Storified Twitter Chain Stories

“In the depths of New York City, on top of the Empire State Building, a creature rested.” This is the first line of @ manyvoices, a Twitter story written collaboratively by 140 elementary and middle school students across 6 countries. The story began with Mr. George Mayo, a teacher in Washington D.C., and was eventually edited and published. You can find a free pdf here.

We are using a similar model in our 8th grade language arts class to begin our unit on creative writing. the major difference between @manyvoices and our assignment is that Mayo created one twitter account for all contributors to share while we are using hashtags to collect and present the story using Storify. The hashtag and Storify make it easy to publish the finished stories, but we lose 11-12 characters.

Here are the instructions we gave to students:



Once all of the students tweet, it’s easy to search for, and individually drag them into the story.

storify main editing page

The above screenshot shows Storify’s main editing page. The menu on the right-hand side allows you to search for many different types of content. For our story, I clicked on the twitter icon, then typed in the the hashtag for the class I was working on.


Here you can see that my search grabbed all tweets containing the hashtag I had specified. Since the hashtags for each class are unique, the search doesn’t grab anything unrelated. From here, you can drag the posts into the main story. I think it’s easier to drag them individually since they show up with the most recent first, which is actually the final tweet of the story.

The next step is publishing the story. After clicking the publish button at the top of the page, you can change the way the story is displayed.


Clicking the template button brings up this menu. Here you can choose the way your story will be displayed. We chose the slideshow because it worked best with the way we wanted to read the finished story in class.

Here is what it looks like:

storify slideshow

Since most of the students hadn’t read their entire story, or the stories from other classes, reading them together was truly a fun experience, as you can see here:


Our next step is to do another story with the entire 8th grade. From there, we may ask other classes to join, as Mr. Mayo did. Another thing I really like about this is that we can use the tweets to focus on language. Eventually, we’ll use them to create editing exercises that we can do as a whole class or in small groups.





Informational Text teaching resources

Links for teaching informational texts:

  1. Intro to Informational Texts 
  2. Best ever literacy tips for teaching informational text structure
  3. Strategies for Teaching with Informational Texts
  4. The Ultimate Teacher’s Guide – again, long but full of good info and ideas
  5. The power of non-fiction +video


Reformulating Second Language Writing

The English proficiency level of the students at my current school varies greatly. This presents a challenge when dealing with corrective feedback on writing assignments because we don’t know exactly what each of our students knows; we know what they were taught in 7th grade (I teach 8th grade), but with new students coming in all the time, it only helps so much. Corrective feedback on structural and/or grammatical topics the student has never learned gets them nothing except more confused, as it does with oral correction. We needed a way to help the student notice their errors, provide corrective feedback, and NOT overwhelm them with a page or red ink.

The answer to our question was first presented in 1978 by Levenston. I wasn’t around then, but it was a great year – Darkness on the Edge of Town and Van Halen were released, so ‘reformulation’ is in good company. Reformulation is when a native speaker rewrites a student’s piece of writing. The native speaker writes to make the piece sound more natural, making organizational and grammatical corrections while preserving the content of the original text. For more information on the history of reformulation and present status of reformulation research, read “Reformulation, Noticing, and the Development of L2 Academic Writing” by Jackie Dannatt.

We chose to use this technique with our struggling writers because it is naturally scaffolded and student-centered (Reid, 1994, Cited by Tardy, 2006). As you can see in the example below, we ask the student to do several things. First, they have to identify the change and write the original text and reformulated text in the table. Next, they have to describe the change. What I like about this is that it allows all students to comment on the change. The student could say something like ‘moved words’ or ‘fixed fragment’, depending on how much they understand. Finally, they have to check yes or no to let us know if they understand the change. This will help us plan follow-up support for the student, in groups or individually.

wp_essay reformulateAfter getting the completed tables back from students and doing this on future writing assignments, we’ll be able to plan more appropriate practice as students pre-write and draft.

I’ll be updating this post in the next few weeks with some samples of the completed tables so please check back.


Levenston, E.A. (1978). Error analysis of free composition: The theory and the practice. Indian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(1), 1–11.

Tardy, C. (2006). Appropriation, ownership, and agency: Negotiating teacher feedback in academic settings. In K. Hyland & F. Hyland (Eds.), Feedback in second language writing: Contexts and issues. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Classroom Interactions: from post-grad to middle school

My career changed direction a bit in the last year. I went from training post-grad English teachers in Korea to teaching middle school in Vietnam. Having little experience in the middle school classroom, I worried that the methodology I had spent eight years with would leave me useless in a class full of 12 and 13 year-olds.

Fortunately, I found that the methodology, which formed the foundation of my development as a teacher and the program I spent eight years in, required little modification to be effective in the middle school setting.

Here is a clip of me introducing a literature circle assignment to an 8th grade class. I’ve annotated the clip to show the thought processes related to classroom interaction that go on while I’m teaching. I welcome all feedback, both positive and negative.

Teacher Talk Analysis Survey

Last November I posted a description of a ‘teacher talk analysis’ assignment that teacher trainees complete as part of their Second Language Acquisition for English Teachers course. The following results and feedback were collected in the Spring 2014 semester. Though only 10 students completed the survey (the last few weeks are intense!), it’s pretty clear that having trainees analyze their own teacher talk is a GOOD thing. My comments follow each of the results below.


Summary of Responses

Check the box that best describes your initial reaction to the assignment.

positive 4 44%
negative 2 22%
no reaction 3 33%

We’re not surprised by this result here. When the assignment is initially presented, most students are excited at the fact that they can discover their own mistakes. Those who immediately understand that it involves transcribing their own teacher talk aren’t so anxious. 

Provide some details about your initial reaction to the assignment.

  • I have no confidence.
  • I was embarrased because I didn’t know how to do and what to do. I didn’t think that I would improve my teacher talk at first.
  • Honestly, I guessed it might be so hard and annoying. In addition I worried I feel frustrated.
  • I knew that I made a lot of mistakes in microteaching, but I didn’t know how to track them down. So when I was asked to do teacher talk analysis, I welcomed it but I was sure that it would take longer time than my expectation.
  • just wrote down my script and hard to find ways to improve my problems but during the time, I had time to think of solition…but still hard:{
  • I was embarrased so much.
  • It was a little embarrassing since I first thought there must have been countless errors in my teacher talk. But I also thought that it was a good way to analyze and improve my English. Having reviewed my video, I realized that I had committed many errors, but not as many as I had worried.

Do you feel that your English proficiency has improved so far during the semester?

My English got worse. 2 22%
I haven’t noticed any improvement. 1 11%
My English has improved a little bit. 5 56%
My English has improved a lot. 1 11%

It’s nice to see this. The majority of students feel that their English is improving. Considering the fact that we expect those who say their English got worse to eventually improve, the results are encouraging. After all, we base this whole assignment on the fact that noticing a mistake is the first step in fixing it. 

List any errors that you know you make when using English.

  • -phonology: the [ðə] instead of the [ði] – syntax: agreement of the singular-plural/ this is regular verbs–> these are the regular verbs – syntax: article (the) was usually missing
  • I always makes many mistakes when I use English in the class. Especially grammatical problems always make me embarrassed. I tried to use correct grammar during the class, but I tended to speak first before thinking about grammar.
  • Pronounciation,utterance problem, not that creative
  • I have a lot of problems on my grammar and pronunciation
  • – missing articles, a/an -missing a main verb ;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;
  • It’s really different when I talk to my friends and talk infront of the class. In class, we have talk about academic things which I have to explain things in a logical way and I think I am really lack of at doing that. I sometimes get quite nervous when I have to say my opinion out loud, but I think I am improving.
  • Grammar was the biggest problem.
  • I made mistakes when I said the plural noun. I was very confused, so I made lots of mistakes. I had to focus exclusively on the plural noun during the whole class. I used the singular noun when I said like “these” and “among”. Sometimes, I forgot to add –s at the end of the word automatically.
  • Usage of articles is always a problem. Saying this, I am not sure “usage of articles” is correct or I should have said “the usage of articles”, “usage of the articles (?)” or any other combinations of articles including no article.

Did you discover errors in your English classroom language while doing the teacher talk analysis?

Yes, I did. 9 100%
No, I didn’t 0 0%

This is what we expect. 

Is there one area of language that you struggle with more than others?

Phonology 2 22%
Grammar (includes morphology) 6 67%
Vocabulary/Word Choice 1 11%

We expect this as well. Odd though, it is, that grammar is the area of language that Korean students spend the most time studying – something is wrong…

How did analyzing your own teacher talk make you feel?

Proud 0 0%
Embarrassed 5 56%
Motivated 3 33%
Demotivated 1 11%
No feeling – I am numb from all this work 😦 0 0%

We were happy to see this too. ‘Embarrassed’ leads us to believe that the error is something the trainee did not notice. At the same time, it’s quite problematic. Errors are part of the acquisition process that should not create feelings of embarrassment. 

Please describe your feelings in detail.

  • Because I was conscious of my pronunciation problems which teacher corrected while analyzing teacher talk, I couldn’t help finding a lot of my utterance mistakes and I was frustrated and was afraid of teaching speaking lessonㅠI am struggling to find ways to improve my weakness..
  • Actually, I feel embarrased but I don’t demotivated. Because I feel I can fix it~!!!
  • I am studying English because I want to be an English teacher but I still make a lot of mistakes in speaking. It was really embarrassed and demotivated by my mistakes.
  • I had many chances to teach my students in English, and I had no idea about my proficiency. This assignments, however, helped me reflect myself more specifically. After the teacher talk, I try to use correct grammar and think more deeply before talking.
  • If I hadn’t analyzed my talk, I couldn’t find any errors in my teacher talk. I repeated the same mistakes unconsciously. However, I could correct my errors through analyzing teacher talk.
  • My English got better a little bit.
  • I would like to restore my confidence on English
  • At first, it was really embarrassing to listen to my own voice and also how I way things. But when I got used to it, it was interesting and I noticed how I need to analyze my teacher talk to fix the mistakes I often make.
  • Teaching is difficult, and, as a foreigner, I think teaching English in English is more difficult, almost impossible. Teacher talk analysis made me realize that how poor my English was. It still is, of course.

Do you think that reflecting on your own teacher talk will improve your English classroom language?

Yes 9 100%
No 0 0%

It’s nice to see this as well. This rids us of the guilt we felt assigning a challenging task at the end of an already challenging semester. 

How will you make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes in future microteaching presentations?

  • Yeah, after this assignments, I try to check my grammar during the mircoteaching, and I also check my grammar during the microteaching. Before this assignments, I had no idea about my grammar. However, I try to make less errors by using self correction during the microteaching.
  • What I did was to keep myself from making the same mistake was I took notes of how I felt during microteaching. Because during the microteaching I noticed the students’ feedback and if they have negative feedback, that means that they are confused with the task. Self reflection helped me a lot too.
  • It is important for me to pay attention to plural nouns when I use them. I have to practice which vocabulary takes the plural noun. I should keep in mind that the noun must agree with the noun in number.
  • I think if I am constantly careful not to do same mistakes in my mind, that can be the alertness in my real presentation ,which I believe is a one step to correcting. I usually use visualization to remove my nervousness.
  • pratice a lot to improve my English compedence
  • I need to memorize moere perfectly. When it comes to making a presentaon, memorizing all teacher talks helps to make my English look more natural. Because of the pressure and feeling nrevous English gets break down.
  • Practice, practice, practice. There is no other way. I also think that the only way of effective practicng is to communicate with native speakers. Long’s interaction hypothesis also supports this as far as I understand. One question in this regard is if interactions between non-native speakers have any effect.
  • Before the class, I will make script for my teacher talk and practice a few times not to make mistakes in the class.
  • I’m not sure. I just wanna not to fossilize that kind of error. I will try to not to make same error consciously. I believe practice makes perfect.

Mixed reactions here… Positive because some students get the fact that more practice will lead to better language use. Negative because some students still believe that a microteaching presentation should be scripted and memorized… 😦

If you can think of a way to make this assignment more effective, please make some suggestions below.

  • It would make the students more miserable, but how about asking the students to make two teacher talk analysis, one after the second microteaching and the other one after the fourth or fifth microteaching for the students to assess their improvement?
  • I think not just putting the “what patterns of speaking”? question, but also add how the teacher felt and how the students reacted question as well. Also, I think having the teacher talk assignment sooner would be better for the students, so that they could do this assignment when they made more mistakes.
  • To me, it’s too hard to recognize errors I made, especially, phonology. Plus, I’m not sure which words are more proper ;;;; It’s so tricky… ;;;
  • Give little more time Explain how to do it a bit more
  • It is a good tool to have students analyze and improve their own ishEnglish.
  • Instead of finding my problems and solution by myself, I think good achivements which were selected by teachers or students and took place in other classes to lower enbrassments can be a good source to discuss and learn. If we anayaze them compared to my own, I could understand my problems and assess my presentation more objectively and easily.
  • I think it is a good way to discuss with their group members about their analysis. They can give feedback each other. I believe that analyzing teacher talk should be done as many as possible.

Points taken!

Academic Reading Circles – Student Survey and Feedback

In a recent post, I shared my initial reactions to Academic Reading Circles (ARC) in our Second Language Acquisition Course. If this is your first visiting my site and you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can find the older posts describing the assignment here and my initial reactions here. In this post, I will share the results of a student survey and student feedback.

Often, as we make major and minor changes to our program, our expectations do not match those of the students we teach. In some cases, students are uninterested in an assignment or task I thought they would really enjoy. At other times, they really get into something without the coercing I expected to provide. My point is that all modifications to the curriculum need to be surveyed. If we don’t know how well our assignments engage the students and provide opportunities to learn, their true value is unknown. So, as we did with learner language tasks last year, we surveyed our students to find out how they felt about the ARC assignment.

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.28.52 AM


(scale: 1- very easy, 4 – very difficult)

The purpose of this question is to establish the fact that the course readings are intimidating. We need to know this because the goal of the ARC is to make the readings more manageable. Only two of the thirty students polled said the readings appeared easy and we weren’t surprised.

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.29.37 AM


We also wanted to know how many of our students had done something like a reading circle before. This result confirms the fact that we need to be extremely particular when giving instructions. Because so few of the students are new to reading circles, the chance for confusion and failure at the start is high and this needs to be avoided.

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.29.47 AM

(scale: 1 – very easy, 4 – very difficult)

Again, the result here suggests that the whole process from roles to actual blog posts needs to be presented clearly. In addition, we learned that despite our efforts to make the reading more manageable, it still is considered the most difficult aspect of the ARC assignment. I don’t believe there is anything we can do about this.

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.29.57 AM

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.30.04 AMThis is the result we were waiting for. Whether or not the assignments or readings are complex or difficult isn’t so important. What is important is knowing if the assignment resulted in a greater understanding of the course material, and it clearly has. 83% of students said the assignment resulted in a better understanding of the material. It makes perfect sense when you think about. Is anything of value easily attained?

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.30.19 AM

No surprise here. The role that required the least amount of work was the most popular. This tells us which role can handle an extra responsibility (see the end of this post). The summarizer was the least popular and most difficult. This was due to the complexity of the task. Summarizing an entire reading is difficult. One thing we’re considering is having the summarizer summarize the discussion instead of the reading.

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.30.30 AM

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.30.48 AM(scale: 1 – not very well, 4 – very well)

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 8.30.58 AMThese final two questions tell us that the ARC was effective and that the students were aware of what they were doing and how the assignment helped them understand the material. We are proud of the fact that 83% of our students said that they will use reading circles in their own classes if they have the chance.

We also asked our students what they would change and how we can improve the interaction that happens online. Here are some of the common responses.

If you could change one thing about the ARC, what would you change?

  • make it mandatory for everyone to respond to someone else’s response to a discussion question.
  • do not copy and paste from readings.
  • perhaps the instructor could preview the reading at the end of the class.
  • reduce the number of readings.
  • discussion leader should post earlier – there should be several deadlines

One area of the ARC that we’d like to improve is the amount of interaction that happens after your initial post. Ideally, we’d like students to have an interactive discussion on the blog. Can you suggest a way to make the ARC more interactive?

  • students should be responsible for their roles.
  • instructor should intervene online and ask more follow up questions.
  • make comments on each other’s posts compulsory
  • give the team that participates the most a prize such as chocolate.
  • force students to reply three times a week.

The most common issue to come up with both of these questions is participation. If students think of the ARC as an ‘assignment’, they will post as much as they need to complete the assignment. Next semester, we will add a responsibility to the discussion leader’s role. Discussion leaders will keep track of who replies to whom, and each member of the group will sign when they agree with the discussion leader’s count.

In sum, we are happy with the ARC and look forward to its future development. Though we have some minor tweaks to make, it’s clear that we’re putting students in a position to get the most out of what they read before class. Since the students are better prepared for class, they comprehend more of the lecture. As a result, they take more from the program and graduate with a greater chance of success in the classroom.

Is SLA really a part of the EFL classroom?

The title of this post highlights an issue we and our teacher trainees face. To trainers and experienced teachers, the question is a no-brainer. Of course SLA theory plays a role in the EFL classroom. SLA theory is the rationale for all decisions an informed teacher makes before and during their classes. How much should the teacher talk? What kinds of questions should the teacher ask? How should the students interact with each other? Should they interact with each other? Why should students talk to each other? Why should they talk to me? What should students do in my class? In what order should they do it? The list goes on… Whether or not SLA plays a role in the EFL classroom is not the issue. The issue is making the relationship between theory and pedagogy tangible for new and/or beginning teachers. I’ve written about how we can do this before in a post on academic reading circles and here I will describe our final attempt to bridge theory and pedagogy.

Logistically, it is impossible to ask our trainees to observe English language classrooms. Our program is an intensive program and trainees are busy. They have to manage coursework, jobs, and family obligations. On top of that, setting up observations would be difficult for a number of other reasons that I won’t get into. So, while English academies seem to line every city block, they are inaccessible. English teachers, on the other hand, are accessible, and there are roughly 12,000 in the country (native speaking teachers). As a result, instead of observing English classes, our students interview English teachers.

The ‘teacher interview’ helps our students connect theory and pedagogy in several ways. The first thing each class has to do is to create a list of questions. By the end of our course, we’ve covered six concepts/theories related to language learning. They are Krashen’s Monitor Model, Swain’s Output Hypothesis, Memory, Information Processing, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the Interaction Hypothesis. To find out if these theories play a role real classrooms, trainees first have to collaboratively create a list of questions to ask their interviewee. Students have to find out two things from their teacher: how does SLA play a role in planning (before class) their lessons and how does SLA theory play a role teaching (during class) their lesson. Creating questions to elicit that information forces trainees to consider the practical applications of all aspects of each theory and is a very valuable task in itself. They also have to make suggestions based on what they learn about the class. Trainees do this as a group using google docs. Here is an example:


Once the class has created their questions, the next step is to do the actual interview and record it. Trainees meet their interviewee, talk through the questions, summarize what they’ve found by answering the two questions and giving suggestions. All of this is put into an interview report form and a powerpoint presentation. Here is an example ppt:


In this presentation, the trainees show their classmates how SLA theory is applied in a real classroom. As students work in groups of three or four, and each class has 14-18 students, each class gets to see how five real teachers apply SLA theory.

At this point, we feel we’ve done a fair job of helping our trainees connect theory and practice. Students demonstrate their understanding of theory and practice in a final essay that asks them to explain how at least three SLA theories play a role in a lesson plan they’ve developed for another course.

A few years ago, students said, “Bill, this is some of the most interesting stuff I’ve learned in a long time, but I don’t know how it applies to my class or how it makes me a better teacher.” Now, answering that question is a course requirement.




Helping non-native teachers improve English classroom language

The goals of our EFL teacher training program are two-fold. First, we aim introduce/re-introduce pre- and in-service teachers to the field of ELT. Second, we strive to make them better users of English, both as people and as English teachers. Within the program, trainees have several opportunities to plan and practice the English classroom language. The practice of planning teacher talk is quite an eye-opener as students realize that it’s language they’ve never been taught. Quite often, our most proficient students embarrassingly fumble in front of the class as they interact with students and realize that speaking English and teaching in English are two very different beasts. Planning teacher talk does a good job of giving the trainees a head-start in their development. In addition to planning teacher talk, trainees also need the chance to teach and create teacher talk on the fly. 

Within the SLA course, trainees have several opportunities to analyze learner language (click here for my previous post on the topic). What they learn about language and language analysis early in the semester is then applied to their own teacher talk. In there rest of this post, I will share the activity and some example responses. This is just one of the ways we try to make our teachers better at teaching in English.

Here is the actual assignment…

teach talk analysis assigment

Through this reflective analysis we hope that trainees can notice patterns in their own teacher talk and brainstorm ways to get better. All of this should result in trainees paying closer attention to pieces of language that cause difficulty. Since this assignment comes up half-way through the semester, the trainees have several opportunities to consider their analysis on future assignments/microteaching presentations.

The initial reaction from trainees was shock. They couldn’t believe how many errors they made. Here is an examples what they found…

ellen transcriptThis is for about five minutes in front of the class. In this example, the trainee is trying to figure out what the class knows about gerunds and infinitives. She then introduces a matching task.

ana tableHere we see the errors that she has identified. She labels the error type (not always successful) and writes the reformulation. Since much of a non-native teacher’s success depends on their ability to clearly give directions and model target-like language, what the trainee has done here is invaluable. In the next two questions, she reflects on her errors.

ana 1 ana 2The trainee talks about what she did and what she can do to prevent this from happening again. As a result of this, she may consult a textbook or other materials to confirm her understanding of the issues she discovered, ask a question to the teacher, or pay more attention to it in the input she’s exposed to.

In sum, this activity complements the planning of teacher talk that happens earlier in the semester and gives students a chance to notice things that may have been overlooked on earlier assignments. This is our first time to include teacher talk analysis in our course and we are extremely pleased with the results.

Digging In: Non-native teachers and learner language analysis

Presented at KOTESOL 2013, Sookmyung Women's 
University, Seoul, Korea

Digging In: Non-native Teachers and Learner Language Analysis

Most MA TESOL and TESOL certificate programs include courses on Second Language Acquisition (SLA), but many students finish the course without knowing how to apply what they have learned to their classrooms. The knowledge of how languages are acquired seems irrelevant to many prospective classroom teachers because they will work with a pre-established curriculum. SLA theories are simply learned because they have always been part of the TESOL curriculum.  One solution to this problem is learner language analysis. Language learner analysis tasks that get students out of the classroom and in front of learners add life to theory. Students can discover tendencies and stages in learner language all by themselves. While unmatched in its effectiveness, learner language analysis is difficult and time consuming, maybe even to the point that it is inaccessible to non-native English teachers. In this session we share responses from 56 of our students, who completed several learner language analyses in the first five weeks of the Spring 2013 SMU TESOL semester. We briefly outline the assignments and then share the feedback, which suggests that learner language analyses are not only accessible, but also have noticeable classroom applications for non-native English teachers.

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