Nick Michelioudakis (B.
Econ., Dip. RSA, MSc [TEFL]) is an Academic Consultant with LEH (the
representatives of the Pearson PTE G Exams in Greece). In his years of active involvement in the
field of ELT he has worked as a teacher, examiner and trainer for both teachers
and Oral Examiners. His love of comedy led him to start the ‘Comedy for ELT’
project on YouTube. He has written numerous articles on Methodology, while
others from the ‘Psychology and ELT’ series have appeared in many countries. He
likes to think of himself as a ‘front-line teacher’ and is interested in
one-to-one teaching and student motivation as well as Social and Evolutionary
Psychology. When he is not struggling
with students, he likes to spend his time in a swimming pool or playing chess. For articles or handouts of his, you can
visit his site at www.michelioudakis.org.
Social Psychology and ELT: First
never get a second chance to make a first impression’
How long does it take to form a first impression? More to the point
perhaps, how important is this first impression? Doctoral student Nalini Ambady
set herself the task of finding out.
Her study was simplicity itself. She showed students short videos of
University Professors in action taken at the beginning of the academic year.
Students had to evaluate the lecturers on a number of personality dimensions,
e.g. on whether they came across as enthusiastic, friendly and warm. Each clip
lasted 30 seconds. And the sound was off.
Undeterred by the absence of audio clues, the students fulfilled their
task diligently. Then Ambady waited. At the end of the academic semester, she
approached another group of students – students who had actually been taught by
the Professors in the videos. She then gave these students a list of the same
criteria and she asked them to evaluate the same lecturers on the basis of
their experience. To her amazement, she found a huge overlap! Ambady was
shocked – but her curiosity had been aroused. She began to wonder – just how
quickly were these remarkably accurate judgments formed? So she run the study
again. Just watch the amazing Paul Bloom describe the study: Click here to watch the video
So what does all this mean for us, for Education and for ELT?
First impressions: They matter enormously! We think of them are just vague perceptions
that we readily revise in the light of more substantial evidence, but this is
rarely the case. Our mind is lazy and conservative. Once an idea has been
formed, it acts as an ‘anchor’ with every new experience chiseling away at it –
very slowly (McRaney 2012 – 138).
Halo Effects: Just because the ideas that we form remain consistent over time, that
doesn’t mean that they are accurate. In fact, we tend to be swayed to a great
extent by anything that stands out about another person. This can be their
reputation (our expectations), their accent, or (in the case of this study)
their body language and appearance.
Body Language: As teachers we spend most of our time teaching our students how to use
language – how to be accurate and use a wide range of linguistic resources. Yet
this study suggests that perhaps we should be spending more time focused on
Body Language. The latter can often trump what is being said. In a classic
study, subjects who listened to the famous Kennedy-Nixon debate on the radio
thought that Nixon had come off better; yet the impression of people who
watched it on video was the reverse! (‘Secrets of Body Language’ – 25:00) *
Appearance: Yes, as you may have guessed, this too matters – more than we would
like to think. Time and again, studies have shown the same result and revealed
all kinds of hidden advantages for the better-looking among us. In a study
conducted in 4 Universities, students were asked to rate their professors’
attractiveness. These ratings were then compared with actual student
evaluations. Good-looking lecturers had a 0.8 – 1.0 point advantage – on a
Fortunately, other studies have shown that grooming and sartorial
diligence can go a long way towards improving the way one comes across (Yeung,
2011 – p. 61). So there is hope for me yet… :-)
* For instance, another study revealed that there are four elements
about Body Language that stand out: smiling, gesturing, body orientation and
eye-contact (Burnett & Motowidlo 1998).
§Ambady, N & Rosenthal, R. (1993) "Half a
Minute: Predicting Teacher Evaluations from Thin Slices of Nonverbal Behaviour
and Physical Attractiveness" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
§Burnett, J. R. & Motowidlo, S. J. (1998)
"Relations Between Different Sources of Information in the Structured
Selection Interview" Personnel Psychology, 51, 963-983.
§Riniolo, T. C., Johnson, K. C., Sherman, T. R.,
& Misso, J. A. (2006) "Hot or Not: Do Professors Perceivedd as
Physically Attractive Receive Higher Student Evaluations?" Journal of
General Psychology, 133, 19-35.
an experienced EFL teacher from Peru, is
particularly interested in a humanistic
approach to teaching. She recalls what
it feels like introducing a new approach in a fixed educational environment.
I still remember that first day when my
heart was beating faster than ever. Nineteen years ago, I started teaching
English in a high school, It was an honour for me to go back to my own
school where I had played, learnt, and
shared my adolescence with my school mates, but this time I came back to play
an important role in the life of my own students.
As I started teaching, most of my high
school students seemed like my classmates as I was only four years older than
them. At the beginning, being on the
spot was totally different from what I had learned at university and even in my
practice teaching cycle. Being there in class, made me go back to my seat at
high school and see how students feel in class. I felt like one of them, trying
to understand what it is like when teachers asked them to be sitting down for
seven hours or not to make any noise in the classroom.
It was there that I started to look at those
students who were four years younger than me with another perspective. All of
them wanted to learn but there was something missing in most classes in
different subjects. The ties between the academic factor and the humanistic one
were severed; therefore, most of them were lost in classes or even worse, never
actively involved in them.
That’s how I perceived engagement: to
treat every learner like an individual human being with needs, strengths and
weaknesses. I spent hours looking for engaging activities for my lessons and
the class needs. Thinking of some issues that they were facing on their daily
routine and also thinking about the way they could respond to them.
Teaching students to persist in carrying out a task, or offer help on homework can
strengthen friendships, increase students' satisfaction with school and their
chances of succeeding.
It was then that a 20 year old teacher began to understand how a
teenager can feel when they are asked to do something that they do not like or
they disagree with. One of the most useful tips was to ask them what they think
about the activity, what they suggest; how they would change it; why they think
it was important, and if they liked doing that. That feedback made me grow as
person and as a teacher.
For most teachers at that time, I seemed to be the inexperienced crazy
English teacher but I knew something else was growing. Later on, I found that
by sharing a break with students, asking them how they feel even if that day was
not an English class, playing with them out of the class, giving them space in
my class to have their own say, to think loudly. What was even more important was
that we worked on learning to respect each other; developing tolerance between
My reward? Despite being so young, I earned something that some other senior
teachers might be looking for ages : RESPECT
It wasn’t the respect that some teachers may think it was the right one,
stemming from a teacher’s authority and power. I got a different kind of
respect rooting in the rapport we
had built. I had earned it with the way I taught them to support their views
and by giving them a chance to express themselves, negotiate their ideas and
I would add that by encouraging students tolearn
through failure, they may be more likely to ask for help in developing new approaches,
new ways to see their process of learning with a different view; being aware of
their roles in order to challenge new goals for their lives, they are more
grateful for and reflective about the help that has been given to them in the
"They may forget what you
said, but they will never forget how you made them feel."
One of the many small presents I received at the end of that school year as tokens of appreciation.
"A different side of EFL" is hosting Sylvia Guinan, an online educator who gives a dream list of onlinetools and resources to stimulate your teenage learner's interest and boost their autonomous learning! Click on the links and let the journey begin...
"Tapping into teenage culture to accelerate
Image credit: Wikipedia
Our teenage students are wonderfully complex, creative learners. As
teachers we can play an important role in helping them to become who they want
to be. That’s what teen culture is all about – becoming themselves and becoming
part of the peer group during those crucial, exciting ,yet challenging years
that lead to adulthood – whatever adulthood may be;).
In our rapidly changing societies, it
may seem hard for us to truly engage teen learners or help them to feel part of
something greater than themselves.
In the words of Red Hot Chilli Peppers
“It's so lonely when you don't even know yourself”
. - Red Hot Chili Peppers, Knock Me Down
The good news is that we don’t have to be ‘cool
teachers’ In fact, there’s nothing worse
than showing off how uncool you are by ‘trying’ to be cool – and teenagers can
spot it a mile off – think of Holden Caufield and Catcher in the rye.
“And I have one of those very loud, stupid
laughs. I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I'd
probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up.”
This is OUR licence to shut up and let the teens take over;)
The amazing thing is that our job is not to entertain students but to help them
entertain themselves, learn to appreciate their own minds, hearts &
talents. It’s a journey that should be marked by celebratory rites of passage
into adulthood through creativity and not through fighting against their avalanches
Teens are learning to know themselves and fit in socially. They are also
trying to handle their emotions, hormones and academic studies. What if we
could harness their feelings and imagination to make language learning natural
for them and help them to make sense of life at the same time?
Music, stories, games, technology and humour shape teen culture, speak to teen
culture and inform new generations whilst inspiring new forms of expression
through art, fashion and first romantic explorations.
This article will share ideas by bringing together the old & the new to
make learning fun. The power of story blended with user-friendly socially-wire
d technology can work wonders in this respect.
I will recommend some sites or tools that
are free and/or work along freemium models of usership. All are suitable for
Mythology & folktales can help students to explore their own inner
realities, promote reading and have them using the target language. We know
that not all teens may like reading, or we may think that the digital
generation is too hooked on technology to read much. Yet, myths are often
short, very easy to read, and very compelling. Of course, that’s not enough. We
want our students to build & create something new from the stories they
That’s where technology comes into play. Story-telling websites, multi-media and
games allow this to happen naturally.
A brilliant book to explore is ‘Mythologyfor teens – classic myths in today’s world’. The writer,
Zachary Hamby, explores creativity and common mythological themes through play
and drama. I’ll share the main philosophy here and suggest how we can also
harness the power of mythology and storytelling using educational technology.
The idea is that we can teach our students to interpret metaphors about life,
apply them to their own modern lives, do all of this in the target language
& then create their own stories, games and multi-media based on their own
modernized myths and metaphors. Themythologyteacher.com website even has some amazing webquests and teachingmaterials for language learners to explore.
When students have read, acted out, dramatized or created meaning from the
myths in class, the next step is the ‘perilous’quest
for autonomy. Adding suspense to their missions will make it all the more
a) They can go on webquests, such as those mentioned above.
b) They can take lessons learnt from particular myths and rewrite them into
modern stories that relate directly to their own lives using social
storytelling sites such as storybird
or simple class blogs. For collaborative storytelling, they can use wikis or
c) They can use the present.me
tool shared by Russell Stannard in his previous guestarticle, and tell their stories using video, imagery and art.
d) Students can be encouraged to recreate their stories in comic form, using
amazing sites such as MakeBelief Comix, Pixton,
which also has a user-friendly facebook app. Go animate
is also wonderful – here are two examples I created for Valentine’s Day. I’m
sure students could write much better ones themselvesJ
Some of the comic websites may take a little time to get used to, but you can
set them as challenges for homework and they are such fun that students should
be experts in no time.
(All of the comic sites above are free to
use in general but some charge for upgrades or special accounts. I have never
paid to use them)
e) With your help they can join
online storytelling, gaming or multi-media social communities such as Tripppin’ or Clubefl. These sites
take students into a magical world of play, socializing and imagination in the
(Tripppin’ works on a freemium model,
which means that it’s free to use unless you want some some extra features.)
(Clubefl has a minimal charge for membership equivalent to 10 euro per year per
(These are part of the public domain and
are free to use.)
The Digital comic museum is like a treasure trove of what was once hot for teen
boy & girl brains. This museum has comics specifically for boys and
specifically for girls.
Are they still hot?
Let your teens decide and compare/contrast retro story boards to the modern
3) Male & female adolescent brains:
We think we know all about teenage brains and hormones, but recently I’ve
read two separate books; one dealing with the male brain from birth, through
teen years and beyond, as well as the female version.
(* See bibliography below)
Here’s a short summary relevant for
The Teen Girl
Drama, drama, drama;)
Isn’t it strange that our teen girls are so immersed
in real life drama but we don’t harness this in the classroom?
“The teen girl’s brain is sprouting,
reorganizing and pruning neuronal circuits that drive the way she thinks, feels
and acts – and obsesses over her looks. Her brain is unfolding ancient
instructions on how to be a woman. She begins judging herself against her peers
and media images of other attractive females. This brain state is created by
the surge of new hormones on top of the ancient female genetic blueprint.”
Dr. Louann Brizendine
By deliberately sharing old-fashioned comic stories
with our female students, we can invite them to enjoy love stories without
feeling self-conscious and let them develop their humour as they laugh at
retro-style clothes, roles and attitudes.
All of these comics can be downloaded for free. If you can download your own
copies and replace the text with blank speech bubbles, you can get students to
build up their own stories.
Apart from what
they can learn from the stories themselves, the real magic is to get them to
create their own teen love stories using suitable comic software. Pixton for
fun (free version) offers the most flexible character design, though Bitstrips
is also excellent, much faster, and the facebook app. allows you to create amazing
resemblances to real people you know, including your own personal avator.
Here’s an example of an old comic strip for girls – amazing learning potential
and story creating potential with this. The girls can even blog about these
stories or pretend to be agony aunts and work out what kinds of potential
problems the comic strip is hinting at.
We can also help boys to understand girls more by getting them to talk about
the stories too. Then boys and girls and compare notes and have boy/girl
discussions, thereby raising their social/emotional intelligence & relationship
building skills through the target language in the process.
The teen boy
aren’t trying to be difficult. It’s just that their brains aren’t yet wired to
give much thought to the future. Getting boys to study and do homework has
always been more of a battle for parents than getting girls to do the same, and
with today’s high-tech temptations, the battle can feel like a war”
4) Digital games in language learning
All we need is the path of least resistance –
harnessing technology and applying gaming principles to education.
To learn more about gaming and language
learning for teens, I recommend
‘Learning to go’ is beautifully
planned book that will inspire you to guide students to create their own online
virtual environments. I have set up a virtual teen library and teacher resource
section to display all of the information I’m describing here and to show how
multiple environments and tools can be very simply organized. I chose Pearl
Trees – as recommended in Shelly’s book. I also love Tackk.
Check out this poster I created to share 50 ways to use Tackk for
teaching. I will add more ideas to my Pearl Tree collection
for you to browse through.
§Graham Stanley and
Shelly Terrell also have amazing slideshows on slideshare from their many
teacher training webinars.
§I attended the webinar as I was
writing this article yesterday. Action research you might say;)
I asked David about unisex games as I feel that boys and girls are attracted to
different kinds of games. David and some of the other participants there
recommended Sim 2. It looks perfect for immersive storytelling
and drama in virtual environments. David’s presentation was extremely clear and
practical, so if you want to explore gaming further, check out the free webinar
crucial for all teenagers to tap into the world around them and become
pro-active global citizens with a healthy social conscience. When I was a
teenager we were encouraged to read the newspaper. Today, teenagers can become
news breakers and shakers through Twitter, facebook and all kinds of social
networks.They can blog, and have
their say in world affairs. This is dynamite for language learning opportunities.
As for gaming itself, we can see from a study below how it can also shape
social and community awareness.
Here are some facts I picked up after doing a little research.
(Everything on Breaking English News is
free and Eduglogster has a freemium model – mostly free)
I also love the Edulang
applications and they have beautiful lessons about
international news. Teenage students can work with all of the above resources
autonomously, though I think that teachers should also get them creating,
reporting, blogging and becoming citizen journalists of the world. The benefits
of incorporating the news into teenage learning reality are immense. They are beyond
the initial scope of what is now turning into a bumper article, though I can
include more information in my teenage resource link.
(Edulang is not free but works on a
donation model where you pay whatever you want for a yearly subscription – as
little as one euro – and 50 % of your payment goes to a reading room charity)
The American drive-in movie culture is something I
always wished we’d had in Ireland when I was a teenager. Drive-in cinemas were such
a big part of those movies we watched as teenagers in the eighties. Today, with
the internet, we have ‘plug-in’ instead of ‘drive-in’ – but it’s infinitely
more practical and probably much safer;)
Your teens should definitely be plugging into English
Central – an amazing interactive movie website for language
learners that promotes fun, culture, and even pronunciation practice. There’s
also a lot happening at English
(Both English Central and English Attack
work on freemium models)
The Film English blog by Kieran Donaghy is also amazing and here’s a great teen
topic called The
First Kiss, created by Kieran, and the general theme is about
doing things for the first time.
Finally, I’m helping as a material reviewer for Nik Peachey’s new book project The
Digital classroom, which focuses on harnessing the power
of online video for blended learning. There will be much to share on that in
the near future – perhaps even some webinar & asynchronous training
( The webinars that I hope to present for
his project will be free)
7) ELT & Comedy
Speaking of movies & teens, there’s a treasure trove of English
language comedies that we can share with teenagers. Although this area of has
been largely neglected in ELT, one teacher has devoted himself to collecting
the best comedies for language learners. Nick Michelioudakis has created a You
Tube channel just for this purpose. I’ve
gathered a collection of ten suitable ones which you can find
here. Please use your own discretion as to what’s suitable
for your particular students.
Nick describes his approach very clearly here in the guest
article he wrote for the August
ELT Blog carnival. The blog challenge is hosted by
Carissa Peck on mELTing activities, so if you keep
this link you’ll soon have a full collection of humorous lesson
plans submitted by bloggers all over the world.
At the end of the day, teachers have to be careful about what kinds of comedies
or humour they can share with students – it’s a fine balancing act. On one hand
teenagers like to be bold and irreverent and it’s actually good for brain
development ( another topic to write about), yet one the other hand, culture
plays a role in what’s considered funny. In Western societies we seem to be
most lenient about brazen humour, as laughter at the human condition is seen as
being more important than rigid morals. In fact our own strict morals become
the butt of our humour – for example in Ireland we had the infamous Father Ted.
The English cartoon series Stressed Eric
is also very funny. I’m thinking of making my own Father Ted and Stressed Eric
collections to add to my teenage virtual library.
8) Teens, music & kinaesthetic learning.
We all know how much teenagers identify with music and most of us know one
teacher who has specialized as an ELT teacher/rap performer who writes ELT
The Fluency MC You Tube channel is number one on my virtual
juke box for teenagers. His songs encourage kinaesthetic
learning too as students can dance to the rap while chanting. If you train
students to do this in class, they can eventually have their own personal
playlist at home and can dance in their rooms while learning verbs – how cool
Theodora Papapnagiotou is also developing kinesthetic language activities
through exercise. This is something else that students can go on to build into
their lifestyle routines. I recently interviewed Theodora and her training
coach Nick Maragkos here.
I also like to collect songs and create lessons for
them on interactive
music posters. I have quite a collection, which you can
browse through later. For more music resources I recommend EFL classroom 2.0 and whatever David
Deubelbeiss creates and blogs about regarding learning language through music.
If teens don’t like reading, then where do the bookworms come from?
There will always be some teenagers who love reading and it’s our
responsibility to nurture this desire. Britlit
is a good place to start for online lessons, but we should really have our own
recommended book lists for our teenagers. For example, I use the Wimpy kids
book series for pre-adolescent intermediate learners. This is a topic I hope to
cover in future in more detail.
(Britlit is free)
11) Collections, planning, thinking tools and environments.
Mind mapping tools are essential for teenagers in all kinds of
brain-friendly ways. The most popular for students is padlet. You can
explore more from my collection in the teen library. I’ll continue adding more
ideas to my collection as time goes on, so please consider my library to be a
public tribute to teenagers and teachers and one that you can refer to on a
(Padlet is free)
12) Dedicated Free Webinars
I’m also collecting webinar links about teaching teens and here’s a recent one
by Roseli Serra at iTDi on WiziQ called ‘What
Students who like art can learn a lot of English autonomously from You Tube.
Lots of talented artists have dedicated drawing channels which demonstrate
drawing skills and describe the whole process in English. Mark Crilley
is a good example, but you can browse You Tube artists to find what you’re
looking for. Brilliant for listening practice, imagination and kinaesthetic
learning. Anyone can develop drawing skills in this way. Students who learn to
draw cute cartoons style characters can even create completely original comics
later using Pixton or Comic Life, which allow you to upload your own images.
isn’t free but licences are very reasonable)
One teacher who has a special interest in learning English through art is Chrysa
Papalazarou who recently presented on Teaching
She also organized a wonderful school art project that
you can learn more abouthere.
I have my own very special interest in visual design
for education and will be working on that from September onwards.
Although most student love animals, this topic is skimped upon in ELT. I’ve
discovered an amazing website that teaches about nature and animals through a
mixture of cartoon and real life documentary. It’s amazing for language
learning and autonomous work for students.
This site is called Wild Kratts and I also hope to do a lot of work with this
in the near future. There are lots of cartoon/documentaries here.
I think they’re suitable for teenagers by level and interest as I enjoy
watching them with my kids. Even though my kids are younger, I enjoy the shows
as much as they do. There is also a PBS gaming site
for WildKratts for younger learners – check out this amazing
teacher page for Wild Kratts.
Speaking of young learners – a very pro-active way of nurturing autonomous teen
learners is to ‘catch them young’ and train them to be autonomous from lower
15) My teenage Virtual Library for
Learning English On Pearl Trees
Finally, thanks to Shelly Terrell for sharing Pearl
Trees and many other tools with us in her amazing webinars. I highly recommend
her new book Learning to go for further
That was it – a bumper-pack of resources and ideas – that’s constantly
being built uponJ
Bibliography: Hamby, Z "Mythology For Teens", Prufrock Press, 2009 Brizendine, L " The Male Brain", Three Rivers Press, 2010 Brizendine, L " the Female Brain", Three Rivers Press, 2009 Terrell,S, Spencer J "Learning To Go", The-Round, 2014 Stanley, G, Mawer k, "Digital Play", Delta Publishing 2013
Some ELT books that I use to inform my teaching are all mentioned with the authors
This is my relatively focused, yet
comprehensive look at what’s out there to help us develop ideas and encourage
creativity in autonomous learning. As this is a blog post and not a book, I
can’t include more. If you know of other great resources or ideas please
Sylvia Guinan is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who
facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world.
She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.