Tag Archives: TESOL Convention 2015

TESOL Convention 2015: ‘A commonly overlooked aspect of teaching verb tenses’ by Cynthia Zocca De Roma and Jelena Runić


In this report from the TESOL 2015 Convention that took place two weeks ago, I’ll summarise the presentation given by Cynthia Zocca De Roma and Jelena Runić. For more reports from the TESOL 2015 convention, click on this link.

The aims of Cynthia’s and Jelena’s presentation were to show the participants that:

  1. we’re more familiar with the lexical aspect then you think
  2. lexical aspect is only mentioned in grammar books in passing, but should be talked about more explicitly in class

The speaker also pointed out what this workshop wasn’t. First, it wasn’t about Lexical Approach, which is different from lexical aspect (read my post on Lexical Approach here). It also wasn’t aimed to be a rant on textbooks.

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Finally, in the talk the presenter focused mainly on [present perfect simple (PPS) and present perfect continuous (PPC).

First, we were shown 9 example sentences which used either PPS and PPC. * means that the sentence is grammatically incorrect.

  1. I’ve eaten a sandwich
  2. I’ve been eating a sandwich
  3. I’ve worked here for 10 years
  4. I’ve been working here for 10 years
  5. *I’ve met John since 2002
  6. I’ve been friends with John since 2002
  7. I met John in 2002
  8. I was friends with John in 2002
  9. I’ve met a lot of people since I arrived in Toronto.

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In view of the above definition, we have two options to explain the difference between sentences 1 and 2, and 3 and 4, as well as 9. Option 1 is to do this on a case by case basis. However, many exceptions weaken the predictive power. Option 2 – expand the rules, which more often than not can cause more confusion.

Fortunately, there’s an easier way out, because the differences between the examples above, as well as the mistake in example 5, don’t come from a misunderstanding of tense, i.e. the grammatical aspect; but from misunderstanding the implicit meaning of each of the verbs, i.e. the lexical aspect.

First, though, what is tense and what is aspect?

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The grammatical aspect helps us locate events in time relative to a moment of reference. On the other hand, the lexical aspect:

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I agree with the presenter that while the classification of predicates might be clear for teachers and linguists, it is definitely too detailed and complicated for English language learners. As a result, a simpler division was proposed by the speaker:

  1. Stative – e.g. love, like, hate
  2. Habitual – performed habitually, e.g. live, study, teach
  3. EPISODIC – performed at specific moments, e.g. graduate, eat, start, move

Bearing the above classification in mind, we can now come back to our 9 examples to see how it can help us explain them in perhaps a simpler way than standard grammar explanations.

Using episodic verbs with PPC or PPS yields different interpretations, e.g. examples 1 and 2:

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On the other hand, using the habitual aspect with PPC and PPS doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence (examples 3 and 4).

As we saw above, explanations in grammar books of PPS and PPC can be a bit conflicting. For example, when learners encounter PPS, they’re told it’s used for actions that started in the past and continue until present. Then, when they learn PPC, they’re told exactly the same thing, which can be confusing to say the least.

On the other hand, we could try to make the lexical aspect slightly more explicit to show the learners why examples 1 and 2 are very different, whereas 3 and 4 essentially the same. Similarly, the lexical aspect helps us understand why sentence 5 is wrong, but 7 correct, i.e. because ‘to meet’ is an episodic verb, incompatible with the PPS or PPC.

Interestingly, the aspects can be different in different languages, something which wasn’t pointed out in the workshop and which I didn’t get a chance to mention in the Q&As. For example, in Spanish, French and Portuguese the verb ‘to know’ (conocer, connaitre and conhecer, respectively) can be both episodic and state verbs. This leads to students producing sentences such as:

  • *I knew John two years ago (to mean – I MET John two years ago).

Knowing this and pointing it out to students, can potentially help them improve their command of grammar. Yet another reason to learn another language, colleagues! 🙂

So taking all this into account, how can we help students notice the lexical aspect?

  1. explicitly mention lexical aspect with grammatical aspect
  2. practise classifying verbs stative vs habitual vs episodic
  3. point out the role of the verb tense and the context in constructing meaning – simplifies the description of each tense

Finally, the presenter concluded that the awareness of the links between grammatical and lexical aspect can be beneficial for students.

What do you think? Would you also use lexical aspect to explain the differences between the 9 example sentences? Or would you do this differently?

Would love to hear your comments.

TESOL Convention 2015: ‘Gamification of your language learning course’ by Steven Carruthers by


The session started with (surprise, surprise!) a game. It was a classic bingo. The presenter read numbers and whoever got five in a row first had to shout bingo. This went on for a couple of minutes before we did some reflection.

gamification 1

The motivation was definitely very high. Without realising, we were all really focused on the task. If we were students, we would have also been practising both listening and identifying the target language, which in this case was numbers. However, there was one serious drawback. The game was very teacher-centred and there was no interaction between participants, who didn’t get a chance to practise actually saying the numbers.

This was solved with a very simple tweak. We now had to turn to the person next to us and work with them. We asked each other: ‘Do you have… (e.g. 3.476)?’ If our partner had the number, we could circle it. It continued until the first person got 5 in a row.

This time, apart from very high motivation also present in the initial task, the room was buzzing with conversations. Admittedly, they weren’t the most elaborate ones, but students would have not only practised receptive, but also productive skills. If we add some functional language to the mix:

  • Sorry, I didn’t catch that.
  • Could you say that again, please?
  • Do you mean e.g. 9835?

it will make the conversations even more productive and meaningful.

But what is gamification, anyway?

It refers to the use of game design and game mechanics in non-game contexts, e.g. English class. Its aim is to guide learners towards autonomy, mastery and purpose.

One of the crucial points raised was that when we consider using games in our classes, we need to carefully analyse what the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) are, and how we can build these into the game. You can read more about SLOs here.

This is the basic route for writing SLOs Steven Carruthers suggested in his presentation:

gamification 3

Considering SLOs can help us determine what exactly we would like learners to achieve, how they should go about it and how we will know they have achieved the goals. In other words, we should think about:

  • game mechanics
  • goals
  • participation
  • obstacles
  • support
  • point structure
  • strategy
  • language level
  • achievement

Thinking carefully about SLOs can also help us give more concise and precise instructions. In the photo below, you can see how a very vague statement has been turned into a very specific one using the ABCs of SLOs:

gamification 4

So why bother gamifying your English language learning course? Well, some studies indicate that having a gamified structure in which students achieved badges for completing SLOs increased completion of modules. Also, even mundane tasks can be more engaging if gamified.

Interestingly, motivation and engagement are triggered by anticipation of achievement. That is, when we can almost see the finish line, when the goal is within our reach, we are much more likely to make that final push to reach it. However, too often we focus on the gap not the goal, i.e. this is how much you still don’t know; which is a rather negative way of looking at things and can thus be demotivating. On the other hand, if we were to focus on the outcomes, students are more likely to get there.

Finally, Steven showed us how taking SLOs into consideration, we can move away from a traditional grading system (top left hand corner) to one based on a achievable and relevant outcomes (bottom right hand corner) – he teaches academic listening skills:

gamification 5


Do you use games with your students? Do you incorporate SLOs? What does your grading strategy look like?

Would love to hear from you. And don’t forget to follow the blog on the right hand side to receive new posts regularly by email.


TESOL Convention 2015: ‘The employment issues committee – building the bridge to better employment’


One of the most interactive and interesting sessions that I attended during this year TESOL Convention focused on employment issues and problems in English language teaching. As you can imagine from some of my previous posts (e.g. ‘The TEFL blame game’) and my work with TEFL Equity Advocates, I’m quite concerned about working conditions and worker rights in our industry. Unlike IATEFL, TESOL has tried to address the concerns and problems English teachers face and has developed an Advocacy Action Centre, which you can read more about here. They also issued several position statements, opposing native speaker favouritism, among other things. So I was quite interested to see what issues would be brought up during the session.

First, we were divided into groups depending on our teaching context. I was in the EFL group together with two teachers from Japan, one from Oman and one recruiter mostly working in the Arabian peninsula. The other groups included ESL, K to 12 and those teaching in US or Canadian universities.

Each group first discussed the issues that they would like TESOL to do more advocacy on. Then we reported the points raised by each group to the others. Below I made a list of all the points that the different groups raised.

  • corporatisation trend, subcontracting to outside companies
  • task force looking at pay structure, work load, etc.
  • high tuition but low salary for teachers
  • accreditation (K to 12)
  • high stakes test hurt collaboration between teachers (K to 12)
  • high overturn
  • labour laws and traditions in different countries
  • short-term contracts
  • PhD required more and more to teach English (Japan)
  • age discrimination
  • NEST favouritism
  • being a NS treated as a qualification
  • TESOL and affiliates should do more advocacy

Apart from those, I’d personally add:

  • difficult to have foreign teaching qualifications accredited and recognised to teach in the public sector
  • often CELTA treated as more important than a BA or MA degree in English (especially if it’s from a non-English speaking country)
  • observations used as a controlling tool rather than for professional development

I will be very interested to see whether any of these points will be actually taken up by TESOL, or let alone lead to some concrete changes. Having said that, it still feels really nice that we can openly discuss and express our concerns and that TESOL takes time to organise sessions like these and listen to our little rants 🙂

What are your biggest concerns about employment and workers’ rights as an English teacher?

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TESOL Convention 2015: ‘Building bridges between online corpora and grammar textbooks’ by Ashley Hew

One of the sessions I attended on Thursday morning after the one on apps and websites for teaching pronunciation, which I described here, was about teaching grammar in EAP settings using academic corpora.

In the workshop we looked at how Michigan Corpus, or the MICUSP, can be used in EAP classes to teach grammar. MICUSP consists only of academic essays written by students at the university of Michigan. Usually there are senior or graduate students and their work has been selected based on their academic achievements. The samples contain both native and non-native English speakers work.


If we compare it to COCA then, the samples are much more limited (i.e. only students work). However, when teaching university students, this might prove to be an advantage since the answers we get will be much more focused and relevant to the students context. MICUSP is also much less complicated to use, especially for students. While MICUSP is only written English, its equivalent of spoken English is MICASE and can be found here. They’re both free to use.

All the activities that Ashley showed us during the session can be found on her blog here.

Some of the questions you might want to ask yourself when preparing activities using MICUSP are:

  • do the samples fit the grammar explanation in the book?
  • dos sts need pre-teaching vocabulary?
  • should I pre-teach any cultural references?
  • should I focus on a particular discipline (e.g. engineering) or have a wider sample?

You can narrow down the search by discipline, NS/NNS, paper type, level, textual features and student level.

Let me and Ashley know if you use any of the activities on her blog or create your own using MICUSP.

TESOL Convention 2015 – ‘Pronunciation through Practice: utilizing apps and the web’ by Amanda Yousuf-Little


One of the Electronic Village presentations I attended this morning focused on 3 apps and 2 websites we can use to help our students practise pronunciation in and outside the class. It was a 20 minutes hands-on practical talk that showed us the basic features and pros and cons of each of the apps and websites. Admittedly, I haven’t had a chance to play with these apps myself, so in writing this post I’m just relying on the notes that I took during the demo and on what I saw then. But if you have, please let me know what you think about these apps in the comments section.


All the apps are apparently only for Android devices. You can find them in the Google Play Store by clicking on the hyperlinks.

k&j app1. K&J app:

It shows you how to produce individual sounds, and gives example words with particular sounds and shows how to produce these. Some of the practice features are spotting the sound that the app says, or identifying the word that the app says

ep speak and listen2. EP Speak and Listen

This app is very good if your students are having trouble pronouncing words that they see written, which is not that uncommon if you think how terribly illogical English pronunciation is. So one of the features is that the student can type in a word they’re not sure how to say and the app will pronounce it for them. The student then can repeat the pronunciation and the app assesses the accuracy.

english pron3. English pronunciation

You can pick any sound you want to work on, and the app shows you the side view of the mouth, air flow, position of tongue, lips, etc.; taking you through the process of producing the sound. Unlike the other apps, you can choose between AmE and BE (when will apps, dictionary, course book writers and ELT in general start including Australian, Scottish, Irish and all the other native and non-native English accents??!!). You can listen to words and record your pronunciation to compare. Also, you can listen to a word and try to spell it phonetically (as you spell the app will pronounce each sound). Alternatively, the word is spelled alphabetically and you have to spell it phonetically.

pron training5. Pronunciation training

Apparently, the lessons are dull. However, the practice part is unique. You listen to a sentence and reproduce it. The app then evaluates you. It can track your accuracy and indicate where you went wrong in the sentence. There are 48 different sentences.

talk to eve6. Talk to Eve

Now this app sounds a bit scary. Basically, you interact with ‘Eve’ alias the app. You can say things to her (whatever you feel like at the moment I guess – leave it to your students’ imagination), and she’ll respond IF… Now here’s the tricky part. Eve will only respond if she understands your pronunciation. Unfortunately, the Internet was down, so we couldn’t really see how it works in practice, but apparently Eve can be quite witty in her responses too. So watch out!


Again, because of technical glitches, we weren’t able to see how the websites work, so if you’ve used them, please comment below.

http://www.lemoda.net/ – great for minimal pairs. The cool thing is it lists words by difficulty for students.

http://vocaroo.com/ – sts record themselves and send the recordings to you. These can be downloaded in different formats