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Archive for the ‘English Department’ Category

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

I’ve just found this very useful tool that allows you to compare words and phrases and how they are used online. It works very simply by taking the two words or phrases that you type in and searching through Google to give you the results for each word. It tells you which is the most popular and how many pages each one appears in.
There are a few other tools around which can do a similar thing, but I prefer Google Battle, (an alternative is Google Fight) because it shows you a nice graphic of a smiling face and a sad face for the winner and loser, and because it also supplies links to the Google results, which means you can have a look at the context in which each word or phrase appears. This can supply valuable information about the way we use words in different contexts and their lexical grammar.
Here’s an example comparing ‘operate on’ with ‘operate in’

The very first result for ‘operate on’ shows that it is being used in a medical context.
If you compare this with the first result for ‘operate in’ you can see the context is quite different and in this context it has a different meaning.
By extracting these ‘real’ examples of the way the language is used and helping students to analyse and make deductions about the language we can help students to develop valuable autonomous learning skills.

So how can we use this with our students?

  • This is a great way for students to search and compare the use of prepositions when they aren’t sure which is the correct one to use.

  • Likewise it can be really useful for checking collocations and the way they the different words and phrase are used, as in the ‘operate’ example I gave above.
  • You could also use it to check word forms when checking the different parts of speech of a word. With word like ‘economic’ and ‘economical’ which are both adjectives, students can check to see how the different forms are used and when to use the correct one.
  • Students could also use this to check different spellings of words to find out which is correct.
  • When learning or teaching new vocabulary we could use this tool to extract examples of similar words being used in context. We could use these to create gap-fil sentences, cloze texts and other learning materials for students.
  • We could get students to find real examples sentences which use the new words they are learning especially words with synonyms (slim, skinny) or words that have gradients, to see how the different words are used and when to use each one.
  • We can get students to compare British and American words to see which is most popular.
  • Students can compare the popularity of idomatic expressions like ‘Raining cats and dogs’ vs ‘Storm in a tea cup’.
  • Students can search the results for two different words to find out which one has the most uses / different meanings.
  • We can also use this tool for discussion warmers comparing popularity of things. Which of these do you think is most popular?
    Dogs or cats?
    Madonna or Britney Spears?
    Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings?
    cook or chef?
    Students can vote on which they think will win and why they think it will be most popular.

What I like about it?

  • Simplicity.
  • This is a free and easy tool to use which gives you much of the power of a concordancer.
  • Because it links in to Google it gives you access to vast amounts of information about the words.

What I’m not so sure about?

  • Because it links into Google to search examples from the internet, you can’t control what your students see in the results, so some of the results may link to inappropriate materials.
  • It searches words within text, so it gives youy limited information about how the words are used in spoken language.

Well I hope you enjoy Google Battle and find it useful and if you have any other ideas for using it please do post a comment.

Related links:


Nik Peachey

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

I recently revisited Phraseum, an app which I first discovered and reviewed in March 2014. I’m glad to see that the tool is still around, has gathered a loyal following and has developed both in terms of design and functionality since that first review.
In this article I’d like to show you some of the new features and also share some ideas for how you can use it. Let me start though by recapping what Phraseum does.
Phraseum is a tool that students can use to capture lexical chunks, collocations and expressions while they read online text. It helps students to collect these expressions into theme based phrasebooks that they can then use to revise and share their learning.
Within the platform there are also a number of features to help them learn the phrases, these include tagging of phrases and links through to Google translate. Phraseum also records the source of the phrase so that students can go back and find the phrases in their context.
A new feature that’s been added since the last review is the ‘Learn’ feature. This is great as it  helps them learn and memorise the phrases using a process of spaced repetition. To use this students just select a phrasebook and then click on the ‘Learn this phrasebook’ button.
They can then select key words to remove from the phrases. After these have been clicked, they will have to select them in the correct order to put them back into the sentence.
They work through the phrases doing this a couple of times and each time things get harder and more words are removed. Eventually the prompt words are removed and they have to type in the missing words.
Once the students type in the words they will be able to compare with the original.
Phraseum can also create revision tests so that the students re-study a selection of the phrases in their collection. When students have learned new phrases, each session begins with a test. This test is designed to identify exactly what they can remember. In each test they are required to type in phrases with minimal prompts. Their success in the test determines whether a phrase is learned or marked as weak and repeated again.

As a teacher you can also create your own phrasebooks just by typing in the phrases you want stusdents to learn and then sharing the phrasebook with them.

Getting started with phraseum. 
Once you have registered on the site, one of the first things to do is to add the ‘Clipping button’ to your browser. You can find it at: and just drag the button onto the bookmarks bar of your browser.
Once you have done this all you need to do is highlight some text while you are reading and then click the button and it will open the clipping window which helps you to save the text chunk into the correct phrasebook and add tags and annotation to it.
It’s also wise to decide how you want to organise the phrase you collect and create some empty phrasebooks too, then these will appear as options when you clip phrases from a text. Once you have done that you (or your students) are ready to start clipping as you read.
Activities for students
Here are some activities you can do with your students to get them started with Phraseum.
  • Choose a web based text that you would like your students to read. Collect phrases from the text into a phrasebook. Share the phrasebook with your students and get them to check their understanding of the phrases. Ask the students to try to learn the phrases using the Phraseum ‘Learn’ feature. Once they’ve made an initial attempt to learn the phrases, get them to read the text.
  • Give the students a web based text to read. Once you have completed comprehension and reading development activities ask the students to look for sentences in the text that have vocabulary, collocations or lexical chunks that are new to them and save the sentences into a phrasebook. Then get students to use the learn feature and choose the specific words from the phrases within the sentence that they need to learn. Students can then practice them regularly.
  • When using a text that has a lot of dialogue such as a play, you can get the students to choose one of the people in the text and grab all the sentences they say into a phrasebook with that person’s name. They can then use the ‘Learn’ feature to try to memorise the lines of the text. You can then get the students act out or recite the text.
  • Collect some different lines from a range of short poems into a phrasebook. Share the phrasebook with your students and get them to try to decide which poem each line came from (You’ll need to give them the titles of the poems, or use poems they have already read.)
  • Get students to collect wise quotes or sayings ( these could be based around a specific topic or just any that the students are interested in) once they have 5 to 10 quotes get the students to use the ‘Learn’ feature of the site to try to learn and memorise the quotes.
  • Create or get students to create a phrasebook containing each of the lines from a short poem. They can then use the ‘Learn’ feature of Phraseum to try to memorise the complete poem.
 If you’d like more ideas for how to use Phraseum to develop your students’ vocabulary, check back to my original review: Creating social phrasebooks with Phraseum
Related links:
Nik Peachey

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Being a teacher means several wonderful things to me.


Nina MK, Ph.D.

Being a teacher means several wonderful things to me.
• Continuous Development. My answer to the eternal question, “How long does one have to study English to know it well?” is always the same. Learning is a never-ending process. The new opportunities for your own education are endless. I read books, watch films, listen to music and the news in English. The internet naturally is a source of information and a means of instant communication. I regularly visit my favourite sites, email and skype with lots of people around the globe. Whenever possible, I communicate with native speakers in real life.

• Continuous Sharing. We all share our knowledge, our skills with pupils. Some of us become teacher trainers, like I had. The first time I was asked to deliver a series of lectures to my colleagues, I was very young, a beginner. The head of the department explained to me that as I was the only Moscow University graduate in town, and my English was really good, I had a lot to share. Since then, I have never refused to conduct a seminar or a teacher refresher course. I have also been writing a lot of methodological articles, lesson plans, both in my own language and in English. Local and international conferences are a great way to share and to learn, too.

• Continuous Challenges. It seems to me that the greatest challenge today is not teaching grammar, pronunciation, and any of the traditional four skills. Nor is it discipline and motivation. Any teacher worth their salt can teach anybody anything pertaining to their subject; they can manage the unruly ones and stimulate the lag-behinds. The real challenge is life itself. We teachers were ALL born in the last century, while ALL our pupils belong to the – touch screen generation. Today, virtually any student can connect to any other student from any point A to any point B. For modern teenagers, there are no borders. Primary school pupils sometimes are more knowledgeable about the technology than we are. We watch some clips on youtube and other similar sites, we may use them at our lessons. Children know how to be part of this culture, they place their own faces, their songs, poems, share their concerns, and get responses from around the globe.

• Continuous Connection to the Whole Wide World. The immediacy of acquiring any information, the explosion of any news, the barrage of scary events are the constant background to children’s life today. They see and hear a lot, but they do not understand all of it. So they come to us with their questions. Will war come to their homeland? Is Ebola a threat to the whole planet? Can shooting happen at their school? To name but a few. I always let parents know about those hard questions.

• Continuous Responsibility. For a large part of the day, five or six days a week, children spend a substantial time with us teachers. If they see us as responsible adults, if they trust us, they bring their questions, their problems and concerns to us. We cannot tell them to sit down quietly and wait until we are ready. We must always be ready for the unexpected. Yet we are not their parents. There is a fine line between being a responsible experienced adult, and being a parent. Yes, I know that not all the parents are responsible adults; neither are all the teachers. This means we are all human.

• Continuous Youth. If you like children, you enjoy working with them, teaching them your subject, shaping their budding minds. When yet another group of boisterous kids rushes into your classroom, eager to see what you have prepared for them this time, their enthusiasm, their energy rubs off on you. If you make them happy, they make you happy. It translates into a congenial atmosphere, and it makes teaching and learning a truly fulfilling job.


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For years now I have been happily using EtherPad based services like and to get participants on the training courses I deliver to work collaboratively to create and peer edit texts. Increasingly though I’ve been having problems with the reliability of the free services these companies provide and the lack of reliable compatibility with mobile devices.

At last it seems that now I have a very elegant solution in the form of
Quip looks a lot like Evernote and has a similar interface with documents contained in notebooks, but one of the big differences is that Quip was designed specifically to enable peer editing and collaboration on documents and has a very clear way of showing and tracking the changes.

Here’s a short tutorial showing you how it works:

Why should we get our students peer editing?

  • It improves their awareness of accuracy
  • It can improve the quality of their writing
  • Pushes students to accept that writing is a process that needs revisions and redrafting
  • The ability to collaborate in digital environments is likely to be an important real world digital literacy

What kinds of peer editing activities can we do with students?

  • We can give them texts with planted errors (10 – 20) in to work on a find and correct together. These could be the lyrics of songs they like or stories or articles they have read.
  • We can get students to correct each others’ compositions before we look at them.
  • We can give them texts with specific features missed out and get them to work together to add them. These could be linking or referencing devices, punctuation, vocabulary words, grammatical features such as prepositions or articles etc.
  • We can get them working together to rearrange parts of a text into a better order or structure.
  • We can give them the bare structure of a story and ask them to embellish it and make it more descriptive and interesting.

What I like about Quip

  • It’s free
  • Nicely designed interface
  • Works and looks well in both tablet  app form and in the browser
  • Clearly tracks and highlights changes to documents by different users
  • It looks secure and enables you to limit who sees and works on the document while editing
  • Has a kind of chat messaging feature which works along side the notes for changes
  • We can use it to get students collaborating and working together outside the classroom

What I’m not so sure about

  • It requires registration, which can slow things down in class, but it does also add a degree of security
  • I haven’t tried it with larger groups yet so I’m not sure how reliably it will function when scaled up to say having a whole class work synchronously on a single document
  • Not sure how long it will stay free (There is a Quip Business already available)

I’m now looking forward to my next course so that I can try Quip out and get a bit more experience with it. I hope you also find it useful with your students. Do drop me a line and let me know how it goes.

Related links:

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Nik Peachey

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Hi, this is Shayna, the teacher from A lot of students tell me their biggest difficulty is speaking English, and today I’m going to tell you why speaking is so hard. It’s actually a combination of four different difficulties – and I’m going to give you specific tips for improving each area.

English speaking difficulty #1 – Listening

Remember that when you’re having a conversation, you’re only talking about 50% the time – the other 50% is spent listening to the other person speak. If you don’t understand what the other person is saying, it’s difficult to reply.

Here are two simple solutions to this problem:

First, practice some listening EVERY DAY. All you need is 10-15 minutes per day to develop your listening skills. You can get free English podcasts on websites like and listen to them while driving, taking public transportation, exercising, or doing housework.

Next, memorize these phrases that you can use in conversation when you don’t understand something:

  • I beg your pardon?
  • I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that.
  • Could you repeat that, please?
  • Could you say that again, please?

English Speaking Difficulty #2 – Vocabulary

Sometimes when you’re speaking English, you have a sentence in mind, but you’re missing two or three important vocabulary words – and then it becomes difficult to say what you’re thinking.

The solution? Learn more vocabulary words! But there’s a good way and a not-so-good way to learn new words. The not-so-good way is to read lists of words and definitions and try to memorize them.

A good way is to learn words in “families.” For example, imagine you’re in an airport. Do you know the words for everything you see? (luggage, check-in desk, travel agency, flight attendant, boarding pass) If not, look for the words you don’t know in a dictionary. Now think about what kind of conversations you might have in an airport. How would you ask for help if you can’t find the gate? What would you say if you missed your flight? How about going through immigration?

Create conversations and write them down in your vocabulary notebook. This will help you learn useful words that are all related to each other, so the next time you’re in an airport, you won’t have problems with missing vocabulary.

English Speaking Difficulty #3 – Pronunciation

English words can be difficult to pronounce – and when speaking English, you have to consider not only the pronunciation of the individual words, but also the connection between the words in the sentence. There’s also the “rhythm” and intonation of the sentence to consider – and sometimes your mouth gets confused!

There are two things that can help you improve your English pronunciation. One way is to take a pronunciation course. Another way to improve your pronunciation is to keep practicing your listening. The more you listen to English, the more your pronunciation will naturally get closer and closer to native pronunciation.

A good way to practice is to get an audio sample with transcript. Listen to one or two sentences (while reading the transcript), then pause the audio and try to repeat the sentences exactly as the person said them. Practicing pronunciation like this will help you improve very fast.

English Speaking Difficulty #4 – Confidence

If you feel nervous and are afraid of making a mistake while speaking English, then your problem is confidence. There are three things that can help increase your confidence:

First, don’t worry too much about grammar! Just do your best to communicate, and you’ll often be successful even if you do make a small grammar mistake. Also, remember that the grammar of spoken English is often more “flexible” than the grammar of written English.

Second, keep a positive attitude. Think of yourself as an English speaker (because you are!) and focus on celebrating what you know, not being frustrated about what you don’t know.

Third, practice speaking English as much as possible in low-pressure situations. Here are two examples of low-pressure situations: Talk to yourself! It might feel ridiculous, but it really helps! Talk to your teacher and your friends in English class. If you make a mistake, they can correct you. It’s extremely important to practice in low-pressure situations as much as possible to build your confidence so that you will be comfortable speaking English in a more “high-pressure” situation (like a teleconference, presentation, or job interview).

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