs and let students do independently, too: What’s a Word Processor, Teacher?

World Clock: Sun 12pm GMT, 1pm London, 2pm Paris, 9pm Tokyo, 8am New York


While technology has opened up new worlds of learning for ELLs, some students may be sitting down at a computer for the first time in your classroom. I’ve had students who typed essays in their email and who didn’t know that you could save documents on a computer! Before students can really take advantage of the world wide web, it’s nice for them to know how to open an attachment or bold some text. In this presentation, I will share some activities and games I use to let students learn basic computer skills such as saving and opening files, practice typing, and to teach text formatting. A lot of these skills are transferable to other programs, such as blogs and chat forums, as text formatting symbols are becoming more universal. The techniques I will present could also be adapted to teach HTML or other more complex computer skills.


I’ve taught English in Vanuatu, Kazakhstan, and Connecticut.My students have been Russian oil executives, Afghan high school students and Saudi princes. I currently write ESL materials and keep a blog at http://www.englishadvantage.info.



My guinea pig died with its legs crossed

Note that I wrote this post while trying to design a syllabus for an entire course, an enterprise that was so daunting it made me feel like a total idiot who knows nothing about teaching at all. Or an egotistical madman. In the process of some research, I found this quote that hits exactly why I sometimes find teaching a language to be such an arrogant profession:

And what, then, is communication and what are its preconditions? This is what Dakin says:

“Communication is essentially personal, the expression of personal needs, feelings, experiences and knowledge, in situations that are never quite the same. And though we may often repeat ourselves, much of our conversation about even the most mundane matters is to some degree novel. We hear or produce utterances that we have never heard or produced before in quite the same form, and which, in consequence, cannot be practised [sic]  by the teacher or previously learnt by the learner. ‘My guinea pig died with its legs crossed’ said one eight-year old girl in a tape-recorded interview. No teacher is going to present such an utterance as serious material for drilling in the classroom or laboratory.” (pages 6-7)*
Whether more than one child will ever want to talk about its guinea pig dying with its legs crossed, uncrossed, or with little boots on, is not important. Very little of what we may want to say will be this striking. But almost all of it will be equally novel. Ask a language class of six adults “What did you do last night?”. If you are seriously interested in the answer, and actually wait for it, you will find perhaps that one watched TV, the other went to a brothel, the third had a strange religious experience, the fourth had a disgusting and overpriced meal, the fifth witnessed an accident and the sixth spent the evening playing whist. It would clearly be impossible for you as the teacher to have predicted what each learner will want to say or to have given them before the language necessary in that form. So either you should never have asked the question at all, or have included in your teaching a strong element of something else.

From: The limits of functional / notional approaches

I think we’ve all had guinea pig moments where a student is trying to really communicate with us but hasn’t learned the language to go beyond “in the classroom” or “home, sweet home”. We assume we know what needs our students have. Or we say to ourselves, “OK, maybe the students want to talk about a movie, but it’s more important to teach them how to take the bus to work first,” when we ourselves live for the time we get to chat about TV with our co-workers.

To be fair, the alternative is to teach everything, which is impossible. And you could go quite mad trying to teach six adults how to talk about a TV show, a brothel, a religious experience, a bad meal, an accident and a game of whist (who plays whist anymore?) Not to mention that while you’re dealing with the one adult, the other five are going to be bored. And who is this lucky teacher with only SIX students in class?

On the other hand, I do think we have to admit that CLT has its limits and we often are not really teaching students how to communicate very profoundly. We are not THAT far away from audio-lingualism in some respects. We’ve made memorizing language chunks and scripts a lot more fun, but we haven’t necessarily always evolved beyond it.

* ‘My guinea pig died with its legs crossed’ [Julian Dakin 1973 & Robert O’Neill 1977 – Editor

Did a Notepad Block Throw Up on MyFloor?

Syllabus in the Making

Or am I making a course syllabus?

There is method to the madness. Blue is themes. Yellow is Listening Goals, Green is Speaking Goals, Light Green is Reading Goals, Orange is Writing Goals and Pink is Language/Vocab/Grammar Points. This makes it really easy to mix and match. I had way too much fun moving cards all over my floor.

You know it’s time to quit when you have only one unit unplanned. Your left over cards are: Theme:Cars”, “Grammar: Infinitive vs. Gerund”, “Language: Where is the…?”, and “Vocab: Kinds of Weather” left over. And you try to make it work.

A Reading Skills Evaluation

Here’s another reading quiz I came up with to go with Reader’s Choice, one of my favorite reading textbooks out there. The beginning chapters really emphasize four reading skills: Scanning, Skimming, Comprehension, Critical Reading.

So I devised a Reading Skills Evaluation to isolate and test all four of those skills: 

For scanning, I wrote a fake train schedule and had students look for trains in fairly realistic questions. For skimming I gave students standard pre-viewing questions, such as what is this text? What is the topic? For comprehension, I did some standard reading comp questions and then a few critical thinking questions to get them to look beyond the text and relate it to their own experience.

This was a low intermediate group so this might seem to easy for some of your students. You might want to just use this as a model. I will also add that this was the most fun test I have ever written in my life. Doing the train schedule in particular was a blast!

Also, as an extra credit question for inferring/predicting (another key skill), I sometimes write on the board:

“The man in the expensive suit got into the back seat of the Mercedes and looked at his gold watch. “Get me to the airport, right now,” he told the driver.

I ask them to write four things they know or can guess about the man that are not in the text such as:

The man is rich. The man is probably a businessman. The man is going to fly somewhere. He might be going to make an important business deal. He might be going to Dubai to do shopping.

Hope this resource is useful.

Assessing Previewing Skills

We all teach students to preview but I have never really seen a good evaluation for testing previewing. So I made one of my own. This Reading Previewing Quiz presents a newspaper article and asks students to:

  1. look at the headline and make predictions.
  2. look at a picture and make predictions.
  3. Then skim the article and answer basic comprehension questions

I would give students the first page and then take it away so they can’t update their predictions once they have the actual article. To ensure that they are really skimming, give a strict time limit on the second part.
Now because you are asking them to make predictions, grading the first part of the quiz is a bit tricky. Basically as long as they provide some kind of grounding in the headline and picture and struggle to work with the words or picture, I give them full credit.

I’m including the Reading Previewing Quiz as is in case you like it.

I’m also including the Quiz as a Word Doc so you can cut-and-paste in a more recent or less controversial article, as you see fit.

Creating Custom Style Sets in Word

As I’ve been exploring the materials writer world more and more, I’ve learned a lot about a wide range of things from task design to publishing services to textbook company expectations. One area that I haven’t seen as much information on is actual document or visual design. I think that’s something that is very important. If you’re a teacher, the design of the handouts or worksheets can help students understand the information better and it also shows that you care, that you took time to make something nice for them. If you’re putting your materials out there online, a nice design makes it look professional.

One workshop I went to, Enhance Teacher-Made Materials Through Visual Consistency, with Tammy Jones and Gabriela Kleckova was on the importance of visual consistency. In other words, all your tests should look more or less the same. All your worksheets should have similar features. And one great way to do that, if you use Microsoft Word, is to create a style set. So here’s a little tutorial on how to make your own style set and then call it up every time you make a new quiz or worksheet or whatever.

I hope that it’s a useful resource and please feel free to leave questions, comments or critiques in the comments section or shoot me an email.