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embrace social media in the EFL classroom
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Workshop Review: “Embracing Social Media in the EFL Classroom” – with Greg Wagstaff

in Teaching

How can we use social media and other apps to motivate, engage and interest 21st-century learners? At this year’s YLTSIG Conference, Greg Wagstaff shared some tried and tested methods for incorporating technology in the EFL classroom.

Greg kicked off his talk by stating that the average person spends 144 minutes per day on social media, which comes down to more than two hours on apps like Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. Thus, social media – and technology in general – are very much part of our everyday lives. But do our classrooms reflect this reality, and why would it matter anyway?

Tasks in real-world context

Teaching usually focuses on language acquisition, not the context in which what is learned will be used. This separation has a downside: sometimes it isn’t fathomable to students in what way the lesson will help them; and if it is, learning may still feel “clinical” and lack a sense of genuineness. As a result, learners may not be as engaged and interested as they could be.

That’s why providing the missing link between the classroom and the real world can be a game changer. Once students learn to apply something that benefits them on a daily basis, learning will feel much more meaningful and intriguing.

Greg suggested three technology-based activities that can help create a realistic atmosphere:

  1. Sending emails: Instead of practicing writing emails on paper (or in a Word document), learners can simply write real ones and send them to the teacher, themselves, fellow learners or other contacts.
  2. Making phone calls: Instead of doing a standard role play, let students call you/each other on the phone and practice speaking.
  3. Being active on social media: Learners can create posts or write comments using their own accounts. As an alternative, they can create realistic simulations of social media posts on

Seeing the immediate real-world benefit of what they do in class is guaranteed to get your learners on board and boost motivation.

Using language from real-world contexts

Besides giving tasks that feel real to your students, you can breathe life into practicing grammar and vocabulary by using “digital realia” as discussion starters.  Greg recommended the following:

  • Voice notes: These are great for practicing reported speech. Just play the note to your learners and let them repeat the message in RS. Youtube works for this, too.
  • Twitter posts: They can be used to practice the past tense (“When did (person) post tweet X, and what was it about?”).
  • Photo caches: You can let students share their photo caches to talk about their experiences, wishes for the future and regrets.

Connecting with the real world through authentic materials will make any session of yours much more relatable and interesting.

Resources through connectivity

When we communicate via social media and messenger apps, we automatically create resources. Greg showed us how to use WhatsApp chats as lesson materials. He gave us a screenshot of a conversation between two people, with one side being blanked out. We then were to guess and fill in the missing lines.

The result was a gap-fill exercise that felt realistic and engaging. The good thing about this kind of resource is that you can easily make your own and even have your students create resources themselves.


Other than for exercises, technology can be used for self-reflection. The recording function on cell phones is a great way to facilitate self- and peer assessment. It gives students a direct impression of their skill level. Having learners evaluate their pronunciation can be part of the lesson.

Just remember that perfectionism is a trap – it’s not about sounding like a native speaker with perfect RP. Learners can ask themselves:

  • Were they intelligible and fluid?
  • What was good?
  • What can be improved?

If your learners are interested, video recording can help them evaluate themselves even better. Greg suggests making space for single, pair or group work, to make sure your learners are undisturbed while recording themselves.

English outside the classroom

There are some simple things that can help students stay on track outside the classroom, and they are just a click away. Greg encourages his learners to change their phone settings to English, to
follow English channels (such as the BBC) on Youtube or Twitter or to start their own channel in English. Modern technology makes all of this as easy as can be.

Modern communication is…different

Keep in mind that technology is constantly influencing modern communication. 20 years ago, mobile phones and text messages were considered advanced technology. Nowadays, emojis, video calls, voice messages and text speak (i.e. acronyms such as IMHO, FYI, etc.) are part of everyday communication.

This also means that, depending on the age group you teach, your learners might know more about tech than you do. Greg’s advice on this is to embrace learning from your students – as an English teacher, you don’t have to be a tech expert as well, and they will enjoy sharing their knowledge with you.

Use technology wisely

Especially when teaching younger learners, using digital tools like smartphones is a double-edged sword. As a teacher, you want to reap the benefits of technology while avoiding the pitfalls: overuse and distraction. So before you start incorporating technology in your teaching, you might want to have a conversation about it.

You can tell your students that you’ll be happy to use technology for specific purposes, but that you don’t condone the excessive use of smartphones and tablets, especially when not related to your lessons. (Again, this probably depends on who you teach, but can be a sensible one-off statement, no matter the group of learners).

Final thoughts on using social media in the EFL classroom

Greg’s interactive and fun presentation made it easy to follow. It gave us a glimpse of what an interactive, social-media-infused lesson could look like. As long as we manage to stay on the ‘constructive’ side of things and use it wisely, technology is a great way to make lessons more vivid, realistic and engaging.


Greg Wagstaff is a freelance teacher trainer based in Seville, Spain, where he works for Cambridge University Press and Cambridge Assessment. He also works for the YouTube channel ‘Learn English with Cambridge’, scripting, editing, and starring in videos for English language learners. Greg’s practical talks are full of innovative tips and activities that can be implemented in class straight away. You can find him on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Mind Your Language – on Being Both a New Parent and a Language Teacher

in ELTABB/Teaching

One stereotype of teaching is that it is a busy life, buried beneath piles of lesson plans, timetables and grammar books. Swapping out these for nappies, toys and laundry, we find a not-too-dissimilar stereotype of parents… and when the two collide, we find ourselves in a very chaotic world indeed.

How does one balance the demands of teaching and parenting? The Eltabb Journal set out to investigate – and our first subject is Shaun Trezise, a new father raising a child with a very diverse linguistic heritage…

Video calling – some people are born naturals

There are many things I have done via video chat that I would have thought highly unlikely a couple of years ago. Playing quizzes with Eltabbers, teaching my university courses and leading other classes – all are directly connected to the pandemic and our responses to it. What I could never have imagined is that I would have to witness the first month of my son’s life through the same medium.

Due to a combination of factors, namely Brexit, covid and visas, I have had to take my first steps into fatherhood from 15,000km away. The hundreds of hours of online classes I have taught since March last year are no kind of preparation for meeting your first-born this way, although I take heart from the fact that he probably can’t see me too well yet. When we talk on the call, he doesn’t have too much to say – and only occasionally looks terrified to see my face beaming at him from the other side of the world.

A rose by any other name

My main task during the pregnancy was to come up with a name. I wanted something that reflected my Cornish heritage but wouldn’t be too mangled by a German or Filipino tongue. My son is going to be at least a third-culture kid and I wanted to help by not forcing him to exasperatedly explain his pronunciation his whole life. My surname will give him enough headaches! I spent most of the 9 months considering, debating and essentially focus grouping name suggestions, before checking with my wife – and her power of veto. 

Trying to consider three pretty disparate languages simultaneously, I researched historical names and read dictionaries with the aim of finding a good fit. Names beginning with J, like Jowan were considered but dismissed because of the amount of ways it could be said. No one could agree on how it should be said, even within my friends and family group. Tristan is maybe the most classical of Cornish names, but the 3 T’s, when combined with my surname, just took it over the edge of plosive acceptability. Branok is an old Cornish name that was very well liked by all of my family, and had made it through to the final stage. When my wife heard it for the first time, she started laughing and told me that’s the noise a chicken makes in Bisaya, her native language. 

When her labour started we still didn’t have a name and so I made the decision to abandon my Cornish roots and look for something that would be able to pass the veto. In the end – and believe me this is the short version – we decided on a name that had significance in Cornish (‘much loved’) and Filipino (‘king’) but wouldn’t be a hindrance to a German speaker (or any other nationality, hopefully). So in September we welcomed Hari into the world and rejoiced at the fact that we had finally found a name for him.

Bilingual bother, trilingual tribulations and quadrilingual qu… qu… erm…

I am choosing to think of this as a warm up for some of the tribulations that will come as a result of raising a multilingual child in a country that neither of his parents come from. I am an English speaker who has passable German. My wife speaks Tagalog, Bisaya, and English fluently but very little German. Hopefully he grows up as a fluent speaker of all of those and more, but it is hard to know the right way to approach it. His Lola (maternal grandma) doesn’t speak much English – whilst his Nana (paternal one) speaks only English. 

Do we need strict borders between the languages, or can we allow him to figure it out on his own? How is he going to do in school when German isn’t a language spoken well at home? Will he want to keep his linguistic connections to his forebears or will he immerse himself in German surroundings. Should we teach him or let him learn as he wishes?

All this is probably a bit too far in the future; he can’t currently hold his head up on his own, let alone converse in multiple tongues. But I am working on the assumption that if it took 9 months to choose his name, we probably need to allow a while for choosing his language.


If you liked this article on being a new parent and a teacher, head over to Part 2 with Sherri Williams here.


If you like Shaun’s writing, be sure to check out his website and business Facebook page!

English Online Training – Website

English Online Training – Facebook

Global Learning Exchange with Law Jaw – Using the Internet to Get Law Students Speaking Together

in Professional Development/Teaching

Breaking out of the online blues. Running an international exchange from your armchair… After 18 months of online teaching many students are jaded. Chances are you are too! Here’s one way to breathe life into your online classroom and remotivate you and your students.

I teach legal English at Potsdam University and for the past three semesters that’s meant teaching online, using Moodle and Zoom. Online teaching has its downsides: that’s undeniable. But it also opens up opportunities that you’ll never find in the normal classroom. I wanted to make the most of one such opportunity.

Essentially online meeting software, such as Zoom or Big Blue Button, allows far more participants to take part than the standard classroom. Also, these participants do not have to be in the same town or state or even country. With this in mind, I came up with the idea of Law Jaw.

What is a Law Jaw session?

A Law Jaw session brings together two classes of students from different countries to talk about law-related and non-law-related topics. Of course, the students needn’t be law students, but common interests help. So you could just as well run a Biology Jaw or Art History Jaw or Economics Jaw session (they just don’t rhyme!) Of course students should share a common language, in this case English.

Many of my students had been missing the chance to have conversations with new people in English due to restrictions on travel. The session gives students the chance to practise using English in an authentic situation in which they can also discuss topics related to their studies. More than this, students get to know and network with international counterparts in a low- pressure atmosphere and gain insights into one another’s legal systems and cultures.



Planning, planning, planning

The Zoom session is the focus of the exchange, but all really begins beforehand. In the week before, all students posted short profiles on a platform called Padlet. Padlet has the feel of a social media platform. It allows you to post and comment on other posts. However, the platform is self-contained and doesn’t require an account. By posting profiles and comments, students could understand more about their counterparts before the session began. The Padlet stayed online after the session so that students could continue communicating or swap contact details to stay in contact.

The core of the exchange takes place on Zoom. Students join pre-assigned breakout rooms in which they are given questions and topics to help them get to know their international counterparts and their legal systems. They take part in three twenty-minute-long discussions with different people and different sets of questions each time, separated by breaks of five-minutes.


Here’s an example of a set of questions for one of the three discussions.

1) First, introduce yourself to your partner (5 mins)

2) Answer the following question:
What differences are there in legal education between your countries? Find at least two. (5 mins)

3) Tell your partner about a topic from class or another law-related topic that you find really interesting. (10 mins)
Run out of things to talk about? Do you have any favourite TV or film actors? Which series or films do they appear in?


So far I’ve run two Law Jaw classes, one between San Andes University in Bogota and Potsdam University and another between Potsdam and Melbourne Law School.

Law Jaw Screenshot

Bogota- Potsdam- Melbourne

The Potsdam-Bogota Law Jaw, in which 70 students took part, ran (surprisingly) smoothly, in large part due to the planning that had taken place. My internet connection cut out just before the session was due to begin but I knew that Clayton, as a co-host, could take over and luckily I was able to rejoin after only a couple of minutes. The session did pick up some delays as it went on, but these could be compensated for by cutting into the five minute pauses between the discussions.

Clayton and I listened in on the conversations that took place and heard discussions of transgender rights in Colombia, the German constitution, the series House of Cards, learning online, Colombia as a fabulous holiday destination and the importance of positive female role models in the legal profession.

The session with Chantal’s group at Melbourne Law School was just as successful as the Bogota exchange although with a different dynamic. About 40 students took part and the breakout groups were smaller. The students came from a range of backgrounds, including Australia and South East Asia.

(Want to learn more about cross-cultural communication? Check out this article by Mandy Welfare! – Ed.)

Feedback and the future

The reactions from students in post-session questionnaires has been overwhelmingly positive with all saying that they’d willingly take part in another such session or recommend it to a friend. Informally, students were still telling me how much they’d enjoyed it weeks later.

One criticism was that the discussion sessions were too short, which in a way is a positive sign. Another criticism was that some groups were too large or there was a size imbalance between the two groups, which are areas of planning to be worked on.

I’m hoping to organise exchanges again with Melbourne and Bogota in the coming semester. An exchange with a university in Bhutan is also at an early planning stage. For the coming exchanges I’d like to help my students practise presentation skills and build their personal profiles before the sessions take place.

What’s in it for the teacher?

The positive feedback from students!

More than that, I found that the opportunity to collaborate with teachers you wouldn’t normally work with hugely rewarding. However, finding teachers willing to get involved was probably the most difficult part of the whole process. I took part in a big online meeting of legal skills teachers organised by the Legal Writing Institute, put myself out there, told other attendees about my idea and so met two law professors willing to give it a try.

It was through conversations with Clayton Steele from Brooklyn Law School and Chantal Morton from Melbourne Law School, that the Law Jaw developed from a basic idea into a session that can engage large groups of students from different backgrounds for ninety minutes.

Perhaps you have English teaching friends or former colleagues who work in other countries, professional organisations or institutional links that you can draw on?

But won’t somebody please think of the copyright?!

[I know what you’re thinking. “What a genius idea!  I can’t wait to steal it and hope I don’t get sued into oblivion!”. Well, dear readers, your noble editor has come to the rescue. Here is Tom’s response regarding copyright concerns:]

“I wouldn’t have any problem with other teachers using/ developing the idea. I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with such an idea to bring students together. Of course it’s nice when other teachers share their experiences of running sessions, but it’s not the end of the world if they don’t!
I only really gave the whole thing a name as a useful shorthand and a bit of fun.”

Interested and want to know more or have a similar idea and want someone to bounce it off?

Drop me an email: or
visit my website:

Teaching English to Younger Learners – When You Trade in Participles for Apples and Dinosaurs

in Teaching

With many English teachers and trainers focusing on adults and business clients, we don’t hear much about teaching younger learners. However, some challenges aside, it can be a fun and rewarding experience. Kit Flemons takes us on a little journey into the world of children’s education.

How it started…

When I was thirty, I retrained as an English teacher in order to pursue a dream of mine – but the dream wasn’t to teach, the dream was to move here, to Berlin. Teaching just seemed a convenient qualification that aligned with my interests and would provide me with a source of income (luckily, it turns out I rather enjoy this teaching lark!)

Of course, being a teacher with relatively little experience and no contacts, I knew finding work would not be easy. Instead of finding a job upon stepping onto the Schönefeld tarmac, I struck upon the idea of bringing it with me. And that is how I fell into teaching children…

Perhaps our younger members may know the same as I did – there is currently a boom in online English teaching for Chinese children. Seeking an advantage for their kids in a competitive school system, many parents are turning to companies offering online lessons with first-language English speakers. Remote learning across unimaginable distances, even before corona!


I was homeofficing before it was cool…

So… What’s teaching children actually like? I won’t go into the specifics of the learning platform (there are lots, all with different quirks), but let’s explore what teaching children in general is like.

Banana, banana, banana…

First up – can I say this? – very young kids are… erm… kinda stupid.

[See me in my office! – Ed.]

Wait! I don’t mean to insult them! They’re as smart as they possibly can be – but there’s still a certain amount of development their brain has to do before they’re capable of grasping participles and declension. They don’t even really grasp that you speak a different language to them – expect to be enthusiastically told a lot of very interesting stories, of which you might not understand a single word.

As for reading and writing? They might one day be the next Shakespeare, but right now the only thing they have in common with The Bard is making up words when they can’t find any that fit.

Yup, encountering kids, you’re going to have to transcend much more than just a language barrier.

So, start simple and repetitive –


apple apple apple

apple, apple, apple


banana, banana, banana

– and spin your simple vocabulary into a whole range of activities. During this time, you can chatter with them as you like, trying to throw in some useful words as you do. Focus on their target vocabulary – you have a lot fewer words to convey than in an adult lesson – but… remember what I said about kids having different brains? Well, they have one slightly terrifying superpower: they learn at an astonishing pace.

They said… what?!

Any parent will know how quickly, and how thoroughly, children learn a ‘bad’ word they heard once from a stranger at the other end of the bus (favourite teaching moment ever: a five-year old yelling “THAT’S BULL****” upon losing noughts-and-crosses – not part of the target vocabulary). While you’re teaching them one set of words, they will be picking up a whole dictionary more. Rusty adult brains require constant revision – young, supple minds are all-devouring.

So, teaching very young learners can be, quite literally, all fun and games after the initial culture shock – and far more rewarding than it has any right to be, with so much progress from so little input.

How many teeth does a T-Rex have?

T Rex

About 60

Of course, they don’t stay that size forever, and older-young-learners require a different teaching method again. Teenage learners Teenagers [fixed – Ed.] can be horrific; they make no secret of being bored and they make no attempt to take part when they’re not interested – and why should they? They’re often in your lesson at the behest of their parents, not of their own free will.

They also have an odd habit of often being very fluent in particular areas of interest, and much weaker in more general areas – a few weeks playing Minecraft and suddenly my student knows the names of more minerals than I do – and because they have much greater extremes of shy-outgoing than adults, their competencies can often be masked by their behaviour.

Find something that interests them, however, and you’ll see why ‘childlike curiosity’ is a collocation. Just like very young learners, teenagers are also hardwired to learn. Now, however, they want to learn about things that an adult can find interesting too. I’ve heard various people lament,

I felt so much smarter as a teenager, I knew about art, maths, science, geography and so much more!

As adults, we specialise, developing deep knowledge about particular fields.

Teenagers have a much broader depth of knowledge, and you can rediscover your love of astronomy with a lesson on the solar system, explore biology, geography, history… Learning together with teenagers can be heaps of fun! And you get to indulge your love of computer-games, Star Wars, dinosaurs, or whatever other shared interests you may have. Now that makes a break from participles!

They’re called ‘porgs’

I don’t want to teach exclusively children – I like having adult conversations, or feeding the grammar nerd within. Sometimes it can be really difficult to get a feeling for how to connect to a particular class, who don’t want to learn for the sake of learning.

Sometimes I feel that if I ever see another second of Paw Patrol I’ll turn a bit Cruella de Vil… but it must be said, some of my highlights of the week are those when I can forget about customer service, targets and team meetings and instead share cool dinosaur videos, show off home-science-experiments, or learn the names of weird little creatures from Star Wars.

I might grow old reluctantly, but I’ll happily stay immature.


Photo credit: Thales Paz

Meanwhile, in the Balkans: An Intercultural Survey on Teachers’ Satisfaction with Online Teaching

in Teaching

It’s not a secret that ELTABB, despite being based in Berlin, is an international organization. So it’s only natural to ask, “How are teachers dealing with the online classroom as our new normal in other parts of the world?” Let’s find out – with a little help from Slobodan, one of our members from Bosnia.

It’s the end of June and teachers, students, schools and semesters are all slowly winding down. In the next school year, new adventures and challenges await them all.

Now, it goes without saying that the school year 2020/2021 is probably the strangest one in modern history. What will happen in the sphere of education starting September and the new school year, is anybody’s guess. A few days ago, a friend asked me about the conditions in schools and the mood in staff rooms in my region. I told her I’d look into it – here is what I found out:

Most teachers really want to be back behind the desk.

It wouldn’t make for very good reading if I stopped there; that’s why I’ll give you the whole story…

The Online Survey

So, to find out what teachers really think and how they feel about the situation, I decided to take advantage of online networking. I made a Google forms survey with some questions about experiences of:

  1. shifting to online lessons
  2. doing short(ened) lessons
  3. returning to the classroom and so on.

It didn’t seem enough to research only how people in my country felt.

That’s why I asked for help from my online connections – teachers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia.

The Numbers Paint A Picture

After all being said and all questions being answered, this is what they think and how they feel:

  • A decent 42% of the respondents is around the golden middle concerning the need to shift to online lessons during the previous schoolyear, with roughly 25% saying their students managed it well and they tried to make the online lessons a memorable experience;
  • When it comes to the overall experience of teaching online, 10% said it was great and would do it again which is countered by 10% of respondents who said it was horrible and they wouldn’t repeat it; the rest is nested in the middle with a mild inclination toward the positive end of the scale – all in all, a positive response;
  • During the (now previous) school year, all of the respondents did shorter lessons; the great majority doing 30-minute lessons instead of 45-minute lessons;
  • Directly tied to the previous question, the majority (roughly 80%) would rather do short lessons in the future than go back to teaching their students online.

The Overall Result

The questionnaire finished with a strong 50% of respondents wanting 100% classroom work – nothing done online in the future at all; doing an occasional lesson online and having a hybrid approach with online collaboration activities got around 20% each, and 10% would like to keep on teaching fully or mostly online.

What Teachers Say About Teaching Online

Despite the number of online-enthusiasts being rather low, let’s not forget the comments given by the teachers as responses to the question of whether doing lessons online has brought any benefits to the teaching/learning process.

The most memorable ones include:

Happily Ever After?

What to say about all this? The overall impression is that most teachers went through a tough time and they weathered the storm but are not buying an umbrella for the future.

 A few, however, are ready and willing to embrace this new medium through which so much already operates on a daily basis – as for which group will have the last laugh, only time will tell!

In the meantime, I am continuing to collect links and bookmarks for some useful online sites and/or services. How about you? What do you think? How much of “online” should be kept in education?

Give us your thoughts and ideas in the comments!


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