What’s in the news? An example EAP sequence

who's in the room?

Colleagues in departments tell me that they want international students to be able to participate, think critically analytically, and to be in touch with what’s going on in the real world.  This last issue seems – to me at least – to be underrepresented in the wider world of EAP teaching, but it’s a potentially rich seam of potential for the teacher and learner alike.  Students who can apply theory to practice are valued by their departments, and if doing so involves applying the academic to the real world then perhaps EAP courses should be paying more attention to what’s going on outside of the classroom.

In the early stages of EAP courses, I like to get students involved in a reading-to-write project using whatever is in the news and of interest to them.  The students pick a news item (from a “simpler” source like the BBC News if proficiency levels are…

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Skills Development 1 : NASA Survival Activity

It’s vital to establish a pattern of effective group work among the cohort at the beginning of the course.  Students may not be used to working in groups or even using English to communicate their ideas, so they need to see that doing so can be enjoyable and rewarding, but also relevant and intellectually stimulating.

The NASA Survival Task – which genuinely originates with NASA – involves a sequence of thinking and speaking tasks, and here ends with a short piece of self-reflective evaluative writing.  The suggested lesson plan is best followed via the Powerpoint slides above and involves the following steps:

1. To pre-teach / check vocabulary, show the students pictures of the 15 objects they will later discuss.  They should see each picture for 20-30 seconds; the room should be silent, and students should not take notes.

2. When the 15 pictures have been seen, ask students in groups to recount what they saw using ONLY ENGLISH.  Slides provide linguistic structures for circumlocution; students no doubt know the names of the objects in their first language, but several are likely to evade them in English.  It’s important for them to realise, however, that they can do this using only English, so make sure nobody reverts back to their L1 (encouraging peer-discipline will help).  Assure students that they will get a chance to check words and spelling later.

3. (Optional) To contextualise, you might like to show a space-related picture.  Show an all-Chinese group a picture of some Chinese astronauts and you’ll hear a reaction.  Some questions like: who are these people? What have they done?  Would you like to do that?  Will help to contextualise further

4. (optional) Tell a little white lie and say that NASA are looking to recruit International Students from UK universities, so we’re going to do a NASA-devised task.  If students look sceptical, tell them that NASA have realised that the way they’re profiled applicants before has led to a particular personality type going into space and they now feel they need wider perspectives and more creative thinkers.

5. Give the task instructions: You have just crashed landed on the moon and you need to travel on the moon surface to the closet possible landing site for help. You have a list of the things you could possibly take to ensure your survival. You must place these items in order of most useful to least useful. Remember that your survival depends on what items you take or leave.

6. Distribute the handout and ask students to mark their choices (which must include all objects ordered from 1-15) in COLUMN 1 only (there’s time first to check that they know / remember what all the words refer to).  Give a time limit for them to complete this task.  At this stage students work ALONE and IN SILENCE

7. Group students in 3s or 4s, give them a time limit, and ask them to agree AS A GROUP, on the best order for the 15 objects.  All group members must record the group order in COLUMN 2 of the handout.

8. Ask each group to prepare and deliver a very brief presentation on the thoughts of their group.

9. Reveal NASA’s correct answer (see slide 28 of the Powerpoint file – the numbers float in on mouse clicks)

10. Ask students to work out INDIVIDUAL and GROUP scores and to enter these in the 4th and 5th Columns of the handout.  Scores are derived from the difference between the NASA order and the individual or group order.  So if an individual ranks the box of matches 8 but the group ranks it 15 (as does NASA), the individual scores 7 and the group scores 0.  The lower the score the better.

11. Conduct feedback to find the highest and lowest scoring individuals and groups and ask them to consider whether their scores imply any of the following:

a) I work better alone

b) I work better in a group

c) I made a positive contribution to the group

d) if I had been more forceful in the group discussion, my group would have achieved a better score

12. CRITICAL THINKING : can they see how companies and organisations might use a task like this with their staff (possible suggestions : team-building, developing assertiveness, identifying individuals with leadership potential)

13. Ask students to complete the self-reflection form.

Project 3 Literature Reviews : Extra Advice

There’s lots of advice out there for anyone writing a literature review. Any of the following tasks could provide a useful framework for exploring and exploiting this advice:

1. look at 2-3 pieces of advice and establish: a) what they have in common; b) what distinguishes them from one another? Does any advice from once source contradict another?; and c) which source seems most / least credible / reliable and why?

2. look at 2-3 pieces of advice alongside work in progress. Which seems most useful, and what changes need to be made in order to apply it?

Examples of advice:

Tweeted by Dr Carol Webb (@cazzwebbo) on the 7th of July 2014:


Tweeted by Dr John Taylor (@DrJohnLTaylor) on the 7th of July 2014:


Collocates of STUDY and RESEARCH

A simple task with potential for further exploration and exploitation:

Ask students to brainstorm which words they might expect to see immediately before and after RESEARCH and STUDY.  Can they identify which are verbs, adjectives, and nouns?

Brainstorming done, give the students the selection below, extracted from data provided very kindly by Pearson (see here for more on their Academic Collocations List).  Can they find all of their own suggestions?  Can they find “better” versions of what they might have been trying to communicate?  Are there any surprises within the lists?

academic adj research n
basic adj research n
carry out v research n
comparative adj research n
conduct v research n
considerable adj research n
current adj research n
earlier adj research n
educational adj research n
empirical adj research n
existing adj research n
experimental adj research n
extensive adj research n
field n research n
further adj research n
future adj research n
initial adj research n
little adj research n
original adj research n
past adj research n
previous adj research n
primary adj research n
publish v research n
published adj research n
qualitative adj research n
quantitative adj research n
recent adj research n
scholarly adj research n
scientific adj research n
traditional adj research n
undertake v research n


Continue reading Collocates of STUDY and RESEARCH

Using authentic texts in the EAP classroom

Oxford University Press

JournalsWhat exactly are authentic texts, and how should we use them? Edward de Chazal is a freelance consultant, author and presenter. In the first of three articles on the subject, Edward takes an in-depth look at authentic texts and how bring them into the EAP classroom.

Authentic texts are widely used in EAP, and clearly there are good reasons for doing so. When students are studying in their chosen disciplines, they have to read authentic academic texts such as textbooks and journal articles, so it makes sense to bring these into the EAP classroom. I have been doing this for years, which has prompted me to think more deeply about exactly what authentic texts are and how to use them.

What is an authentic text?

An authentic text is usually taken to mean a text which was not written for the language classroom, and which hasn’t been messed with – it…

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Learn a language in 6 months

There’s obvious scope for getting students to read this post (or some linked to from it) in order to think about / discuss what makes a good language learner and what they can do to develop their proficiency in English over the following 2-3 months. Which of the activities referred to do they currently do? Which do they think they should try?

For the all-important critical thinking element, can our learners see any ways in which this teacher’s experience might NOT be relevant to their own? They might note that, as a language teacher he may have an advantage when it comes to awareness and noticing, and perhaps more significantly, since he already speaks Spanish, is it such a huge leap to learn a related language like Portuguese? Presumably this is quite a different proposition to a Chinese speaker learning English.


In January I started a series of blog posts on learning languages, speculating how we could learn faster and more effectively. I decided to use these tips in practice to see if I could learn a new language in 6 months, and I chose Portuguese. The 6 months are over now, so I wanted to give a final update on my progress and reflect on what I’ve learned in the process about learning languages.

But first, if you haven’t been following them, I would like to invite you to read the previous posts on the topic, which you can access by clicking on the links below:

  1. “Dispelling 5 language learning myths”
  2. “5 steps to language fluency”
  3. “Be fluent in a language in 6 months – mission impossible?”
  4. “First update – two months on”

So how much have I learnt?

I can’t say I’m completely fluent, but I can have a…

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