All things EFL… A collection of practical ideas, resources for the classroom and thoughts on EFL today

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Bringing real life into the classroom

This will be a short but sweet one, but oh so very sweet!

If anyone isn’t aware, last night Liverpool FC left us all at a loss for words and wondering what the heck had just happened?

Liverpool faced a monumental task going into the second leg of the Champions League semi-final, having lost to Barcelona 3-0 in the first leg at the Camp Nou.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, star players got injured and it seemed like it had been good while it lasted…

However, while many were busy writing them off, some never lost hope (least of all the players and the manager) and Liverpool ended up beating Barcelona 4-0!  An incredible example of resolve, strength and belief; the shirts said it all “Don’t give up!” It’s hard for anyone not to admire what Liverpool managed to do last night (even a Barcelona fan!)

So off I toddled to class today ready to wind a few students up (who incidentally had been winding me up all week…) What I hadn’t considered was the potential that this surprising news had for learning opportunities (until they hit me in the face that is.) Continue reading

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Self-evaluation: a tool to help students achieve their full potential

Keeping students in the dark leads to confusion, frustration and stagnation…

The end of the first week back after Easter and we (my students and I) are all getting back into the swing of things.  The focus this week has been on going over the end of term self-evaluations and setting objectives for this term. This is something we’ve been doing for the past few years since I realised that some of my students weren’t progressing, not because they didn’t want to, but because they didn’t really know how to.  

Also, some of my students used to drive me crazy when it came to giving them their end of term marks.  Tears, tantrums, the silent treatment, I’ve experienced it all.

“Profe I don’t understand why I got a 7 when I got an 8 in all the tests!”

“Profe you can’t be serious, I got a 5 in all my tests and I’ve failed!?”  

Despite (in my case) tests accounting for only 50% of the final mark each term, they seemed to be the only marks that students remembered; understandable when so much emphasis has been placed on testing and exam results.  

We (educators) set out our criteria at the beginning of the school year, outlining our expectations and explaining how we will calculate their final mark and then quite often leave them to get on with the job…

Most students’ objectives are either “to get a better mark” or “to pass.”  The problem is that they don’t always know how to get there and the guidance they need isn’t always explicit enough (or it certainly wasn’t in my case.)  I wanted to help my students achieve their objectives but I also wanted them to see that their objective (“to get a better mark” or “to pass”) was a consequence of achieving other more specific and individual objectives depending on their personal situation.

My first challenge was to make them understand that the tests/exams we do are only a part of the learning process; that they are important, not because the results of these tests are what determine their marks, but because they provide evidence of learning and understanding and inform future teaching and learning.  Tests/exams influence students’ marks to a greater or lesser degree depending on teachers’ criteria, but they should not (in my humble opinion) determine them. Tests/exams help students and teachers alike identify strengths and weaknesses (individual and collective) and help in setting learning goals.  There are many more things, however, that we do inside and outside of class which, together with tests/exams, determine students’ final marks.

All this was crystal clear to me but how could I get my students to understand and remember this?

After posing this question to myself, I came up with a simple system of self-evaluation to address these issues…

At the beginning of term 1 students:

  • copy the criteria in their notebooks
  • stick a copy of their Learning Record in their notebook
  • set their objectives for term 1

Throughout terms 1, 2 &3:

  • On the Learning Record sheet, students copy their marks for tests/exams and continuous assessment exercises, activities and tasks including any merits or demerits they get.  If students copy down their marks as when they receive them, at the end of term there are no surprises as they have a record of their progress throughout the term.
  • Students revise objectives (copied into their notebook from the self-evaluation form)

Students are encouraged to regularly revise their objectives to check they are achieving them or at least working towards achieving them.  A general checklist is displayed in class which reminds students what they need to be doing throughout the term to make progress and reach their full potential.

End of term 2 & 3:

  • Students complete the self evaluation form to reflect on their progress and set objectives for the next term.  

I found that in the beginning students were having difficulties setting objectives.  They were mostly “get a better mark” “get a 10” or quite simply “pass.” I decided to change the self evaluation form in order to make setting their objectives easier.  Now we have a key and number system.

Key: 0 = never,   1 = hardly ever, 2 = sometimes,   3 = often, 4 = always

Students answer the self-evaluation questions and when they get to the objectives section they look at all their low scoring questions and convert them into objectives e.g

Did you complete exercises in class?            0      1       2      3       4

If they answered 1 (hardly ever) they know that this is something they need to improve. Using this system has really helped students set specific objectives which will help them progress.

I collect the self-evaluation forms and add any objectives they may have forgotten before they copy them into their notebooks.

In the final term students complete the self evaluation using google forms and at the beginning of the following school year we look at the class answers and reflect on common problem areas eg not handing homework!  (I am thinking that I may go paperless next year and do the self-evaluation in google forms every term.)

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The self-evaluation form is based on my criteria for my secondary school pupils in Spain. Everyone’s criteria and therefore self-evaluation questions will be different depending on their teaching context, syllabus, priorities, country etc.

Since using this simple system of self-reflection and self-evaluation,  I feel that my students are now much more aware of what they need to do to progress in order to achieve my objective for them “to reach their full potential” and their ultimate objective “to get a better mark” or “to pass”  (whether they do it or not is another matter!)  Also, there are fewer tears and tantrums and a lot more recognition of their own responsibility in the learning process come the end of term and report time 😉




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Look what you missed in 2017!

The end of a year/beginning of a new one is often a time for reflection when we look back at our triumphs and failures…

A common post I see around now is “My most popular posts in “insert year” “My top 10 posts of “insert year”
I thought about doing the same but then felt kind of sorry for the not-so-fortunate ones. So I’ve dragged my least popular posts of 2017 out of hibernation to give them another chance in 2018.

Here’s what you might have missed …

Word Art 23

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Collaboration: improving outcomes

After writing a post celebrating my first anniversary blogging and sticking (more or less) to my personal goals of posting every couple of weeks, I’ve since managed not to (albeit with good reason!)

I had the amazing opportunity to attend Bett Asia 2017 in Kuala Lumpur with Chatta English last week. Consequently,  most of my “free” time over the past few months has been spent preparing for it (hence no posts.) Given that it was amazing opportunity which transpired to be an amazing experience, I don’t feel too bad… Continue reading

What makes a good teacher word cloud

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Anyone who read my very first post Blogging and the art of procrastination will know that, among other things, it took me a while to find a name for this blog.

Why ACE?  What can I say, I’m an 80’s kid… Everything that’s “awesome” now, was “ace” in the 80’s (where I was growing up) and it’s one of my all-time favourite words. Synonyms are; excellent, outstanding, first-class, first-rate, brilliant, expert

So, am I an ace English teacher? Not always.  Do I aspire to be?  Of course, hence this blog…

Quote determination


Blogging and the art of determination

This post is a “Happy Birthday” message to my blogging self and a kind of sequel to my very first blog post Blogging and the art of procrastination.  It may have taken me a while to get going, but I’m still here one year on (along with my handful of followers, thank you!)

When I realised I’d been blogging for nearly a year, I decided to look back at my first post in which I list my initial doubts and reservations about becoming a blogger (the reasons for my procrastination.)  So, one year on, what have I learned?  What have I still got to learn and how did procrastination become determination? Continue reading

R is for relevant


R is for relevant!

Recently, I spent all Sunday morning helping my 13 year old daughter study for an exam.  

Now don’t get me wrong I am more then happy to sacrifice a Sunday morning to help my daughter study… However, nothing makes my blood boil more than sacrificing a Sunday morning (or any morning) to help her study:

  1. Something she doesn’t understand because it hasn’t been explained to her (and what’s more is told she doesn’t need to understand it only memorise it)
  2. Something which is totally beyond her and irrelevant to her at this stage in her education and possibly forever depending on what career path she takes…
  3. Something that by her own admission she will have forgotten by next week (as she neither understands it nor the reason for learning it)

So what was it exactly that she had to study?
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Developing digital competence

digital-competenceThis is my first in a series of posts, related to 21st century skills.  In my post  21st century skills-how competent are your students?, I explained how the recently amended Spanish education law (LOMCE) specifies 7 key competencies students need to develop.  These key competences are closely related to 21st century skills, life skills or soft skills (depending on the terminology you prefer.)  The first competence up is digital competence

We live in an increasingly digital world which is changing the way we work, learn, communicate, and participate in society.  As educators we have an obligation to ensure our students have the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to be successful in a modern, digital society.  

Being digitally competent is more than being able to use the latest smart phone or computer software — it is about being able to use such digital technologies in a critical, collaborative and creative way. (The European Digital Competence Framework for Citizens)

In this post I will look at the key areas related to digital competence, identified by the European framework and then look at some activities/tools we can use to help our learners become competent in these areas. Continue reading

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21st century skills-how competent are your students?

competenciesI read an interesting article recently on about lesson plans and what to include 12 tiny tips for writing lesson plans. It made me reflect upon my own lesson planning and gave me an idea for this and subsequent posts. It was interesting to see the inclusion of tip 8 “developing the whole child”.  In Spain, where I teach EFL in a secondary school, the recently amended education law (LOMCE) defines the following 7 Key Competencies to be be developed, based on a European Commission document on 21st century competencies: Continue reading


Awards, rewards… Friend or foe?

Those of you who have read my first post will know that I have an hour’s commute to work.  Recently I was looking for some new podcasts, to make the journey that bit less boring (after 10 years doing the same journey, there are only so many donkeys, cows, sheep and goats I can marvel at along the way…)

I came across TEFL commute  A podcast for English language teachers, a “light-hearted listen aimed at brightening your daily commute”  Lindsay Clanfield, Shaun Wilden and James Taylor (the creators).  It definitely does what it says on the packet! There’s a website to boot, where you can find the links to all the podcasts, related articles, discussion questions and resources.  If that’s not enough, there’s a Facebook page where you can get the latest news, or you can follow them on Twitter.  They’ve just completed their third series and and I’m looking forward to the fourth…

One episode which particularly caught my attention was Episode 8  in the final series, which was inspired by their nomination for this year’s ELTon awards. In this episode Continue reading