Teaching Ideas

Using Word in EFL

Microsoft Word is used all over the world and is well-established as the leading word processing software, but many within English language teaching have failed to realise its potential. I would like to suggest a number of brief uses for it, many of which are found within the “Review” tab.

  1. Teach students to use spelling and grammar check beneficially. Show them that it can be over-used, but the basic function allows them to pick up on common errors.
  2. Related to this last point is the reading grade that Word assigns to a piece of text based on word length and number of words in sentences. Students can use this to evaluate their own written work or texts they are reading on the internet.
  3. Translation ScreenTip enables students to hover the pointer over a word to get a direct dictionary translation into their language. Clicking on “Translate” allows a sentence or whole text to be translated depending on its level of complexity.
  4. Thesaurus can be used in a similar way, but a more useful way to search for synonyms is to right-click on a word the student has repeated and go across to “synonyms” on the drop-down. It may also provide an antonym, but if nothing appears at all, the word may need to be reduced to its base form (by deleting the plural or 3rd person “s” for instance).
  5. For collaboration purposes, peer review, or teacher marking, the comments option can be very useful. It allows changes to be seen, tracked, and accepted or rejected.
  6. Students can be given tasks to do on their computers such as jumbled sentences, paragraphs, or even whole texts. Double-clicking on a word selects that word; triple-clicking on a paragraph selects it; and CTRL+single-click enables the selection of a single sentence.

Using Word has a lot of potential for the language teacher or student, but since it is a rather complicated program, clearly written instructions and guided practice will need to be used. Can you add to the six ideas/features listed above? Or could you suggest a good activity that could incorporate one?

Country Presentation

A typical assignment students in school receive is to present on their home country using Powerpoint. The typical results can range from the brilliant to the cringeworthy, but more often than not, this is down to an inadequate process of preparation. Some common errors include: too much text, time wasted on visuals, and insufficient speaking practice. I recently had to prepare some beginner to intermediate-level students for an exam in which they must deliver a four-minute presentation on their country, before answering audience questions. Aside from linguistic limitations, the students were technologically ignorant. Here’s how I helped them.

  1. Give students a country project planner with a breakdown of key information to include (e.g. geography, people, and culture) and space to write their ideas next to each potential slide. Help students think about what could be included and where their own ideas might fit.
  2. Have students begin by retrieving information from one or more of the following websites: www.ducksters.com/geography, simple.wikipedia.org, www.factmonster.com/country, and www.kids-world-travel-guide.com. They can also use bing or google for images.
  3. Ensure that students record their information and photos in a document first. This cuts out the concern with layout and design. It also postpones the hassle of creating slides.
  4. Both steps two and three should be modelled by the teacher, providing a computer linked to a projector can be used. (The country of the weakest student can be used as a model, so that various content can be used.) Each section of the list can be shown and then students can copy what they see. Sight problems may be a hindrance here, but the teacher can monitor progress.
  5. Any quick students have the freedom to add more content each step of the way, especially while the teacher shows computer functions such as copy+paste to others.
  6. After all the content has been collated, again model to the students how to open Powerpoint, add slides (preferably with title and text), and transfer their content from a document to individual slides.
  7. Give those who are faster in the last task the support to enable visual enhancements such as changing the theme, font, and picture properties.

Having followed these steps with a class recently, I can confirm its validity. It helped avoid the common errors I mentioned and left students with far less text than if they had created it by themselves. Furthermore, some would have failed to create anything by themselves without assistance. Instead they began to enthusiastically explain to me the different pictures in detail, which I assured them was exactly what would make their presentation more of a success. It’s worth noting that this process took three hours to complete, and we have yet to practice the actual presentations.


The video function on a phone can be used for many teaching resources. One that would be useful in a lesson following directions would be to record a regular journey you as a driver take. Put the phone in a holder on the dashboard or front window and press record. You can either have Google maps or a standard GPS giving directions which the video will hopefully pick up. Alternatively you can give the directions yourself: “Turn left. Go straight on. Take the second exit at the roundabout.”

Playing the video in class can be done in several steps and can include a print out map of the route:

  • Give students a map with a point for where directions begin and another point where they end. They must try and put together a set of directions.
  • Next students watch the video without sound and try to predict / give the directions as the video plays. Use pause to give a bit of thinking time.
  • Finally play with the sound. Students can check against their own written directions and then against the map.


Infoquest is a website that allows students to develop various research and reading skills on topics of general interest to teenagers. It is produced by Cambridge to go with their EAL series of course books called Messages and provides students with a useful source of independent activities to do in a computer lab. Some of the components of this website are:

  • A teacher’s page with guides and downloadable worksheets
  • Various web pages of the site where answers to the worksheets can be found
  • Quizzes and group tasks
  • Discussion topics
  • A dictionary with all the key vocabulary

Students from a beginner level up to intermediate can benefit from the activities. My students needed help initially to navigate the website, but before long they could work quite independently. An example of one good activity is that students have to find three cities, tourist destinations, national animals, famous people, and so on, by visiting the mini-websites about the UK, the USA, and Australia.

Lexia Core 5

I work in a secondary school in the UK teaching 11-16 year olds who speak English as an additional language (EAL). Many of them arrive in the UK as asylum seekers who need a lot of support with basic literacy before they have any chance of success in the mainstream classes. Lexia Core 5 is an online program that has proved very useful in addressing challenges with phonetics, differentiation, spelling, and reading comprehension. Designed for native students from Pre-K (reception up, there are some difficulties for absolute beginners with the vocabulary level. It would be better if they had low frequency vocabulary that could be used immediately for functional purposes. However, besides this, Lexia is a fantastic supplement to EAL and/or mainstream classes. Here are several of its winning qualities:

  • research-proven to develop these five critical reading skills: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension
  • student-driven learning with individualised learning paths that are easily accessed by teachers
  • an engaging interface that takes students on a journey around the world and functions as a game with challenges and rewards
  • scaffolding for struggling students giving explicit instruction to provide confidence and develop proficiency
  • paper-and-pencil supplementary materials including independent worksheets and materials to be used in conjunction with lesson plans that are provided

A typical week using Lexia might like this:

Session 1: Take students to the computer lab for 45-60 minutes on Lexia. The teacher should go into the administrator page to check the students’ progress and see if they have flatlined on any skill section. Such students may be more closely monitored and given hints or supplementary worksheets to allow for more help from their teacher. Meanwhile, other students are choosing which skills to work on. As a teacher, I encourage them to repeat aloud what they hear to help fix it in their long-term memory.

Outside of class evaluation: The teacher can go through the students’ results and decide which worksheets need printing or supplementary lesson plans can be used in a standard class setting. One way to do this is to print out a pack with all levels in advance or alternatively to print out the level a student has just completed on the computer in order to review/reinforce it in a normal class. Certificates can be printed for students who have completed a level. Any new students can be added and assigned to the Core 5 placement test with the option of choosing from six languages for the instructions.

Session 2: A maximum of 100 mins a week is recommended, so no more than two hour sessions are necessary on the computers. Given the amount of time to get students started on the computers, a whole hour can be assigned with follow-up worksheets or alternative computer work if the students are losing focus or getting stuck. The teacher can quickly see who is struggling as the student’s screen will flag this up even as they continue attempting that level. This second session can be similar to the first or include more supplementary materials for review.

I highly recommend this program which is produced by the renowned Rosetta Stone company. With awareness of its limitations for EAL students, teachers can easily harness its strong points and see students gaining a growing awareness of how words are built, pronounced, spelled, and spoken until at a later stage their reading grows to a level of fluency and comprehension adequate for proficiency at grade 5 (year 6).