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Teachers helping teachers: Find and share classroom tips, research, experiences, and stories.

Immigration in Germany: Fostering Nuanced Debate in the ELT Classroom

in Teaching

Like many western countries, Germany is becoming increasingly multicultural and diverse. Sophia Burton from Migration Matters explains how we can raise awareness about the complex reality of migration in the classroom and help students have healthy, evidence-based discussions about it.

Do you see Germany as a country of immigration? This question can be looked at through various perspectives:

  • how much diversity we (think we) see on the streets around us
  • whether political parties acknowledge immigration’s importance and create laws and policies around it
  • or even whether someone personally feels welcome as an immigrant

If we want to focus on the numbers, they can tell us the following: About 14% of Germany is foreign-born, a figure comparable to that of the United States. And over one fourth of Germany’s residents have a so-called “migration background”, a term denoting someone with at least one parent who did not receive German citizenship by birth.*

Students in Germany indisputably live in a diverse society. However, the reality of Germany as an immigration society is not systematically reflected in curricula.**

Thus, migration-related challenges and issues of diversity and identity are rarely addressed. As a result, students often have limited tools to participate in debates about diverse and inclusive societies. So how can we introduce migration as a topic in the classroom and foster healthy, nuanced discussions about it?

Migration: Go beyond pro and con…

Migration is often presented as a divisive topic with a pro vs. con framework that does not honor the complexity of the debate nor people’s far more nuanced perceptions on the topic. Very few people feel entirely “pro” or “con” about migration – they can see both benefits and challenges.

Since migration is a topic with no clear answers or solutions, we don’t need to attempt to solve the debate in every discussion. It can be more productive to acknowledge we don’t have all the answers and share different arguments around topics like integration, borders, climate change’s relationship to migration, or identity.

The tools students can learn through these kinds of open discussions can also transfer to conversations about other difficult topics.

… but keep it evidence-based

While it’s important to acknowledge various opinions and perceptions around migration to be inclusive of different views and spark discussion, it is also critical to keep the discussion evidence-based. Incorporating facts, research studies, and scientific findings is one big part of this equation. There are scholars from various disciplines who research migration from the perspectives of social science, political science, psychology, and more.

Studies and research findings alone are however often not enough to spark debate – teaching materials should have an approachable and accessible character to appeal to young people.

Incorporate a variety of  “expert” voices

Sharing multiple voices with students can make the topic of migration more approachable and accessible. Personal stories, for instance, can help capture students’ attention and draw them into the topic (Example: Our I Am European series that shares the stories of 17 young people across Europe).

video series on migration in Europe

Debates about migration and refugees are also often lacking those most affected: migrants and refugees. At Migration Matters, we believe that those with lived experience are expert voices in their own right.

Incorporating digital storytelling into the classroom

Digital storytelling can be an effective tool for building understanding and empathy when it comes to complex topics like migration. It can make evidence and research more accessible and challenge misconceptions and stereotypes. Amplifying the voices of migrants and refugees helps to encourage dialogue and the sharing of diverse perspectives.

It can be something you “import” into the classroom (Migration Matters has over 150 videos for you to pull from!) or  a task you can have students do on the topic, creating their own digital stories – even in the very basic form of a TikTok or Instagram reel – about their communities and surroundings.

Start with a bold statement, end with a question

It can be tempting to start off a discussion with a question and try to end with an answer. At Migration Matters, we tend to format our educational videos and materials in the reverse way. We start with a bold statement, either from someone on the street or an academic or migrant, and end our videos with a question. The former serves to provoke interest and kick off debate and the latter encourages reflection and further discussion.

About Migration Matters and getting involved

Migration Matters e.V. (MM) is a media NGO founded by four migrant women in 2016 in response to media coverage about the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ with the mission of helping the public navigate complex issues related to migration.

Through media productions and events, the MM team makes research, evidence, and original perspectives on migration and diversity issues accessible to the public to encourage evidence-based debate and, ultimately, to combat increasing polarization and discrimination.

Get in touch with us if you’re interested in learning more, inviting us to your classroom, or have feedback on our videos: We are currently looking for a handful of schools in Berlin for which to conduct migration-focused workshops in 2023.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like Richard’s story of teaching English for charity in the Philippines.


*Statistisches Bundesamt: Mikrozensus, 2021

** MIDEM Lehrplanstudie – Migration und Integration, 2021

Getting Help from Our New Robot Overlords – ChatGPT in the Classroom, Article 2

in Teaching/Uncategorised

Editor’s Note:

This article and this article are siblings.
They are both on the same subject – using ChatGPT (an artificial intelligence writing programme) in the classroom.

Can you guess which article the real human wrote, and which one the robots-who-will-soon enslave-us-all developed?

The answer will be published in the Newsletter!

(And here, in a while)

The prompt was:

“Please write an article about the potential of using ChatGPT in the ESL classroom, including examples of how you have used ChatGPT in the classroom; the target audience is ESL Teachers.”

and the AI wrote an article in less than a minute.

As an ESL teacher, I am always looking for new and innovative ways to engage my students and help them improve their language skills. One tool that has proven to be incredibly useful in my classroom is ChatGPT. ChatGPT is an AI-powered language model developed by OpenAI that can understand and generate human-like text. In this article, I will share my experience using ChatGPT in the ESL classroom and provide examples of how it can be used to enhance language learning.

This rather terrifying drawing was produced by Dall-E AI image generation.

Writing Practice

One way I have used ChatGPT in my classroom is to provide writing practice prompts and feedback. I have found that using ChatGPT to provide prompts helps my students improve their writing skills by encouraging them to use a wider range of vocabulary and sentence structures. Additionally, ChatGPT’s ability to provide instant feedback on grammar and syntax errors is incredibly valuable.

For example, I might give my students a prompt such as “Write a paragraph describing your favorite food.” After they complete their paragraphs, they can submit them to ChatGPT for feedback. ChatGPT will provide feedback on grammar and syntax errors, as well as suggestions for improving the language used in the paragraph.

Another by Dall-E.
Eerily similar to the nightmares of school that haunt me to this day.

Speaking Practice

Another way I have used ChatGPT in my classroom is to help my students practice their speaking skills. ChatGPT can be used to provide speaking prompts and feedback in real-time. This is particularly useful for students who are shy or nervous about speaking in front of their classmates.

For example, I might give my students a speaking prompt such as “Talk about your favorite hobby.” After they have spoken for a few minutes, they can submit their speech to ChatGPT for feedback. ChatGPT will provide feedback on pronunciation, intonation, and grammar.

Reading Practice

ChatGPT can also be used to provide reading practice materials and questions. I have found that using ChatGPT to provide reading materials and questions helps my students improve their reading comprehension skills by encouraging them to read more challenging texts.


For example, I might give my students a passage to read, followed by a set of comprehension questions. They can submit their answers to ChatGPT for feedback. ChatGPT will provide feedback on their answers, as well as suggestions for improving their comprehension skills

In conclusion

ChatGPT has enormous potential for use in the ESL classroom. As an ESL teacher, I have found that it is an incredibly useful tool for helping my students improve their language skills. Whether it is providing writing prompts and feedback, speaking prompts and feedback, or reading practice materials and questions, ChatGPT is an invaluable tool for ESL teachers looking to enhance their teaching and provide more personalized learning experiences for their students.


For a real, human-generated lesson plan, why not check out our article on dictogloss here?

Or if you still haven’t got your tech-in-ELT fix, we have an article on what we can learn from the hugely popular app, DuoLingo.

Now, I’m off to apologise to my toaster for sticking a fork in it earlier – before it gains the sentience to stick the fork in me. – Ed.


Do you like Shaun’s writing? (Or have you just read the AI’s article?!) check out his websites at…

Getting Help from Our New Robot Overlords – ChatGPT in the Classroom, Article 1

in Teaching

Editor’s Note:

This article and this article are siblings.
They are both on the same subject – using ChatGPT (an artificial intelligence writing programme) in the classroom.
Can you guess which article the real human wrote, and which one the robots-who-will-soon enslave-us-all developed?

The prompt was:

“Please write an article about the potential of using ChatGPT in the ESL classroom, including examples of how you have used ChatGPT in the classroom; the target audience is ESL Teachers.”

and the AI wrote an article in less than a minute.


ChatGPT and ESL, ESP use cases

The rise of AI technology has changed the way educators approach and deliver their subjects. Conversational AI will be no exception when it hits the classroom. ChatGPT from OpenAI, for example, is a large language model. Already, teachers can use this as a tool to improve language skills in an ESL setting. In this article, we will explore how teachers can use ChatGPT to enhance student learning and engagement.


This rather terrifying drawing was produced by Dall-E AI image generation.



Another by Dall-E.
Eerily similar to the nightmares of school that haunt me to this day.


What is ChatGPT? Explained in simple terms

​​ChatGPT is a a state-of-the-artcomputer program that can generate text based on a given prompt. It has been trained on a huge amount of data that includes conversations and language, so it can generate text in a way that resembles human writing and speech. They have trained it to generate text in a conversational tone and style. As a consequence of this, it is useful for creating chatbots and other conversational systems, where it can respond to user inputs in a natural and engaging way. In simple terms, you can think of ChatGPT as a virtual person who can carry on a conversation with you using text.

ESL Applications

Below are all specific real examples that I used in class or in preparation for students.


Write a story and get context questions from ChatGPT

I had been working on the past tense with a group of young learners. I was trying to be more imaginative, so I gave an input to write a story for 10 year olds.


The first task was then to create some context questions based on the text.

What I wanted was more in-depth, higher order thinking, so I requested more questions, using Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Explaining grammar questions with examples

First I asked the AI to create a list of common past tense verbs, focusing on irregular forms. Then I asked it create a gap fill exercise based on those words.

Create a lesson plan using ChatGPT

The more specific you can be when creating the questions, the better outcomes you get. I entered “Create a lesson plan for a 1st lesson, English for 10 year olds”:

Create lists of idioms based on your requirements

A student asked me what are some typical British idioms that might confuse. In the lesson, I was able to ask and supply the below answers in seconds.

SMART goal setting

I asked 5 SMART learning outcomes for an adult who wants to improve spoken English as a foreign language. Again, the more specific you make your request, the more useful the answer will be.

ESP Applications



I have a high level student in the pharmaceutical field that struggles with the level of acronyms used in presentations. To help with this, I started off by creating a list of acronyms in this field, with definitions. At this point, I didn’t share these with the student.

Next I asked ChatGPT to put them into a short article, in context. I read this to my student. They had to identify which acronyms were in the article, and what they stood for.

After the first readthrough, we checked and discussed those which were clear and those which needed extra work. 


Technical explanations

I was proofreading a presentation with a student and the student reported one of the measurements as (µmol m^-2 s^-1). The topic was lighting and I understood micromol per square metre per second to be more of a chemical reaction.

As you can see it a measurement for lighting so all was good.


Signposting language in presentations

When listening to a presentation from a learner, they ended their speech quite abruptly – so I advised them to always signpost the fact you are about to finish, so that everyone knows to wake up and pay attention again. 

I asked them to repeat the final section of their talk and to incorporate a couple of these endings.

Risks of using Chat GPT in the classroom

Using ChatGPT in an ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom presents several risks.

Firstly, students may become too dependent on technology for their language practice, neglecting the importance of human interaction in building their communicative skills such as non-verbal communication, intonation, and pronunciation.

Secondly, the information provided by ChatGPT may sometimes be inaccurate or outdated. Additionally, ChatGPT can only provide language exposure within the scope of its training data. This means it may not expose students to a full range of real-life language. Furthermore, the text data that developers trained ChatGPT on may contain biases, such as gender and cultural biases. Teachers may inadvertently pass these on to students.


Add, don’t replace

Therefore, it is crucial for teachers to use ChatGPT as an addition to, rather than a replacement for, traditional language teaching methods. ChatGPT can be a useful tool for language practice, but we should use it in combination with human interaction and other forms of language practice to ensure that students receive a comprehensive language education.


Another issue is the facts may not always be totally accurate.


ChatGPT also shows very heavy bias towards American English.

What do you think? How can teachers use ChatGPT as a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, traditional language teaching methods? Can teachers ensure that AI doesn’t expose students to biases in language? How do you think teachers can use ChatGPT in an ESL classroom to maximise its benefits and minimise its risks?


For a real, human-generated lesson plan, why not check out our article on dictogloss here?

Or if you still haven’t got your tech-in-ELT fix, we have an article on what we can learn from the hugely popular app, DuoLingo.

Now, I’m off to apologise to my toaster for sticking a fork in it earlier – before it gains the sentience to stick the fork in me. – Ed.

Do you like Shaun’s writing? (Or have you just read the AI’s article?!) check out his websites at…

Enhance your English Lessons with Fancy Visuals – Here’s how to Make Your Own Infographics

in Teaching

Infographics are a timely way to spice up your English lessons and intrigue your students. What’s more, they are easy and fun to create! Clare Catchpole explains how to make your own infographics and how to turn the process into a creative online class project.

As a teacher and materials writer, I’m always looking for ways to make my materials as engaging as possible, and the design tool Canva has become my best friend. Gone are the frustrations of trying to format dreary Word documents. Canva is far more intuitive to use and you can quickly put together colourful, personalised and professional looking documents, such as presentation slides, CVs, and (of course) infographics.

Sharing new skills with my students

Once I realised how simple it was to use Canva, I immediately saw the potential to utilise it in an online class project. For students, it allows them to be more creative visually with their work, and highlights the importance of presentation in getting a message across.

Why Infographics?

Infographics are a colourful and engaging way of presenting data. Background colours, graphics and a huge choice of fonts bring texts alive and make them easier to read.

Class time is precious, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that fiddling around with formatting just takes up too much time and distracts from the actual writing task. However, making it a collaborative group project means that all the decision making will be done in English. The process is just as important as the final product.

Moreover, skills in editing and presenting information are going to come in so useful for your students in future projects at school, at home and at work. In my experience, students feel a real sense of pride and achievement in creating something that looks professional.

The Project: “Make Your Own Infographic”

I devised the project for intermediate and above level students. It’s ideally suited to online teaching, but also could be used in a classroom where students have access to computers and the internet.

The objectives of the project:

• Learning basic design skills for presenting information
• Learning how to edit text from a video
• Building skills in collaboration
• Practicing the language of negotiation and decision making

The inspiration for this project came from a lesson I created on the topic of Skateboarding. It’s based on a short TED-Ed animated video and I used this to create my first infographic:

infographic skateboarding

The process of making notes from the video narration and editing it into text suitable for the infographic was interesting, and it’s a good challenge for students to try. It requires listening for the overall gist to pick out the main points, then either transcribing or paraphrasing sentences.

If you’d like to use the project with your class this this lesson could be used as a model for making an infographic using a video as the source of information.

Finding engaging content: TED-Ed Brief Histories videos

TED-Ed have made a number of animated “Brief History of…” videos available on YouTube. This will be the source of information that students will use to create their infographics. The topics are varied and quite fun. I have compiled them into a playlist:

TED-Ed Brief Histories Playlist

Each video is about five minutes long and the animation will not only help students to understand the content, but it can also inspire them when searching for appropriate images for their infographics. TED-Ed is a reliable and trusted source providing well-researched and fact-checked information.

Now over to you: A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Own Infographic

Before you download the Project resource pack (more on that later), first of all you definitely should try creating an infographic for yourself. Unless you know the students have all had experience editing with Canva, it will be necessary for you to demonstrate each stage of the project using screenshare.

Fortunately, it’s easier than you might think if you follow the steps below.

1. Subscribing and Setting Up a Canva Account

Once you’re on the Canva website, click on log in, if you’re already subscribed or if not select sign in. To subscribe to you only need to have an email address and you can use the free version.

Canva home screen

Once you’ve signed in you’ll see the home page which give various options for different documents you might want to make. Select “Infographic”.

2. Using Templates

You should see this screen with a blank infographic. On the left hand side of the screen is a panel of tools. At the top you’ll find the “template” tool. Click this and a panel of different templates will appear.

canva infographic templatesThere is a search tool where you can put in keywords for the topic you are going to write about. Once you’ve entered some keywords lots of different templates will appear.

You can then choose a template that you think will work well for your project. This will save a lot of work if you just want to create something from scratch. Once you have selected a template you can start to work on it.

3. Setting up your Infographic Project

setting up infographic

A) The tool panel includes all the formatting tools you need:

• Templates – to search different template versions for your project
• Elements – for graphics/icons (with “Canva Pro” paid version you get a much bigger choice)
• Uploads – for images/video/audio you wish to upload from your device
• Text – creates headings, subheading, box of text
• Photos – from Canva’s own selection again, there’s a bigger choice with “Canva Pro”
• Background – select colours/patterns/shapes for the background
• Embed – you can embed videos and posts direct from YouTube, Facebook, Google Maps etc.

B) Save your infographic under a new name before you start

All the changes you make will automatically be saved, but you must give the project a name so you can easily find it again!

C) Click on the Share button

To share the project with other people, you’ll need to add their email address. This is also where you can download the final document in different formats or share it to social media.

D) It’s possible to zoom in and out of the document using this tool

So it’s easy to see the full document or work in detail on one section at a time.

4. Infographic Guidelines

You can play around with the overall design, using different background colours, fonts and graphics. Here are a few basic guidelines to follow:

Now you’ve had a go yourself, do you feel ready to share this new tool with your students?

If so, you can download this Online Creative Collaboration Project: “Make your Own Infographic” from the Express Yourself in English website.

This resource pack includes:

• A 4 x 60 minute Lesson Project + Homework (Complete lesson plan)
• Handouts include:
◦ Infographic student guide for the project
◦ Guidelines for how to make infographics
◦ “Ground Rules on Collaboration” infographic (and template version for class use)
• Language for Collaboration: Decision Making, Suggesting & Choosing – vocabulary sheet and exercises
• Final Reflections handout for the end of the project

You can download the complete resource pack as a zip file here.

Alternatively, check out Clare’s follow-up article, where she shares the complete resources plus more in-depth information on how to set up a collaborative online class project.


duolingo Logo

How an Owl Builds a Nest – What Duolingo Teaches Us about Scaffolding

in Teaching

There was a storm last night and it damaged your roof. You can’t reach the roof yourself, but there’s a giant who lives down the road. He can reach up and do the repair work for you. Sounds good, right?

Actually, it sounds pretty unlikely. What’s more likely is that nobody you know will be able to reach the roof to help you. Instead, you’ll need to call a builder. They will construct a series of platforms linked by ladders that will carry them up high enough to fix the problem.

We call that structure scaffolding.

What is Scaffolding in ELT?

In life, we often have a task to do, only to find ourselves unable to complete that task without some kind of help. The task is probably not impossible – it’s just subjectively unachievable.

Consider your students. You have asked them to do a task, and some of them (the giants in our story) get right down to it and are finished in minutes. But there will be other students who aren’t sure what they need to do, or how to do it. They need help. They need scaffolding.

But what, in ELT, is scaffolding? A good place to start is with Scott Thornbury. In his A-Z, Thornbury makes the point that scaffolding “has become such a buzz term that it’s starting to lose all significance.” He’s probably right, but if we get in a bit closer we can see that there is still value to the term.

Let’s break the idea of scaffolding into two kinds. 

The first is what we might call macro scaffolding, which is what Thornbury discusses in most detail. We can think of this as the kind of help we need to offer our students so that they can finish the lesson with a productive task that they could not have managed at the start of that lesson. Scaffolding in that case is synonymous with good lesson planning.

In this article, I want to look at the second kind. This is micro scaffolding, the kind of help that our students need to accomplish smaller tasks. For examples of micro scaffolding I’m going to turn to Duolingo.

What is Duolingo?

Duolingo is a language learning app. It’s been around for about a decade and has millions of users around the world. It’s a self-study platform, which might make it seem an unlikely source of inspiration for micro scaffolding. However, the programmers at Duolingo know what they are doing. For each of the examples of scaffolding I’m going to show you now, I think there is a way for us to offer something similar in our own lessons.

One: Lexical Scaffolding

Duolingo relies on the grammar translation method. Cue eye-rolling in all teachers who subscribe to the communicative approach… except, for low level learners, there do seem to be advantages to Duolingo’s approach. At the very least, it works for me.

In a typical lesson on Duolingo you will be supplied with a series of sentences to translate. In theory, this is simple enough. But what can you do when you forget what a particular word is?

That’s when Duolingo offers scaffolding to help you. You can hover the mouse over the troublesome word, and a translation will present itself.


A picture of a DuoLingo exercise. Beneath the German word 'Wetter', a pop-up shows the English translation 'weather'.

This is the best kind of micro scaffolding. It is unobtrusive, helpful, and builds both confidence and ability.

How do we adapt this to our own teaching? Forgetting individual words – even if only temporarily – is one of the key issues faced by students in our lessons. The solution is surprisingly basic: allow them to ask for help.

Basic, yes, but the idea is less simple than I’ve made it sound. Many students will feel embarrassed about asking for help with a single word. Some will have had lessons in an environment – probably at school – where it was either not possible to ask for this kind of help, or requests for help were stigmatised.

In our lessons, we should do two things. 

First, remove the stigma. Always be ready to help, even with the language we spent the last four lessons looking at. Learning isn’t easy, and takes time. The teacher’s impatience is not going to speed things up. 

Second, provide the language around the request: “I’m sorry, but I’ve forgotten what … means” could be posted on the wall along with other common classroom language items.

Two: Adjusting the Challenge

Sticking with that same kind of exercise, there’s another subtle piece of scaffolding that Duolingo offers that I think we can adapt for our own teaching.

Here’s the task:

A Duolingo exercise, asking the user to input text by typing. At the bottom is a button with the words 'Use Word Bank'

I haven’t studied German on Duolingo for quite some time. This review activity is going to be too hard for me. I’m sure the words I need are on the tip of my tongue but faced with this blank text box I just can’t bring them to the surface.

Fortunately, I can use the option at the bottom of the screen to switch the task.

The same Duolingo task as before, but now instead of typing, the user is presented with a selection of words to click on.

Ah, it’s all coming back to me! Now I can attempt the task – it has become achievable, though it still presents at least a modicum of challenge.

This kind of micro scaffolding is perfectly suited to online self-study platforms like Duolingo – so what can we do in our own lessons?

There are a lot of resource generators out there. I use the Missing Word template on Wordwall, an affordable platform for online teachers, because it lets me make tasks that are scaffolded in a similar way to Duolingo’s.

Here’s the result:

A Wordwall exercise, with a similar input mechanism as the second Duolingo exercise above - the user must select the correct word to fill in a blank in a sentence.

Our students can then work through the exercise at their own pace, and perhaps afterwards they will share the screen to show off their answers. I like to ask my students to explain each answer. This takes the translation methodology of Duolingo and moves it towards the more communicative end of the spectrum.

Three: Empowering Listening

Most of us approach listening tasks in the way we were taught – listen for gist, then listen again for detail. This might seem like a strange system. In the real world, we listen once – if we ask for a repeat, it will likely sound very different. The classroom is not the real world – it is worth remembering that. If a student needs to hear something more than once or twice, why can’t they? [For examples of English in the real world, check out our interview with the Easy English team! – Ed.]

Duolingo lets its students listen as often as they like. They offer a much more scaffolded approach to listening, as you can see in this next image.

Another Duolingo exercise, this time with the words 'Tap what you here', a selection of words to choose from, and two big buttons - one showing a loudspeaker, and a smaller, similar picture showing a talking tortoise. A talktoise, perhaps.

Notice the controls. The first allows you to listen to the sentence again. The student is not penalised for listening as many times as they need. If you can do the task on the first listen, that’s great. But it won’t always happen. Sometimes you need to listen twice. When I was studying Spanish, I sometimes needed to listen four or five times to be sure I had the right answer.

That’s not all, though. Notice the second control, which looks like a shouting turtle. This control slows the recording down. This can be a crucial piece of scaffolding, because there are times when the learner will not know if they’ve heard one word or two. Slowing it down makes all the difference.

We can offer the same kind of support to our students, especially if we teach online. Since there are two kinds of support here, there are two things we can do – but we only need to do one thing to make them both happen.

When we attempt listening tasks with our lower level learners, we ought to give them control of playback. We can do this by sharing the file with them, depending on copyright limitations. Or we can record ourselves making new listening texts, and upload the files to YouTube. 

Why YouTube? Two reasons: firstly, we don’t have to worry about emailing the file to our students, as we can just send them the link. And secondly, YouTube has playback speed controls built into the system, which means that our students can decide how quickly or slowly they wish to proceed through the text. This gives them Duolingo’s turtle option.

The playback speed function can be found by clicking on the cogwheel during playback of the video – look at the screenshot of YouTube below.

A still from a YouTube video showing the author holding a cute toy fox. A menu is open in the YouTube player showing a variety of different playback speeds to choose from, in case you need a slower speed to be sure what the fox says.

You might have noticed that so far in this article, I’ve said nothing about showing the listening transcript to our students as a form of scaffolding. Personally, I wouldn’t count this as an example of scaffolding. The idea, remember, is to make a task more achievable. It isn’t about changing the task, and using the transcript suggests a change of activity from listening to reading. If you use the transcript to highlight how features of pronunciation work, I’m totally on your side. I think it’s a very powerful form of teaching. But it is precisely that – teaching. Not scaffolding.

Four: Picture Perfect

We all know that pictures work well as lead-ins to a reading or listening text.

But the smart use of images also helps to scaffold a task, as it does in this exercise on the Spanish course:

Another Duolingo picture, this time with a gapfill activity. Next to the activity is a small cartoon of two people hiking.

The picture can easily be ignored, but it is there to ground the sentence in a specific context. It makes the selection of the right answer more obvious.

I’ve had whole classes struggle with simple tasks because I had failed to ground the tasks in a context. Without context our brain struggles to find a starting point. So how can we adapt this form of scaffolding without making a lot of work for ourselves?

We can start by drawing simple pictures – as a vocabulary review, a grammar lead-in, or to develop our target lexis.

The picture below probably doesn’t look like much, but it was key to the success of my lesson with a football coach in Italy. We would have survived without the picture, but to discuss the different positions on the football pitch – and to then talk about the movement of those players – it really helped to have a visual to refer to.

A crude sketch of a football pitch, showing player positions and movements. Not to be rude, but it's hardly a Da Vinci.

The benefit of doing this on Zoom is that the image can be edited by both the teacher and the student. It becomes a kind of collaborative scaffolding. The idea was to make the discussion task more achievable for the student. But soon it became more than that – as any good image can.


We’ve looked at four things that Duolingo does so that learners can achieve the tasks that it sets. Each of these examples of micro scaffolding can make our own lessons work just a little bit better, and can help our students to develop their language skills.

Don’t look down on Duolingo. You might fear the owl lurking in your inbox, but we can learn from it. If we do, our students will be grateful, and most importantly – they will keep coming back to us for their lessons.

[And, for more information about learning strategies, check out our article on Listening and Speaking Exam Strategies by Greg Wagstaff. -Ed., again]

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