The fish bowl and peer feedback

Hi everyone,

Today I am going to talk about a task I did in class and the follow up. The activity I am talking about is a fish bowl task. What is it actually? Well, I had a seminar class, so I put my students in groups of four. They were the students taking part in the seminar. Then I had four students observe them and give them feedback. These students sat next to or were standing behind the students who were taking part in the seminar. So, imagine an inner circle (seminar participants) and outer circle (seminar observers).

Now, time for some context. My students are international students (Asian) who are in their fifth week of an EAP course. They are all intermediate/ upper intermediate students. This is their first time studying in the UK. They have taken part a few seminars before and they have self assessed and given peer feedback a couple of times. They are not very experienced at giving feedback.

The fact that their English is a bit weak and they are not very experienced at giving feedback affected the activity. In what way you may ask? Well, instead of asking them to give a lot of feedback, I focused on two aspects of the seminar. I asked them to look at the course’s assessment criteria, but only focus on the column that was about interaction. I need to mention here  that I went through the criteria with them and made them more student friendly (simplified the language and used emoticons!).So, that was one thing.

The second thing I asked the assessors to comment on  was the use of set phrases for taking turns and interrupting. These were part of the lesson as well. I printed out some useful phrases and asked the assessors to tick the phrases their classmates used.

The Task

The seminar participants took part in the seminar. The assessors listened quietly and gave feedback. Then the students swapped roles.

After the seminar

Students sat next to each other and gave each other feedback. They told each other what they did well and what they needed to work on.

When the whole activity ended, I asked my students to tell me what they thought about this task (I used a Google classroom comment thread).

What they said

Most students enjoyed the activity. They felt that their classmates gave them good feedback. They enjoyed the role swap and that they were not asked to give a ton of feedback.

There were a few comments about feeling shy and embarrassed, but those students did say that this was not a big problem because in the end they did find the task helpful.

Practical stuff

I printed out the helpful phrases check list.

The student friendly rubric was on the board and students had to take notes.

As for timing, this whole activity took about 40 minutes. The feedback part was an extra 10 minutes. I asked them to spend 5 minutes on student A and then five minutes on student B. That meant that each member of the pair got 5 minutes worth of feedback. The whole activity lasted for 50 minutes.

aa0a3-dsc01572Will I try this again? Yes. My students really enjoyed it and I found it very helpful. have you done something similar? let me know in the comments below.

Till next time……


Can chatting be a lesson or is it just being lazy?

It’s has been a while, hasn’t it? I have been busy with life and haven’t had edu-blog post inspo for a while now, but I am back which means I have a ramble for you. I actually have a ramble and loads of rhetorical or not so rhetorical questions.

I took time off and my learners were taught by ‘cover’ teachers. I came back and got my students back.
When I had my first lesson with one of my students, I asked her what she had been up to.
She said,
I had lessons with a lovely lady and we were talking a lot. It did not feel like a lesson. I did not feel like I learnt a lot. I am glad I am back with you.
That got me thinking about lessons that are chatty. Lessons that may focus on having a conversation with a student but where there is no actual material or maybe the learner feels like there is no material….
Is that a lesson?
Can it be called a lesson?
When can having a conversation, be called a lesson?
Speaking- chatty- conversational sessions
First, of all what is the definition of these sessions? Well, in my context as an online teacher, conversational sessions can be a chat with a student about whatever the student wants to talk about. They can be based on a video or article you read together or the student watched/ read alone.
Is this (the chat bit) teaching unplugged? Is it being more adventurous with your lessons or just being lazy?
In your own context is chatting with your student a lesson or not?
Here is what I think. During my so called convo sessions, you do not necessarily need to have handouts when having a speaking session (like the one I defined earlier). What you do need though is some kind of structure and maybe even a mentioning of what the aim of the session is.
For example,
Today we will be chatting about your everyday life. I want you to talk to me about your daily routines. I will point out any grammar or vocabulary points which I will note down for you or which I would like you to take note of.
Today we will be watching a short video and we will talk about what it showed. We will also discuss A, B, C.
If you say something like that, the student will know that there is some kind of purpose to the lesson (that is advice to new teachers I guess).
When a speaking session is based on an article or video it is more structured and can be viewed more like a lesson.
But what about when it is more conversational?
Chatting with a student and not making any language comments is not really learning…. or is it? When you are chatting, do you interrupt to make language comments or do you just go with the flow? Is that learning though? What does the student learn? Does the paying student feel like it is a lesson… or it isn’t.
You, as a teacher may feel like you are teaching when you repeat/ rephrase what the learner said without pointing out any mistakes, but is the learner getting that? What I mean is, is your learner noticing that you have made a correction? How do you know?
So, if you decide to have a chat, what can be learnt from the chat?

Well, as I said, you need to make the chat look more like your normal sessions:

  • Mention aims/ purpose etc.
  • Make notes of whatever language is learnt/ corrected
  • Ask the student to reflect on the conversation. What did s/he do well, what do they need to work on?
  • Ask the student to summarise your chat or visualise it!!Make a mind map of what you discussed.

I think I may have lost my blog mojo, but I did have a few thoughts on this and wanted to share, get your thoughts. So, the comments section is all yours.

Till next time…

What I thought I knew was not what I thought

I have shared with you guys (maybe even over shared) so much. Now, more sharing.

There I was. Shocked. Feeling a bit robbed. Questioning myself. How could I not know? The mind plays tricks on us.

I thought I was red/ green colourblind. Turns out I don’t see any colours.

I have achromatopsia (or some sort of incomplete achromatopsia).

I am what is known as colourblind. Literally. So, I don’t just mix up my colours. I actually don’t even see them! Or do I?


Colour is perception. Light, rays, rods and cones all join in to send a message to the brain. The brain then ‘sees’ the light/ colour. That is my simplistic explanation. A bunch of people see the same colour and give it a name…..


But now I know that what I thought was colour, was probably a tone or a texture, an illumination. My images are shades of grey, white, and black with an occasional dash of pink (or something….or nothing….).

How could I not know? What games was my mind playing on me?

I have all the symptoms of an achromat

Nystagmus (wobbly iris)


Photophobic/ photosensitive (I squint a lot and wear my sunnies all day long, even when there are clouds)

How I found out

I was so excited on Saturday. I was going to try these glasses that claimed to restore colour vision. You would put on the glasses and see colours. Of course, these glasses do not work on everyone (I was warned). I wanted to try them. But first, they needed to determine what type of coulourblindness I had. I did the tests and got the diagnosis.


Very rare (2000 people in the UK).

So, what do I do with this information?

I am still the same person.

That is what everyone is telling me.


You see colours your way.

That is what people tell me.

You still see the way you saw.

That is what everyone is telling me.

But I don’t. I don’t know what I see. I want to know what I can see. Still coming to terms with this. I have to adjust to a new normal. Was what I thought was pink or purple actually grey? Is everything grey? I am confused. Still confused.

Two days later.

How to mark online without… crashing

Nowadays a lot of marking is being done online. Marking online can be very effective.
  • Results and feedback do not get lost as it is stored in the world wide web’s cloud.
  • It is easier to highlight, add links and comments when the essay/ piece of work is being marked online.
  • It saves paper, so it is better for the trees.
Marking online can be quite stressful and tiring.
I get the benefits, but I do find it hard to mark online. That’s why I decided to dedicate a post to marking online. I have been teaching at various universities for the past few years and I have been and will be marking online quite a bit…..

My Top Tips for Survival

Be rested, calm, and relaxed

When technology (aka the pc) acts up, you need to be prepared to take a breath and find a solution to the problem. Panicking because you cannot save your comments does not help. You may also need coffee or tea.

Back up

Always keep some kind of trail of any kind of feedback that is important, grades for example. Sometimes things vanish or do not get saved and that may cause a lot of problems.
coffee break

Coffee time

Comment/ Feedback Bank

When you are marking online, it is a good idea to make your own feedback bank. A document where you can write generic comments which you can then add to wherever you think is necessary. You can keep a list of useful links which you can add as part of your feedback.

Check your settings

Make sure that when you are marking online everything is going as it should. Do you want your feedback to be private until a specific day/ time?

Two screens/ printouts?

Sometimes you have to mark a second draft of something. In that case it might be helpful to have a printout of the first draft or maybe a second screen which you can refer to whilst marking.
Finally, just remember the first 500 are the hard ones, it gets easier after that!!
Do you have any top tips? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Don’t forget to follow my blog is you liked what you read. Feel free to check out my beauty blog if you like… beauty.
Till next time…..

Online teaching journal: reflections ….

So, as I said in Wednesday’s post, today I will reflect (#weeklyreflections). I will reflect on this week’s sessions and make note of the things that went well, what didn’t work as planned, and whatever else pops into my mind.

Harvard referencing
I watched a very helpful video on Harvard referencing and did the exercise that accompanied the video as a classroom activity (the one where students shout out the answers). What I noticed though was that not everyone was shouting out answers.
Next time: do it in smaller groups/ pairs.
Teaching the conditionals
I went into my EAP class with the assumption that my students were familiar with the conditionals. They were not. I mean, they were able to form some sentences, but they were not able to understand and explain the meaning of the conditionals or new how to form the so called 3 conditionals. I was going to look at mixed conditionals, but decided to scrape that.
Note to self:don’t assume they know the grammar even if they have been learning English for ages or they have been here for months!
Phones in class
I ‘let’ my students use their phones in class when they want to look up a word. I also ask them to create WeChat groups, where they share things we do in class. I do wonder though when they are looking at their phones if they are actually looking up a word. I have seen a few turn their phones upside down when I get closer to them. I need to rethink this whole phones in class issue.
Summarising a lecture
My students had to summarise a lecture, but they used the exact words that the lecturer used. there was no real summarising.
Note to self: Summarising  lectures requires more scaffolding.
While I was writing this post, I checked Facebook and saw that a colleague shared a good website. Talk to books. I will use this in class as soon as possible. You need to check that website out!! You ask a question and you find the answers in books!Like talking to a book!!
So, how was your week? Anything you’d like to share? Go for it in the comments section or in your on blog post.
Till next time….

Reflection through journal-writing

I read an interesting article by Jack Richards on Creativity in Language Teaching and come across a section that inspired me, made me think and in the end prompted another…. ramble.

1 peristeria

As teachers, we are often asked to reflect. When we, as teachers, get observed, we often have to reflect on what went well during the session and what didn’t. As part of the Delta, teachers always reflect on a lesson as part of module 2.

When we are sitting in the staff room, or drinking coffee with colleagues, we reflect. We talk about a really good teaching moment or whine about something that went wrong. lose sleep over a bad moment, try to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.

So, teachers do reflect. A lot.

But what about teaching journals? How many of you keep a journal where you reflect on your teaching? A diary or notebook where you write in once a week and reflect on issues that cropped up, good teaching ideas, what went well what didn’t? A kind of reference book which you can look at later on and get inspired… or warned?

So, this week, on Friday, I will share my online weekly journal and I invite you, to do the same. One week, thoughts and reflections. What went well, what didn’t. Something I used and liked, something I want to learn more about. Feel free to tag me if you as a blogger and do the same. Feel free to comment with your weekly reflections (is that a hashtag? #weeklyreflections) in the comments section below.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ my Facebook page (see sidebar) or ‘follow’ my blog.

Till Friday…..



I can use a ROCK and teach an amazing lesson… or can I?

Can you make a lesson where your only prop is a rock? Yes? No? If yes, what would that lesson be? If no, why not?
How important are materials in your class. How important are flashy/ super duper handouts/materials in your class? If you had nothing but a rock to use in your lesson, would you be overwhelmed and have a meltdown, or would your creative juices just flow? Would that make for an amazing lesson or a flop?
I often wonder,
How important is the material we use in the classroom? Do they make or break a lesson?
So, I have rambled quite a bit (bear with me folks, if you have been following my blog for a while, you will know that I haven’t rambled for quite a bit, so let me be) and I am going to get to my point.
I think that materials are important, but they are not the most important part of the lesson. If the material you use in class is bad/poor, you can still teach a good lesson. You could have the most amazing materials, the most up to date technology and still have a bad lesson. Is the material to blame? Are you (the teacher) to blame? Are the students to blame? Who is responsible for a bad lesson? A good one?
I think (eye roll coming), the teacher makes for a good lesson. It doesn’t have to be a well-seasoned teacher, it just has to be a teacher who has ideas and “has it”. You know, the teacher gene…….

Back to the ROCK

So, let’s challenge ourselves, shall we?
How would you use a rock in your class?
Idea 1
Ask your students:
Imagine the rock is a desert island and you need to live on it, what would you take with you? You go through how to write a plan for a story, the features of a story and so on.
Idea 2
Write a poem about a rock. Again, you go through the features of a poem and then get them cracking on.
Idea 3
One rock for each student, they draw faces on them and write the script for a play. The rocks are the characters. Again, go through what needs to be in a play, features of direct speech and so on.
Idea 4
Think about words that have to do with rocks. You can look at all kinds of vocabulary, (derivatives etc), make sentences, write a story, find adjectives to describe a rock, find the opposites of these adjectives, and so on.
Idea 5
EAP twist….. Your students take part in a seminar, they have to have arguments, good arguments. When a student finishes analysing their own argument, they hand the rock to another student who needs to provide a counterargument or something along those lines. All arguments need to be as solid as a …. rock.
Idea 6
Your turn.
How would you use a rock in your classroom?
Where do you stand on this topic. I am counting on you PLN.
Oh! Don’t forget to follow my blog or ‘like ‘ my facebook page.
Till next time…..