Using On-Line Concordances to Find Examples of English the Way It’s Really Used

Written by: Vjatseslav Konovalov,
Narva College of Tartu University, Estonia
The Internet has become an indispensable resource for English language teachers at all levels.  There are plenty of web-sites that offer possibilities for independent language studies (e.g.;, provide with a sensible expert advice (e.g. and help prepare for tests (e.g.
There is also a resource available on the WWW, which for some reason or other has been overlooked and has not received enough attention yet.  I am talking about on-line concordances.  Concordances are corpora compiled by some large international bodies, such as Hong Kong University, and made available on-line.  Why it is a very good resource is because the corpora are built with the most recently collected data, so the language used in the corpora is up-to-date and give examples of English the way it is really used.
I would like to share my personal experience on how on-line concordances could be used by the teachers of English.  Naturally, the prerequisite for making exercises similar to the ones listed below is Internet access.
My first example would be suitable for teachers of primary schools.  By using the British National Corpus available at a teacher could enter in the search window any vocabulary item to be studied by the students.  A screenful of examples will then be displayed (usually 50 items).  After that the teacher may select and copy some of the sentences from the list of 50 and deletes the word to be introduced to the students.  Judging by the short context that each of the sentences provides for the students, they should be able to guess what the actual word is.  Here is an exemplifying set of sentences for the word milk.

*Work out the meaning of the missing word from the context given (one word fits all the sentences) (Hong Kong University VLC Web Concordancer is advisable)
1.    d wide, he squirted the warm white ____ against  the roof of his mouth and
2.   oat would not.     “You’re boiling ___ ain’t you”? soothing it with  his
3.   ed in a still room, with a bowl of ___ and a loaf  of Indian bread. I can
4.   st to eat in his  cereal bowl with ___ and honey.     Maple syrup is made
5.   at  had to be bought for the baby, ___ and orange juice  and vitamins and
*(this idea was borrowed from C.Tribble & G. Jones Concordances in the Classroom, Longman, 1990)
If there are computer laboratories available for the use by the English teachers at school, then the scope of opportunities for using concordances increases manifold.  A very straightforward and yet, thought-provoking task would be to ask the students to work out the meaning of a particular word through the context in which it is used.  As an example, the students could enter into the search window the word albeit, which is not very frequently used in conversational English, but could be very appropriate when it comes to writing some academic text.  Here is what some of the sentences that would appear on the screen look like:
Here is a random selection of 50 solutions from the 1379 found…
A0P 406 Both were old enough to feel keenly the savage blow, one from which Leonard suffered in particular, albeit outwardly in guarded silence: `;The deeper the sorrow, the less tongue it has,’; said the rabbis.
A6G 1441 Thus Caroline Norton, who was the subject of a trumped up crim. con. suit and who lost the custody of her children, is portrayed as a simple victim, albeit in her case not a passive one.
A75 331 Humans are synchronized to a 24-hour cycle, however, and so time-cues must exist, albeit often artificial ones.
AA9 906 It is a measure of Quisling’s obstinacy that he was back as `;premier’; –; albeit the puppet of Reichskommissar Josef Terboven –; within two years, thus ensuring that he shared the guilt for the occupation war-crimes for which he was duly shot in 1945.
ABF 346 Darwin’s idea of `;survival of the fittest’; found a home in political philosophy in the form (albeit distorted) of social darwinism.
AHC 1171 Indeed, Mr Voss had last year written to The Daily Telegraph extolling the place –; `;for patrons who wish to relax in comfort and splendour and enjoy the delights of haute cuisine’; –; and complaining that it wasn’t fair that Paddy Burt had written about a nearby Dorset establishment (albeit unfavourably).

The underlined codes at the beginning of the line indicate the actual source of each sentence, which is very handy for referential purposes, for instance, if there is a need to find out where a particular sentence comes from.
Another possibility for English teachers to make use of on-line concordancers is to create exercises for their students that regular textbooks simply do not have.  Since I am involved in training students for Cambridge University CAE examination, I often run into problems of finding adequate amount of materials for vocabulary practice.  When my students need extra practice in vocabulary items, or when certain words have meanings which are similar, but not exactly the same, I go on-line and copy and paste those sentences where the words that cause difficulties are used in the contexts that concordancers provide. Below are two sets of sentences (part a) that are focused on the differences in meaning between two verbs to ensure and to assure, which are looked at separately.  Part b) gives a chance to differentiate between the two verbs in a jumbled set of sentences. (The keys are provided in brackets on the right).

1    as the commune program, which will ensure agricultural  poverty for years. Th
2    ollowing from any decision  can he ensure attention to the practical details
3     the rights  of the individual **h ensure his development **h enlarge  his op
4    ponents of single elements tend to ensure predominance  of that element witho
5     Good operational intelligence can ensure sound planning,  greatly reduce for

1    y protect the work table, but also assure a clean  breakthrough. Another meth
2     or sufficiently secured so as to  assure a reasonable chance of repayment. T
3   e Technique tells the readers- “We assure you that the total number of peopl
4    ion  on Liberated Europe seemed to assure democratic institutions  on the Wes
5    d before desegregation, how can we assure equal opportunity? In fact, in

1   ble destruction.  But I once again ______ all peoples and all nations  that t                         (assure)
2    y of minor scraps along the way to ______ that you understand what the word                  (ensure)
3    ry, reflects our determination  to ______ the peace and the future of freed                         (ensure)
4   r before you leave for Europe will ______ you of  having one on tap when you                     (assure)
5    is small pore size was required to ______ uniformity of the flow leaving the                        (ensure)

As well as being guided by the teacher, students who have access to the Internet may work with concordancers independently, or as part of their homework.  Here is another example of a task, which requires the knowledge of a very precise distinction between the given variants (typical CAE task): 

Using a concordancer, decide which word fits the gap in the sentence

“The _________ of these volunteers for hard work is amazing.”
(a) ability; b) capacity; c) capability
By studying the contexts in which each of the three words is used, the students should be able to see that it is only with the word capacity that the preposition for is used after the prepositional object which follows the verb.
Finally, my last example includes such an interesting area of vocabulary study as new forms of words being used in English.  There are books, e.g. English Observed by R. Mc Andrew which assert that there is a tendency in British English to use a particular adjective with this or that preposition, or that together with more traditional forms of verbs (past and perfect), some other forms are equally popular.  In order to find out the extent to which each of such claims is true, concordancers can be employed.  This way of finding out to what extent certain word forms have caught on in British English is quite simple and straightforward.  After inserting the words with preposition into the search screen, you will be able to see, for instance, which of these are the most frequently used:
Quitted/ lighted/ waked; (the British National Corpus has found 13 solutions for quitted; 240 solutions for lighted, and only 4 for waked)

Different from / different to/ different than (this is the actual order of frequency of usage)

This type of search may be very useful should your students decide to write a form that is not the one that you taught him/her.  It would probably be easier for you to support your argument in favour or against the student’s choice, when you had this kind of reference.
The exercises described above show that the Internet resources, on-line concordancers in particular, could be regarded as an extra tool for creation of a variety of supplementary materials by English language teachers for their students.  Although they sometimes could be quite time-consuming, the students find them very useful and helpful in mastering those areas of English language studies, which textbooks often do not reach. I encourage everyone to try and use concordancer at least once to be able to see how rewarding and benefitial for the students the activities you create can be.
P.S. A good webpage where links to several concordancers can be found is (towards the bottom of the page).

1. C.Tribble & G. Jones Concordances in the Classroom, Longman, 1990
2. R. Mc Andrew, English Observed, LTP, 1994

Encouraging Critical Thought in the EFL Classroom

Presented by: Andy Halvorsen, English Language Fellow Download: PowerPoint Presentation
Workshop Highlights

  • Critical Thinking: Meaning and Definitions
  • The Role of Critical Thinking in Education and Life
  • How and Why Critical Thinking Fits into EFL Courses
  • Overview of Activities to Encourage Critical Thought in the EFL Classroom

Internet Suggestions: | An introduction to the critical thinking community as well as a comprehensive series of links to other sites and information on the topic of critical thought. | A detailed and annotated list of websites on critical thinking which includes sites on teaching critical thinking skills, critical reading, and critical writing. | University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate Thinking Skills Assessment.  Contains sample tests. | Information and insights on how to improve critical reading skills with your students. | A link to my own complete article on critical thinking in ELF classes published in the Internet TESL Journal.
1. Debate
Why it works
Debate forces students to think about the multiple sides of an issue and it also forces them to interact not just with the details of a given topic, but also with one another.  Also debates are versatile in the range of topics possible and the format that the debate may follow.

How it works

  1. Students must first be made aware of a debatable topic and of the variety of potential positions that can be taken on the topic.  These topics can come from course materials, from classroom discussion, or from the local community.
  2. Students should then be given an opportunity to research the topic somehow and form their own opinions on the issue.
  3. Next pairs or small groups should be formed where like-minded students can share their opinions on the topic and gain information from others.  During this step students should be encouraged to think about the potential arguments that will come from the other side and how they can respond to these arguments.
  4. Now some form of debate must take place where the two (or three or four) sides share their opinions and present their arguments.  This could take the form of a classic debate, with opening and closing arguments from both sides and time for rebuttals all done as a class.  Alternatively, it could simply be small groups or pairs sharing their differing points of view with one another.
  5. Then, the instructor should follow-up with a summary of the opinions and views expressed by all sides and an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.
  6. In the final step, the class and instructor should be allowed to express their opinions on which side made the case most convincingly.  This step is important in that it helps the students to understand that this type of thinking and debate process can lead to real results and provide some sense of closure on the topic.

Things to remember

  • The debate itself can take many forms
  • Students need to be allowed to form their own opinions rather than having the       teacher assign “sides” to the debate
  • Choosing a topic appropriate to the interests of the students is essential

2. Media Analysis

Why it works
Analyzing various forms of media, either in an ESL or EFL environment, gives the opportunity for students to think about important issues like media bias and censorship.  When students look at the types of issues that may bias reporting, they are also forced to think in terms of their biases and to reflect on these in detail.  This is not to say however, that media analysis needs only to focus explicitly on issues of bias and censorship as any analysis of media has the potential to raise students’ general awareness and encourage them to think about the issues that affect their lives.
How it works

  1. A form of media and topic need to be chosen, either by the instructor or the students, that reflects the interests of the class and has the potential to encourage critical thought.
  2. Time for analysis (reading, watching, listening, etc.) must then be provided to give the students ample time to absorb the material they will be asked to work with.
  3. Class, small group, or pair discussions should then be undertaken on the content of the piece to give students the opportunity to work out any problems or questions they may have.
  4. Once the students are comfortable with the content of the piece, the instructor should then introduce questions designed to encourage critical reflection.  Some possible examples are as follows:
    1. Who is the author?  Why did they write or report this piece?
    2. Do you feel the facts are accurate?  Why or why not?
    3. Is the author or reporter giving equal attention to all sides of the issue?
    4. How does this piece make you feel personally?  How do you feel others (from other countries, cultures, political groups, etc.) would feel about it?
    5. Do you see examples of bias, either in the piece itself or in the language chosen?

5.  With ample time, a good follow-up to this activity is to ask students to write a response either to the author or an editor of the piece expressing their opinions
Things to remember

  • The media is all around us and finding material for classroom use is just a matter of opening a newspaper or watching the news
  • The focus of this type of activity does not need to be on traditional topics like bias and censorship
  • Teachers must know their students and their interests in order to source appropriate material for classroom use
  • Working with local media outlets may give the opportunity for real correspondence between the class and a writer or editor

Problem Solving

Why it works
Problems exist everywhere, both inside the classroom and out, and their resolution is a popular source of conversation in all countries and cultures.  Analyzing a somewhat complex problem like a city’s poor public transport system can offer students a myriad of opportunities to analyze an issue critically.  By asking students to look at pro’s and con’s and costs and benefits an instructor is forcing them to consider real world problems that impact their daily lives in a critical way.

How it works

  1. First the class must identify a problem that is relevant to their lives and interests.  Some examples might include:
    1. The high cost of education at their school
    2. Overcrowding in the city
    3. Local noise pollution
    4. Corruption of city officials
    5. Visa difficulties for international students
  2. Next the class should work together to clearly define the problem.  This step is important for the completion of the task and the instructor needs to work to make sure everyone is starting with a similar definition.
  3. Divide the class into pairs, groups, or teams and ask them to list the root causes of the problem.
  4. The instructor should then identify two or three causes that seem appropriate to the task and ask the students to discuss steps for their correction.  Here the instructor must ask the students to keep in mind the real-world consequences to their actions and prevent solutions from becoming imaginary.
  5. With a little work from the instructor, the students’ ideas can be collected into an action plan which can be posted around class or sent to an appropriate official for review.  This works particularly well in a university setting where an instructor’s colleague can write a response to the class.

Things to remember

  • Problems are everywhere but the instructor must think through the steps in the process clearly before introducing a given problem to the class
  • Student generated solutions need to be as concrete and realistic as possible
  • Working with an outside agent (city official, university representative, lawyer) for correspondence is helpful as it lends weight and a sense of accomplishment to the project.

Helping students write

Written by: Rossen Stoitchkov, University of Sofia
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The paper will address the issue of students’ motivation for writing and facilitation of the process of writing as well as some modes of positive feedback, which will help students gain confidence in their writing assignments. It will also look at ways of teaching students structures, patterns and collocation through reformulation techniques that will boost their fluency in writing. The nature of teacher responses to student writing will also be dealt with and some good practices will be shared as to how to promote successful writing that will improve students’ writing proficiency to the point where they are able to produce it with minimal errors and maximum clarity by modelling native-like fluency.
Most teachers would agree that the majority of students don’t like writing very much. At least this is an observation I would confirm as only 30 per cent of my students hand in their compositions for me to mark them. The rest of them either put off writing until the last minute, or they never set out to complete a writing assignment. The trouble is further exacerbated in many classrooms where writing is mainly relegated to a homework activity. Why is writing for most students such a daunting task? What makes it so unpopular?
One reason for writing to be postponed or avoided altogether may be that most students find it frustrating because it seems unnatural to them. Speaking, on the contrary, is accepted as quite natural. Speech takes place very quickly. Words are spoken and soon lost forever. Writing does not flow smoothly. We write a few lines roughly, reread them, then write down one of the lines smoothly, constantly checking for correctness.
Compared with speech, effective writing requires a number of things: a high degree of organization in the development of information, ideas or arguments; a high degree of accuracy so that there is no ambiguity of meaning; the use of complex grammatical devices for focus and emphasis; and a careful choice of vocabulary, grammatical patterns, and sentence structures to create a style which is appropriate to the subject matter and the eventual readers.
It is these demands which present particular problems to learners of English as a foreign language. Even those who are proficient writers in their first language have to acquire a wide language base from which to make appropriate choices. They may also find that confusing differences exist between the conventions of writing in Bulgarian and English. For example, the level of formality or patterns of presenting information may differ, or the accepted method of setting out arguments in discursive writing may vary.
The purpose of this paper is to look at writers and writing in the English language classroom and to offer suggestions for helping students overcome the difficulties they experience in developing clear, effective writing in English.
There are many reasons for finding writing difficult, but probably a fundamental one is lack of confidence and feeling that you don’t have anything to say. Every new piece of writing seems to be a new challenge. If students are able to accept this they might find it easier to cope. It is quite natural to feel rather “blocked” when you first approach a writing assignment. If you try to accept yourself as a writer and acknowledge that getting started is a common problem, writing shouldn’t seem to be such a daunting task.
What can we do to make writing more likable and less avoided? In order to help students to do well in writing tasks, it is essential to first understand them and the writing process. Writing must be taught and learned. The ability to write well is not a naturally acquired skill; it is usually learned or culturally transmitted as a set of practices in formal instructional settings. Writing skills must be practised and learned through experience. It is the act of composing that can create problems for students. It requires conscious effort and practice in composing, developing and analyzing ideas. The culture-specific nature of schemata – the mental structures representing our knowledge of things, events, and situations, can lead to difficulties when students write texts in a second language. Any appropriate teaching must take into consideration the influence from the educational, social, and cultural experiences that students have in their native language. These include textual issues, such as rhetorical and cultural preferences for organizing information and structuring arguments, knowledge of appropriate genres and distinct cultural and instructional socialization.
Writing should not be viewed only as an individually-oriented, inner-directed cognitive process, but as much as an acquired response to the discourse conventions within particular communities; knowledge of the textual conventions, expectations, and formulaic expressions particular to the discourse. By guiding students toward an awareness of how an audience will interpret their work, students will learn to write with a feel for the intended reader.
Most of the writing we do in real life is done with a reader in mind. Knowledge of the reader provides the writer with a context, without which it is difficult to know what or how to write. For example, if you ask students to write a description of a town, they need to know why and who for. Does the activity require the kind of description to be found in a visitor’s guide, a geography textbook, or a letter to a friend? Each of these might need different content for the description, order it in a certain way, and be written in a formal or informal style. In other words, the selection of content and style depends on a sense of audience. One of the teacher’s task is to create contexts and real or imagined audiences for writing. When setting writing activities, teachers need to vary the audience, identify who the readers are to be, and try to make every piece of writing fulfill some kind of communicative purpose, either real or simulated. When students understand the context, they are much more likely to write effectively and appropriately.
Apprenticeship models (Crème and Lea, 2003) of teaching writing, developed out of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theories of language and literacy, are becoming more common these days. Essentially, it is mostly proficient students who are also fairly skilled writers, who can benefit most from this approach. They start with what they already know and can do, but their learning is extended into what Vygotsky termed the “zone of proximal development” through strategic instruction, collaborative construction of opportunities and active participation. (Moll, 1990:23) Apprenticeship models enable students to use the new language as a tool in the process of becoming self-regulatory. Cumming (1989) suggests that in order to foster students’ writing expertise, “students should be supported by a scaffold of prompts and explanations, by extensive modeling, by in-process support, and by reflection that connects strategic effort to outcomes”. (Cumming,1995:42) Drawing on and revising student knowledge of genres, reflecting on strategies for approaching a variety of writing tasks, and cultivating a metalanguage for discussing texts are important components of such socio-literate methods.
The apprenticeship model is a knowledge-transforming model in itself and not a knowledge-telling one. (Flower and Hayes, 1981)It involves setting goals that are to be achieved through the composing process and the purposeful achievement of those goals. By incorporating pre-writing activities such as collaborative brainstorming, choice of personally meaningful topics, drafting, revising and editing, multiple drafts and peer-group editing, the instruction takes into consideration what writers do as they write. Attention to the writing process stresses more of a workshop approach to teaching, which fosters classroom interaction, and engages students in analyzing and commenting on a variety of texts. Such an approach can give students a general feel for the structure of the assignment they are writing, which involves creating and building your own structure and moulding your knowledge to the task.
Using “building blocks” is a metaphorical way of thinking about writing. As a student approaches each new assignment he or she is an “apprentice” while his or her teacher is an “experienced builder”. The teacher will be able to tell the student where he or she went wrong with their writing after the finished structure is completed. At this stage, the student may feel like an “apprentice” who has to acquire a number of “crafting skills” e.g. getting the grammar right; having a range of vocabulary; punctuating meaningfully; spelling accurately; using a range of sentence structures; linking ideas and information across sentences to develop a topic; developing and organizing the content clearly and convincingly. Yet he or she is in charge of the building. As a writer he or she has to be able to identify the building blocks, the different parts of the assignment. Whatever the assignment the student will be putting together all the components into a structured coherent whole. He or she will be the one to have to make choices about the sources he or she will be drawing from, what to put in and what to leave out, and what are the most important points to make.
Anderson (1985) distinguishes three stages of language production:

Construction – planning what you are going to write by brainstorming i.e. setting goals and searching memory for information;

Transformation – applying language rules to transform intended meanings into the form of the message when composing or revising i.e. using production systems to generate language in phrases or constituents;

Execution – the physical process of producing the text.

Cognitive modeling (Cumming, 1995) is an important prerequisite for successful writing and an integral part of the teaching of writing. It refers to the first stage of the process of language production as defined by Anderson above. The benefits of cognitive modeling lie at the hidden potential of demonstrating the strategies experienced writers use when planning, making decisions, and revising texts. It requires that teachers make explicit use of thinking or procedural facilitation prompts.
Students may be able to communicate more effectively if they are exposed to models of not only standard essays, but also a variety of genres, including flyers, magazine articles, letters, and so forth. By examining a variety of written texts, students’ awareness can be raised with regard to the way words, structures, and genre contribute to purposeful writing. Also, they can be made aware of different types of textual organization, which can in turn affect their second language composing processes. (Raimes, 1985)
Models can also be used for text analysis, which can help students see how particular grammatical features function in authentic discourse contexts. Models can seem fairly formulaic as in the knowledge-telling model of the five-paragraph essay. (Flower and Hayes, 1981) Students need to be aware of a variety of forms that serve the writer’s purpose.
I have tried out some of these insights with Intermediate students. The coursebook I have been teaching for the past few years is New Headway Intermediate (the revised version). Unit 4 provides some quite stimulating writing opportunities. On page 108 students are given a model of a four-paragraph essay where the pros and cons of being a child are discussed. Students have to study the sample essay analytically paying particular attention to the textual organization with all the linking devices and referential ties that ensure text coherence and a logical flow of ideas. They are expected to be able to pick up the use of rhetorical and cohesive devices like: In my opinion…; One advantage is that…’ Another point is that…; Moreover,…; For instance,…; All things considered,…; In fact,…; In conclusion,…; Finally,… etc.
Furthermore, students are shown how to go about generating ideas drawing on their general knowledge and experience. Then they are invited to write a “for and against” essay on the following subjects: Getting Older; Having a University Degree or Having Children While Young, the latter being their favorite topic as I have collected lots of compositions on this subject.
I usually have an open class discussion trying to urge my students to think about the problem in question and to freely express their opinions. Then I get them to write a list of pros and cons, which in this case might look like this:
Having Children While Young

Advantages Disadvantages
  • you start thinking like an adult and become more mature;
  • childbearing is easier;
  • mums have more energy and can stand all the sleepless nights;
  • smaller age gap between parents and children;
  • children give a meaning to one’s life;
  • you can have grandchildren while you are still quite active
  • you can’t go out with friends very often;
  • it can put a mother’s career on hold;
  • more responsibilities than pleasures;
  • you will have to lose most of the freedoms you have previously enjoyed;
  • childbearing always involves risk;
  • it is difficult for a young mum to pursue her studies;
  • fewer pastimes;
  • sometimes women have to fight depression after childbirth

It would be great if students were encouraged to research a topic and look for input. Here is an article out of The Telegraph that I came across while searching relevant information on the Internet, which is a good source for students to draw on in order to write their essay. See Appendix D.
It is very important at this stage to pre-teach the requisite vocabulary and collocations so that the students can have some key topic-related vocabulary and phrases at their disposal to help them express their ideas. Such key vocabulary may include the following words and expressions:

Verb and Complement Collocations Noun Phrases/Compound Nouns
have a baby/child having children
give birth to a baby/child/son/daughter childbearing/childbirth
bring up/rear/raise/care for/look after a child upbringing/child rearing/raising a child
feed a child child feeding
take responsibility for a child
adversely affect a relationship
eliminate one’s libido
take your anger out on your partner
affect one’s performance (referring to working mums)
contribute to society
grow up to be an honest person/lead a life of crime etc.
strain/exhaustion/ sleep deprivation/lack of sleep (while caring for a baby)
greater financial security (when having children at a later age)
energy levels (referring to mums)
parents-to-be etc.

Note that most of the phrases in the chart above have been taken from the article in Appendix D. Obviously, students can research a topic looking for input, including appropriate vocabulary and phraseology.
Language teachers need to know that while teaching we are dealing with thinking in a second language. If we succeed in getting our students to think in English, we have certainly taught them something. When we write, we are thinking about editing and generating ideas at a time. This involves two conflicting processes: creating and destroying. Dealing with a chaos of thoughts in our minds is a hard job. However, if we are able to put them down on paper before they are lost, we can express them in a more orderly manner later, which is a feasible task. A person writing is like a “mental juggler”. (Raimes, 1985:34) Students need to learn to turn off the editor while writing and generate ideas without destroying them before they are able to get them down on paper. They can turn on the editor after all their ideas are safely down on paper. Freewriting is the key. Students feel relaxed and there is no frustration about writing. The goal of freewriting is generating as much material as possible in 10-20 minutes. According to Elbow (1981) in order for this to work one must observe the following list of don’ts:

  1. Don’t stop to think about mistakes.
  2. Don’t stop to check spelling.
  3. Don’t stop to think about grammar.
  4. Don’t stop to cross out or read what you have written.

The benefit of freewriting is in the assumption that if you are not stopping for anything, then there isn’t sufficient time to translate from the mother-tongue into the second language.
I believe that if we do our best to get our students to freewrite, we will have won most of the battle over frustration. Perhaps then students will be more eager to write. What I appreciate most about freewriting is that it forces students to think in English. See Appendix C for samples of freewriting. Students were asked to write as much text as they could in 15 minutes.
We need to teach students to sit down and write uninhibitedly, not looking back, not organizing, and not stopping for anything. If they stop, the devil of the editor sneaks in the back door and the writing loses its coherence thus destroying the writing process.
Another way of changing negative attitudes toward writing is to teach students that writing is a way of learning apart from being a skill. When we think about skill, ideas of good and bad, and success and failure spring to mind. Learning, on the other hand, is something everyone can attain.
For Raimes (1985) the teaching of writing should stress the students’ ideas and how they express these ideas rather than stressing grammar. If a student’s essay is free of grammatical mistakes, and has superb organization, that doesn’t make it a good essay. It could be that the student is merely “parroting” information. As the author points out – “writing is a learning process in which writing finds its own meaning; truth and meaning cannot exist apart from language”. (Raimes, 1985:83)
Assigning a topic is only a small part of the teacher’s job. We shouldn’t assign topics and leave students fend for themselves. We need to help students learn how to achieve their goals. According to Raimes “giving an assignment involves more than selecting a topic for the students to write on. It means giving the suggestions as to how to go about writing it”. (Raimes, 1985:85) Sometimes teachers fail to give their students a goal. They only give an assignment and the result is a dead and lifeless piece of writing written to the teacher. It should be the teacher’s duty to create a specific audience for the students to write to so that the writing can be goal-oriented. Writing that has no goal usually lacks what Elbow (1981) call “real voice”. Therefore, systematically encouraging learners to reflect on what they want to write and then helping them to make an appropriate choice of language forms has pedagogic value.
Overt classroom teaching through modeling is only one part of the teaching process; providing students with feedback on their writing is the other. The effectiveness of feedback may depend on the level of students’ motivation, their current level, their cognitive style, the clarity of the feedback given, the way the feedback is used, and the attitudes of students toward their teacher and the class.
We must respond to writing in such a way so that students can make modifications with confidence and competence. Ideally, learners should be encouraged to analyze and evaluate feedback themselves in order for it to be truly effective. Teacher commentary, student reactions to commentary, and student revisions interact with each other in a formidable way. How teachers intervene in writing, and how students react to the feedback influences the composing process. Should we urge our students to pay little attention to correctness, at least until a first draft has been written?
Process models of teaching writing allow students time to reflect and seek input as they reshape their plans, ideas and language. The focus should be on idea development, clarity, and coherence before identification and grammar correction. Instruction and response serve to motivate revisions, encourage learning, induce problem-solving and critical thinking, in addition to further writing practice.
We need to help students look at their writing critically. Feedback should involve problem-solving and engage students in the process of error correction rather than simply providing corrections for them. One way to achieve this is through writing conferences. It would be far more rewarding if we could meet individually with students and discuss the weak and strong points of their essays rather than marking compositions all up in red pen and handing them back. Many times the teacher will have to suggest different ways of wording a sentence. Students have to use feedback as a tool to improve their writing. There is a way we can help our students take feedback more seriously and that is through the conference. The teacher can explain the remarks that were put on the paper carefully and effectively in the writing conference. During the conference the teacher needs to praise good parts of an essay, as well as point out weaknesses.
Realistically, in many teaching situations individual conferences are simply not possible due to time and space constraints. At any rate, feedback should be approached with patience and care on the part of the teacher. However, if you teach a class of 8-10 students, as it is often the case at the Sofia University Language Department, such an enterprise seems to be completely affordable.
Grammar and content feedback, whether given separately or together, positively affect writing. It is essential to focus on the structural aspects so that the writing closer resembles target language discourse. A combination of process instruction and attention to language development is the best choice. Attention to errors “provides the negative evidence students often need to reject or modify their hypotheses about how the target language is formed or functions’. (Larsen-Freeman, 1991:29) Students normally attend to and appreciate their teachers’ pointing out grammar problems. Grammatical feedback seems to have more effect on error correction than content feedback has on the improvement of content.
Cumming (1995) suggests that student self-evaluation should be the optimal mode of assessment. Self-evaluation can be encouraged in student portfolios, self-review checklists, and teacher and peer responses. In addition, verbalizing the writing process step-by-step can be effective, as it affords both students and teachers the opportunity to consider writing dialogically. The author refers to self-assessment as a component of one-to-one tutoring sessions, which he suggests are “more conducive environments for the textual, cognitive, and social dimensions of error identification to be integrated with individual students’ composing processes and their immediate concerns about language, ideas, and texts” (Cumming, 1995:39) Again, this is a time-consuming procedure but it is all right with smaller classes. Of course, the teacher should be ready to devote some time to such tutoring sessions if he or she really wants to boost the students’ writing competence in particular and their language proficiency in general.
Feedback gives the students direction in their revision. It helps them make decisions on the kinds of changes that must be made in order for their compositions to really work. With new concepts in teaching composition emerging, new attitudes to teacher responses to student writing have been generated. No doubt, one of the most important criteria in ensuring effective writing among students is the quality of feedback given to them.  If we aim at really effective feedback, we must go beyond the traditional emphasis on the correction of grammar, sentence development, spelling, punctuation marks and other concerns of form. We must deepen the interaction between teacher and student. It is such interaction that ultimately stimulates the students to discover, develop, and expand their ideas in writing. Teacher feedback must help the students make their meaning clear. This requires conversing with them, motivating them to see that the success of their written work largely depends on how they respond to the multiple demands that their decisions about their writing assignments elicit from them. To assist them, the students must get comments that challenge their thoughts. Sometimes, teachers should even recommend ideas to be incorporated in their compositions. I myself do it all the time.
Research has shown that students will improve their written performance if teachers shift their concern for errors on the written product to concern for the evaluation and reformulation of ideas in their texts. (Flower and Hayes, 1981) Teacher comments should be formative, the type that promotes learning. The responses that a teacher gives to student composition must encourage them to find new ways of elaborating their thoughts. Although praise can and must be given when appropriate, the teacher’s support must be extended by showing to the students how or why something they wrote in not working in their essays. Such a view stems from a major premise – feedback on writing would be more productive if it were conversational. Conversing with students will stimulate their minds to rethink and reconstruct their thoughts. Such feedback will provide them with a direction on how to revise their work to deepen their meaning.
It is my observation that the majority of students find conversational comments most useful in helping them improve their writing. However, it is necessary that teachers build a trusting relationship with their students. They have to explain their rationale behind their evaluation of students’ written work to the students.
My own experience with student-teacher conferencing matches what most composition experts assert about the value of conversational comments – it is a way for the student to view writing as a means of learning. (Flower and Hayes, 1981; Frodesen and Holton, 2003) Furthermore, teachers need to continually examine their commenting behavior. We need to find alternatives and adjust our traditional way of giving feedback to them. We also need to learn to respond in a manner that will reflect to the students the notion that writing is a tool of learning and that we are trying to lead them into rethinking their written assignments as an integral part of the process of composition. Positive response behavior involves skill and training. There is a variety of techniques of telling students how they can make their writing better.
I have come to understand that indirect feedback is more useful than direct correction. Written feedback has also been found to be effective when it is coupled with student-teacher conferencing. (Frodesen and Holton, 2003) Students sometimes find making sense of written feedback problematic. Conferencing allows both students and teachers an opportunity to identify the causes of the problems and to develop strategies for improvement. They willingly take part in such conferences and find it more effective than written comments. Also, they often insist on some kind of feedback to do with the content of their writings involving  the ideas they have set about to share.
It is advisable that a dialogue is initiated between student and teacher in order to give a clearer understanding of how the assignment should be conceived and executed. The comments teachers use, can be further developed in individual conferences. Apart from using conferences to determine if students understand and are making use of feedback, teachers can also use them to explain their comments and corrections. Such conferences are an excellent time for teachers and students to ask direct questions to each other and clarify any misunderstandings.
Sometimes it is too complicated to try to change or underline bits of what the student has written. In such cases I like to provide a correct and more natural way of writing what I think the student wanted to write, and ask if this is what he or she meant.  I often feel that I have to rephrase a sentence or completely reshuffle a paragraph. This gives the student a clear model of one way of saying it. It also encourages the student to try again to explain to me what he or she did want to write. Students like this type of correction because it concentrates on what they want to say, not on grammatical detail. Such a method of feedback is known as reformulation. I believe that it has a great potential for raising students’ awareness in terms of natural, native-like usage.
The notion of reformulation grew out of work in error analysis in the late 1970s. Levenston (1978) traces it to Pit Corder’s (1971) definition of a “reconstructed sentence”. This sentence is “what a native speaker of the target language would have said to express that meaning in that context”. (Levenston, 1978:55)
Levenston felt that to make a composition more “native-like”, it would take a process better described as reformulation to take into account rhetorical factors other than grammaticalness. To a great extent, the whole composition might have to be rewritten. Cohen (1987) also explains that the reformulator should “rewrite the paper so as to preserve as many of the writer’s ideas as possible, while expressing them in his or her own words so as to make the piece sound native-like”. (Cohen, 1987:4)
Obviously, rewriting every single composition of every student in a class is too time-consuming to be practical. It would indeed make us slaves to loads of compositions. Nevertheless, if teaching is your calling and students’ learning is your goal, or better still, if your students are customers that need to be catered for, then it is a feasible task.
I personally find reformulation quite rewarding. It enables the learner to compare his or her text with the reformulated version and note differences. However, I have found out that such feedback works especially well with strong students. They find it both challenging and stimulating. The success of this technique is due to the student’s ability to reflect on the differences between the two texts and they usually improve in exactly those areas where they were able to pick up certain turns of speech. They are capable of reflecting on the differences and attempt to incorporate their observations into subsequent written assignments. On the other hand, weak students seem to be overwhelmed by the comparison activity and need assistance with this analytic task. By confronting the learner with the mismatch between flawed and model performance we could create favorable conditions and appropriate context for language points we have still not set out to teach and which could have been spoiled if we had attempted to give extensive explicit explanation for them. For illustration of reformulation see Appendix A.
I always try to get students to incorporate my suggestions for reformulation into the flow of their intended meaning. After I have reformulated and typed the compositions I give them out to the class at random. Everyone is reading good English undistracted by errors. No one is embarrassed by errors or by a low level of grammatical proficiency. Students who are otherwise too shy to show their essays in class often feel proud of their writing. The others can discuss content, but no one is going to argue about small points of grammar.
I urge students to comment on what works in each essay or what strikes them as good or interesting about it. I tell them that we are together to learn about what works. We do not need to study what doesn’t work, which is obvious anyway. The compositions circulate throughout the class. After the papers have circulated, the whole class talks about what they have read. Everyone has something to say, to make comments. Everyone knows which essays are the best. They don’t have to be told. If anything is said at all, it will be positive. They don’t have to worry about a humiliating comment being made about their work in public. Students are very interested to read each other’s work and to evaluate it for quality as well as meaning. They learn a lot about writing from each other through these readings. If there is a little competitive edge to improve the next essay, so much the better. It comes through the group dynamic, not through comparing.
The majority of the students like the method very much and feel that they are learning from it. Their enthusiasm creates conditions for learning. Students appreciate the prompt and detailed feedback obtained through reformulation, and the method provides them with frequent contextual opportunities to recognize the syntax most troublesome to each individual. The object of the reformulation feedback is not to teach students editing, but to promote learning by providing contextual opportunities to repeat correct use of structures. The repeated reformulations lend themselves to grammar consciousness-raising and therefore indirectly to the ability to edit.
While new insights into composing processes are important, we also know that grammar is important. Learners seem to focus best on grammar when it relates to their communicative needs and experiences. We can’t ignore grammar. Learning the syntax and vocabulary of the new language is basic to our students’ ability to write. How to increase vocabulary and learn the syntax of the new language as they learn to write in it? We have to develop many ways of doing so. Second language learning is as much a process as writing is a process, and among our students writing is firmly embedded in the matrix of second language learning.
As a matter of fact, language transfer is an important cognitive factor related to error. Students use their native language when they are generating ideas and attending to details. The more content-rich and creative the text, the greater the possibility for errors at the morphosyntactic level. These kinds of errors are especially common among students who have a lot of ideas, but not enough language to express what they want to say in a comprehensible way. Errors can help us identify the cognitive strategies that the learner is using to process information. According to Ellis  “it is through analyzing learner errors that we elevate the status of errors from undesirability to that of a guide to the inner working of the language learning process.” (Ellis, 1985:53)
Bulgarian-speaking writers must undergo the task of cognitively exchanging the style of the Bulgarian language for that of English. Those who have difficulty writing in their native language may not have a repertoire of strategies to help them in their second language writing development. If learners perceive writing tasks to be useless, they may approach them in a careless manner. Without some way to generate meaning out of their own experience, students often produce stultifying texts in response to the directions imposed upon them by their textbooks. Students should be introduced to invention techniques to help them discover and engage in a topic. Rather than being expected to turn in a finished product right away, students should be asked for multiple drafts. They should be taught that rewriting and revision are integral to writing, and that editing is an ongoing, multi-level process, not merely a hasty check for correct grammar.
I find that a lot of students lack habits of observation, critical thought, or substance to express. Figuring out what to say is not so much a problem as how to say it in English. We have to incorporate the insights of the process approach into our teaching while still addressing the need to teach our students syntactic features of English which come automatically to native speakers.
Students normally do well learning the common words of English very thoroughly, because they carry the main patterns of the language. The patterns have to be rather precisely described in order to avoid confusions, and then are capable of being rather precisely used. Despite this, many learners avoid the common words as much as possible, and especially where they make up the idiomatic phrases. Instead of using them, they rely on larger, rarer, and clumsier words which make their language sound stilted and awkward. Learners will have to be able to produce with confidence much more idiomatic English, with less effort involved. For examples see Appendix B.
It is rare for a piece of writing not to have several parts which are good, correct, interesting, and deserving positive response. These must be acknowledged. Students must get to know what is good as well as what is “wrong”. There is much to be said about interesting work containing mistakes, rather than “perfect” but dull, safe writing. This also needs to be encouraged. I tend to favor interesting writing, which often “hides” mistakes. Should we praise accurate work or interesting, creative work?
If something is worth writing well, it is worth writing more than once. I mean the teacher should make it clear to the students that it is very unusual for a writer simply to write something once and accept that first draft as the finished product. The first draft is written in order to be improved. First we must ask students to write texts that are worth writing and we must help them to get used to the idea of the first writing being a draft for improvement. In this way, we can create a situation in which our marking becomes a helpful part of the writing process. The chance to compare first and second draft can help both student and teacher.
If learners can feel their own emotions being expressed in a language, this will build a relationship with the language which will help them learn it. The wish to experiment is a good sign in a learner and should be encouraged. It shows an interest in the language and an enjoyment of it, which will lead to learning.
We should be helping students to see their English as something which is developing and getting more and more useful. They should feel that they are making the right sort of progress. We should try to make correction part of the teaching and learning process, not something for learning to fight against. The desire to express oneself, to experiment, and to communicate are more important to language learning than being absolutely correct.

Works cited:

  • Anderson, J. (1985): Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications. New York: W.H. Freeman.
  • Cohen, A.D. (1987): Student Processing of Feedback on Their Compositions. In A. Wendon and J. Ruin (Eds.), Learner strategies in Language Learning (pp.57-69). UK: Prentice Hall International.
  • Corder, Pit (1971): The Significance of Learners’ Errors. Error Analysis and Interlanguage. In Cohen, A.D. (1989). Reformulation: A Technique for Providing Advanced Feedback in Writing. Guidelines, 11 (2), 1-9.
  • Crème, P. and Lea M. (2003): Writing at University. (2nd edition) Open University Press: Maidenhead.
  • Cumming, A. (1989): Writing Expertise and Second Language Proficiency. Language Learning, 39, 81-141.
  • Cumming, A. (1995): Fostering Writing Expertise in ESL Composition Instruction: Modeling and Evaluation. In D. Belcher and G. Braine (Eds.), Writing in a Second Language: Essays on Research and Pedagogy. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
  • Elbow, P. (1981): Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Ellis, R. (1985): Understanding Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon Institute of English.
  • Flower, L. and Hayes, J. (1981): A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing. College Composition and Communication, 32, 365-387.
  • Frodesen, J. and Holton, C. (2003): Grammar and the ESL Writing lass. In B. Kroll (Ed.) Exploring the Dynamics of Second Language Writing. (pp. 141-161). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Larsen-Freeman, D. (1991): Teaching Grammar. Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.
  • Levenston, E.A. ((1978): Error Analysis of Free Composition: The Theory and The Practice. Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4, (1), 1-11.
  • Liz and John Soars (2003): New Headway – Intermediate. The New Edition. Oxford University Press.
  • Raimes, A. (1985): what Unskilled ESL Students Do as They Write?: A Classroom Study of Composing. TESOL Quarterly, 19 (2), 229-258.
  • Moll, L.C. (1990): Vygotsky and Education: Instructional Implications and Applications of Sociohistorical Psychology. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Appendix A.

Essay Reformulation.
Intermediate Student. Original essay. The lines to be reformulated are in bold.

Having Children While Young
At the beginning I always thought that the right age for to have a child is between 27 and 33 years old. But now I changed my opinion. I think that is better to have a child while you’re young. I know that this has both pros and cons. Why I think so?
For me the most important pros to have child while you’re young is the chance to make your career after then. I think if you give birth to a child before to graduate your higher education you have bigger opportunity to develop in your profession. When you begin a job and work a few years you get into the swing of the work and if then you become pregnant this to be stop your career.
Another point is that while you are young you can take care of baby easier. While a person is young the things are doing easily. One advantage is that the most young people don’t go deep in things. They don’t pay attention of it and that they feel better. Of course, the very important thing is the woman is provided for.
I know that to having child while young has cons. One of them is while you look after your baby you should learn and you must go to examination. For many people that’s difficult and they don’t make a success to combine the things. But for strong and energetic people that’s not problem. I don’t speak about theme for money because it will be better to write other essay.
Finally, and the both cases to take care a child requires many effort. I think for very important the woman to be ready to be a mother no matter how old she is.
Reformulated Version.
Having Children While Young
When I was younger I thought that the right age for having children is between 27 and 33. Now I have changed my opinion. I think that it is better to start a family while you are young. I know that this has both pros and cons. You would ask me why I think so.
For me, the most important advantage of having children while young is that it gives you a chance to build your own career after child rearing is over. If you are studying for a degree and you have a baby before completing your higher education, you will get better opportunities for career growth. You start a job, and after you have worked for a few years, you become proficient. If, at that point, you get pregnant, this will put your career on hold.
Another point is that while you are young it is much easier to care for a baby. While a person is young it is always easy to do anything. However, one disadvantage is that young people often fail to see the depth of other aspects of family life. They sometimes can’t acknowledge the things that would distract them from devoting all their energy to their children’s well-being. Moreover, a mother often has to provide both for her children and herself.
I know that having children while young has cons, too. For instance, if you have a career goal that you must pursue your studies, being a young mother means that you cannot put as much time into your education, yet it is important for your career objective. A lot of people find it hard to combine the two aspects of their lives. However, as long as you can keep the two objectives in balance, it shouldn’t be a problem. I don’t want to touch on the question of money as it can be addressed in another essay.
Finally, in either case, child rearing takes a lot of effort. I believe that it is essential that a child expecting woman should be prepared to be a mother no matter how old she is.

Appendix B.

The chunks that sound awkward or clumsy are underlined. The suggested reformulations are in parentheses.

  1. Having children while young is a good idea if you realize it because in this way you have more organization and you discharge your duties
  2. In fact, you understand them better because you haven’t a big difference in age.
  3. They have to realize (acknowledge)that they have the biggest wealth in the world.
  4. You can rely on your children and if you need their cares (need being taken care of), they will look after you.
  5. If you have definite purposes… (If you have a goal in your life…)
  6. …you realize faster that you have to be responsible. (you come to grips with parental responsibilities earlier in life.)
  7. We didn’t have connection with the other world. We were cut off from the rest of the world.
  8. We had to reconcile with the thought that this night would be very cold. (We had to put up with the prospect of spending a really cold night.)
  9. In the evening we spent very funny. (we had such a fun)
  10. One colleague had a birthday. (It was one of our colleague’s birthday)
  11. It was necessary to depart at 9.00 o’clock. (We had to leave/catch a bus)
  12. The receptionist told us that all the rooms were occupied. (there were no vacancies/no rooms available)
  13. We fell into a traffic congestion. (got stuck in a traffic jam/were held up by heavy traffic)
  14. We didn’t carry any meal and any drink. (didn’t have anything to eat or drink)
  15. For happiness, my friends… (Luckily,…)
  16. I didn’t bring a screwdriver because I feared from wounding with it in case of my multitude falldowns. (for fear of getting hurt in case I fell over)
  17. You have time to realize in your job. (to fulfill yourself)
  18. They are near by understanding and concept. (They get along very well together.)
  19. Your parents might be able to look after the children when you are engaged. (…when you are busy working)
  20. All my friends have been trying to find me a hobby. (encourage me to take up a hobby/help me choose a hobby)
  21. I am very quiet, but she is a lot more unruly. (she is wild)
  22. I have good will to help him. (I don’t mind helping him.)
  23. Our block of flats is last toward mountain Vitosha. (…is at the foot of the Vitosha mountains)
  24. I don’t believe in the post-office. (the postal system)
  25. My address registration is somewhere else. (I am officially registered at a different address.)
  26. For big wonder of everybody,… (To everyone’s amazement,…)
  27. The car is bad for your health because you don’t move enough. (you don’t get enough exercise.)
  28. I stay very long time at my job. (work long hours)
  29. fell down so much snow… (it snowed heavily)
  30. The damnation was stopped. (The curse was lifted.)

Appendix C.

Samples of Freewriting.
Pre-Intermediate Student
Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of living in a flat/house
Living in a flat has some advantages than in a house. It’s a cheaper in flat and it is available you live close to the center of town. You can meet a lot of people when you going out or go home. But in a house you can e living in piece and quiet. You can have a yard and a garage and you can have a dinner out under the grapes.
Living in a house is expensive than in flat. You have to think about heating in the winter. However, if you live in countrysaid you can use wools to heat and it’s cheaper, but you will be far from the city.
However, I prefer to live in a house near the city, not too closer, but there must be good roads. I want to have a lot of neighbours.
Intermediate Student
Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of having a university degree
The most important thing in these days is the university degree. You have a good start in your professional way. If you have the right degree you must know what you want to do when you graduate. Other plus thing of the university degree is that you meet a lot of people with similar interests and you may change professional opinion with them.
But having a university degree takes many years. Another bad thing is learning a lot of unnecessary subjects which only fill your head with too much information. The pluses are more than minuses When you are applying for a job university degree is a big plus. It gives more business opportunities and challenges and of course well-paid job and better life for you and for your family.
Upper-Intermediate Student
Write about a modern invention and explain why you think it is very necessary to your life
I think the most important invention for my life and for lifes of other 6 bilion people on earth is the electricity. I choose it because it is the (основата) of our way of life. If there wasn’t electricity there won’t be a technical revolution and many other inventions won’t exist. I couldn’t even imagine the life without electricity but I think it will be the same as in the Dark Ages. We will use oil lamps and the work in factoryes will be very harder than now. And we couldn’t even dream about computers, cellphones and other useful things.
The electricity have many advantages. It makes our life much easyer. After the electricity was invented the mankind started a great progress. The electricity saves us time and this gives us more time for other activities which mean that it (the electricity) have influence even in culture development of humans.
Electricity in his own has no disadvantages, they are (свързани с) the way we gather it because it causes a big part of pollution on our planet. But I think…

Appendix D.

The words and expressions to be taught before writing are underlined.
Deciding to Have Children
Special Report
This article appeared in the British paper, the Telegraph on 3-13-1 By Nicole Martin staff reporter.

Having A Baby Can Ruin Your Sex Life, Marriage And Career
Having a baby wrecks couple’s relationships, hampers their sex lives and affects their work, according to a survey published today.
80% of mothers surveyed said that lack of sleep was a common cause of arguments and 60 admitted that the strain of continually waking in the middle of the night to feed their child had all but eliminated their libido. 90% of mothers over 34 said that their relationship had been adversely affected by the birth.
The study, compiled by Mother & Baby magazine, challenged the view that men had abandoned their macho attitudes and had become increasingly more willing to share the burden of caring for and raising a child. It found that two thirds of fathers did not wake up when their baby cried. One fifth admitted that they never got up to help. Women were left to cope with only four hours of sleep a night in their child’s first four months.
Almost all of the 2,000 women surveyed said that sleep deprivation had made them bad tempered, forgetful and tearful. For more than two thirds, the strain was so great that they felt unable to function properly and were more accident prone.
Exhaustion had a devastating impact on their work. The report found that 83% of mothers who had returned to employment said that sleep deprivation had affected their performance. Single mothers appeared to be more able than others to survive on a few hours of sleep, despite having to cope alone. Only 41% said it made them irritable, compared with half of all other mothers.
Dani Zur, the magazine’s editor, said the image of older, celebrity mothers effortlessly coping with the strains of motherhood was deceiving.” The trend nowadays is to have children at a later age, and although there are many positive points, such as greater financial security, older mums don’t have the same energy levels as those in their 20s.
“The fresh-faced image of famous older mums, like Madonna and Cherie Blair, doesn’t usually show the entourage of helpers that follow them around. Parents-to-be have no concept of how the lack of sleep a baby brings will devastate their lives. If you’re getting less than four hours of sleep a night, it’s going to make you bad tempered and you’ll probably take your anger out on your partner. You’ll also feel irritated with your baby and frequently tearful.”
Dean Mahoney, of the National Family and Parenting Institute, said that for the majority of parents the stresses and strains of having a baby lessened after the first 12 months. “For women especially, having a baby changes the way they think about themselves. They see themselves more as a parent than as a partner and this can have a huge impact on a relationship,” he said.

The webquest design course

Written by: Lydia Stoyanova, Naval Academy, Varna
With the introduction of the Internet life has become different. Teaching and learning are no exceptions. Now students are encouraged to search for information, to evaluate it and to use it as appropriate. Thus the students’ critical thinking skills are stimulated together with their interest in the problems discussed.
Recently, with the help of the British Council, all military colleges in Bulgaria have been introducing self-access centers (SAC). For this purpose teachers have been encouraged to produce materials necessary for the successful performance of these centers. This, however, is not an easy task and people need to be trained to write such materials. Therefore the BC Peacekeeping English Project coordinator for Bulgaria provided the opportunity for two Bulgarian teachers to participate in an on-line Webquest Design Course.
In this presentation I will share my expectations and my experience with this course and will point at some sites which the readers may visit and use, if interested.
The first question to be asked before taking up the adventure is:
What do you use the Internet for in your work?
The suggestions below are by no means exhaustive but they outline the basic trends in education nowadays.
Teachers use the I-net:

  • to find information about the topics discussed in class;
  • to find additional authentic texts and materials;
  • to find appropriate exercises;
  • to work on-line in a computer lab or SAC;
  • to give students homework assignments– they search for information at home;
  • in distance learning.

The second question to be answered is:
What is a Web Quest?
Not many teachers, especially in Bulgaria, are familiar with the idea and with the activities web-quests involve. The term is somewhat self-explanatory but it needs clarification. It is a mini-project in which a large percentage of the input and material is supplied by the Internet. It may be teacher-guided or self-performed depending on the needs and objectives. In most cases it requires group work and involves all skills – reading, writing, speaking and (to a lesser extent) listening.
Here is what some experts in the field have said about webquests.

Bernie Dodge: A WebQuest  is an inquiry-oriented activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the Internet.

Philip Benz: A WebQuest is a constructivist approach to learning (…). Students not only collate and organize information they’ve found on the web, they orient their activities towards a specific goal they’ve been given, often associated with one or more roles (…), thus the level of autonomy and creative production is increased.

Generally the structure of the webquest is the following
Introduction > Task > Process > Evaluation
but there are variations.
In the Introduction the overall theme is presented. In this section students need to be oriented and motivated, so it may include background information on the topic, some key vocabulary, etc.
The next section, Task, explains what the learners will have to do. The task should be interesting and motivating and should be deeply rooted in real-life activities.
The Process section introduces a set of activities and research work which will provide the successful performance of the task. It should include web-addresses in a clickable form, some guidance on how to organize the information in the form of questions, directions, questionnaires, maps, diagrams, etc.
The Evaluation stage includes criteria for self-evaluation and feedback in the form of questions students are required to answer and the results expected from them.
The next questions:
Do you need special knowledge and skills to start the course? What should the computer proficiency level of the participants in such courses be?
What should be done first to ensure that all participants are able to perform efficiently?
may be answered together.
The production of a webquest does not require any profound technical skills but some knowledge of computers, of the use of search engines and databases is essential. Word processing skills are obligatory but it is hardly a problem nowadays.
As is often the case, the level of computer proficiency of the participants in the course was not uniform. Besides, during the course participants were going to use the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Blackboard and nobody expected them to have any experience in using it. To ensure that everybody would be able to cope with it the tutors dedicated the first week on activities directed towards familiarisation with the Blackboard VLE, socialisation, introduction to webquest design and analysis of examples. During the course the participants were required to keep a Reflective Journal of how learning progressed. Every week finished with writing an entry in it.
Here is an outline of the first week.

Week 1

  • introduction to the software to be used – The Virtual Learning Environment Blackboard
  • socialisation activities – Who’s who?; using the course e-mail; share an anecdote;
  • introduction to the Webquest Design – read about webquests
  • The Reflective Journal – write your first entry of the Reflective Journal.

The second week was aimed at developing skills for webquest design and for on-line collaboration through the chat. During the chat participants shared their expectations, ideas and problems, compared notes and gave advice.

Week 2

  • developing the necessary skills – find more about your virtual colleagues; search techniques; treasure hunt – apply search techniques;
  • 1st on-line chat – guidelines for online chat; basic conventions; first impressions;
  • Reflective Journal – entry 2

A good way to practise search skills is to answer the questions in a Treasure Hunt using various search techniques. Participants were asked to send their answers to one of the tutors, together with a short explanation of how they had found them. In another task the on-line students were required to make their own Treasure Hunts and send them to the rest via the Discussion board. Below are the two Treasure Hunts. The former has been prepared by the tutors and the latter is mine.
Treasure Hunt
Trivia Quiz – Searching on the Web

  1. What was the name of the 23rd president of the United States?
  2. Who is widely credited with inventing the aspirin?
  3. How many players are there in a basketball team?
  4. What’s the capital of Australia?
  5. What’s the weather like in Paris today?
  6. Approximately how many albums have the Rolling Stones recorded?
  7. Name 3 (legal) products Jamaica is famous for?
  8. Which film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1996?
  9. Who was the first person in space?
  10. Who wrote ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’?

Use any of the search pages to find the answers you don’t know
My Treasure Hunt

  1. Very often Bulgaria is called “The Country of …”. The name of which flower should you add?
  2. Who is Ivo Papazov and what happened to him on 06 March 2005?
  3. How is the Bulgarian currency called and what is its rate to the Euro?
  4. What is curious about the Bulgarian Prime Minister?
  5. Who invented Coca-cola and what was his occupation?

Week 3 was dedicated to further developing skills for webquest design. This included evaluating websites and preparing for writing a webquest. Participants had the choice and were encouraged to work in groups but at the end it turned out that most of the students had written their own webquest with some exceptions.  Four colleagues worked in pairs and I produced two webquests – one in collaboration with a colleague from the Ukraine and one alone.

Week 3

  • evaluating websites – fill in an evaluation form (see Appendix); try to develop the habit of completing a copy of each new website you feel might be useful;
  • Webquest theory review – getting organised for the production phase;
  • collaborative work on-line – explore the mechanics; developing group work skills;
  • on-line chat – share insights about what makes a good website and build up a bank of peer-recommended ELT websites.;
  • Reflective Journal – entry 3

During the final week, which actually lasted 10 days, the participants developed their own webquests and shared them with their colleagues. Along with Entry 4 of the Reflective Journal a final Course Feedback was submitted and the participants were issued Certificates.

Week 4

  • creating a mini-WebQuest – developing and posting the WebQuests;
  • on-line chat
  • Reflective Journal – entry 4

Everybody who is interested in Webquests can go to the following site and see what participants in the on-line Webquest Design Courses have done.
I want to finish with Phillip Benz’s words that

“For the time being, very little work has been done in adapting the WebQuest concept to our specific needs in language teaching.”

Webquests provide immense possibilities for making teaching and learning more pleasant and more successful. Go to the sites I have suggested, look for yourself, try them, use them, have fun!


  1. Benz, P., 2005, Webquests, a Constructivist Approach,
  2. Dodge, B., (2005), Some Thoughts About WebQuests,

The Need for Needs Analysis

Written by: Edward Richards
I start from the assumption that a Needs Analysis – of some kind – is at the basis of all ESP work.  What I hoped to demonstrate in the presentation was how a needs analysis which is well-focussed, but not too scientific or detailed, can sometimes offer more useful information than was at first expected.
During the year 2003 – 2004 an English Language Training needs analysis (TNA) was carried out by the Military English Support Project in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The TNA had several aims which were concerned with the current level of English competence amongst the BiH Armed Forces, the number of personnel who would be eligible on the basis of their English language skills to follow training in the Peace Support Operations Training College (PSOTC) which was to open subsequently at the SFOR (now EUFOR) camp in Sarajevo, and the current and future capacity needed to improve English Language training in the BiH Armed Forces.  The presentation looked at the investigation that was undertaken to assess what the language needs of personnel on Peace Support Operations (PSO) are.  Having assessed what these needs are, we looked at the implications of the findings for both language training and for the delivery of professional training through English.
The instruments used (ie. questionnaires) to collect the evidence were designed by Dr Chris Tribble who was the long-term consultant for this project.  My task was to collect, collate and report on the evidence relating to language needs on Peace Support Operations.  The final report, which was commissioned by the UK Ministry of Defence, was written by Dr Chris Tribble, Ian Pearson, then manager of the project in BiH, and myself.
The instrument used to gather information from the people we called “expert users” (ie. personnel who had experience of international operations) consisted of two parts.
The first part was a table to be filled in which asked fixed questions about which English language skills the respondents judged should form part of an English Language course for future PSO personnel.  The next part of the instrument was a series of questions that would constitute a structured, but very free, interview.
Because the findings of the interviews I was holding with international informants then in BiH who had served on PSO operations or were currently serving in SFOR were becoming interesting, I decided to widen the range of interviews and included some personnel then on active service on PSOs whom we were able to contact through various Peacekeeping English Project (PEP) managers.  The interviewing has been continuing since then, particularly amongst Bulgarian personnel returning from deployment in Iraq.  The data and evidence I have is now gathered from 41 expert users representing the armed forces of 16 countries
I was helped in gathering this data by Hamish McIlwraith who was then PEP Manager Bulgaria, Phil Dexter, PEP Manager Croatia, and Sheilagh Nielson both in her position as PEP Manager Albania and currently PEP Manager Bulgaria.
The findings.
The extent to which informants agree with one another is striking. All agree that operational effectiveness depends on effective communication through English. Even where interpretation and translation are possible, it is essential that all staff within the chain of command can communicate clearly and accurately in English.
The ability to use English on ordinary social occasions is considered to be important.  It is necessary for communication both with other troops and with civilians. Informants report that one of the best ways of becoming accepted as part of the professional community is to spend evenings with one’s peers.  Similarly, significant social language skills are needed in peace-support operations, for example on such ‘bridge building’ occasions as formal dinners, evenings in the bar, and during sports events.  Responses included:
1. If you don’t speak English, you feel left out and uncomfortable.
2. Informal gatherings at the Irish pub – this is the place where some of us actually started speaking English.
3. with the Polish and American colleagues we talked about cars, money and beautiful girls
Speaking and understanding are, naturally, important in professional settings. During morning briefings and on patrol, clarity is of paramount importance and an unfamiliar accent can cause serious problems. Military contexts require an ability to express oneself clearly and intelligibly and to deal with a very broad range of native and non-native speakers.  In a crisis, everybody needs to know what is happening, and when the prime objective is not to endanger yourselves or others, the differences between the needs of officers and other ranks becomes less important.
Responses included:
4. In a crisis, English is vital.
5. On missions, people need to understand what the task is and where the danger lies.  Planning, and your contribution to the plan is important. Spoken English is vital in emergency situations so you don’t endanger yourself or others.  Risk awareness is more important than task execution.  Staff officers (on missions abroad) need experience of similar situations.
6. During NATO meetings people are embarrassed  to say they don’t understand so often end up agreeing to something they cannot fulfil. 
All the respondents agree that a training course in which ideas, knowledge and skills are presented, discussed and recorded in English is a very demanding environment for non-native speakers. Both in the classroom and in the field, most training courses use oral presentations as the main method of imparting information.  Potential students worry most, therefore, about this element of their training.  The informants report overwhelmingly that ‘accent’ is not only a barrier to comprehension but is in fact the greatest stumbling block. This is equally true of regional accents from native speakers of English and ‘foreign’ accents from non-native speakers of English.
Potential students are also worried by what they call ‘terminology’, claiming that in the training context problems often arise simply because the trainers do not define the terms they use.  Another complication is that terms vary. Similarly, the same term can have different uses or meanings in different systems, and the same idea or object can have different names in different systems. The use of acronyms also causes significant problems.
Responses included:
7. Native speakers speak too much.
8. Native speakers appear to show disrepect and ignorance of NNS’s problems.
9. Acronyms are a problem.
10. I had problems with understanding when my colleagues were using abbreviations, and differences between British and American English.
The amount and type of reading and writing undertaken on a mission is linked very closely to role. A lot of writing on a mission tends to be with the use of a template, mainly involving filling in forms such as reports and the daily occurrence book.  Somewhat surprisingly at first glance, no real problems seem to emerge (unlike listening and speaking).  This may be because it seems to be standard practice in international communities such as SHAPE, OSCE and SFOR for written texts to be ‘filtered’ through a native speaker of English, someone who can check grammatical accuracy and vocabulary use.
However, this sensible-seeming procedure is not always possible, e.g. in the Polish sector in Southern Iraq, where for some time there were no troops whose native language is English.  In such circumstances ‘multi-nationality’ language issues can give the commander serious problems.
Responses included:
11. Reading and speaking are more important than writing because somebody will help with writing.
Three perceptions emerged as to which personnel were likely to be successful in using English.   Those who learn English as a Foreign Language in primary school are seen to have an advantage.  Officers and men from countries where English is more or less a second language (Nordic countries, Germany and Holland) and where television is left in the original English are seen as always having a good command of English. Those who have lived a significant length of time in countries where English is the first language (mainly UK and USA) are seen as having an advantage because they become familiar with a variety of accents.
Responses to the question as to what helps members of PSOs who are successful in using English included:
12. Living in an English speaking environment 
13. People from Nordic nations use English well because TV programmes are in the original language: they are brought up with English all around and become acquainted with the sound of the language.
14. Those who are already good at English become the point of contact.  The good ones get better.
15. A wide general vocabulary is more important than good pronunciation and grammar.
Practice in using English, not knowing English (this is a reference to traditional methodology and traditional textbooks)
The fixed set of questions relating to the type of English language skills that should form part of a pre-deployment course was also given to members of the Bosnia and Herzegovina armed forces who were likely to be offered training at the Peace Support Operations Training Centre but who had not been on any kind of international mission.  We then compared their answers with those of personnel whom had served on a PSO.  Those who have served on PSOs rate “writing and reading emails” very highly, whereas those who haven’t been on a PSO see it as the least needed literacy skill. Those who have served on PSOs place communication by radio and telephone much higher than those who haven’t.  However, everybody is in agreement that Microsoft Word is the most important software package.  Powerpoint is in second place for those who have been on PSOs, because it is used extensively in briefings and presentations.

Implications for training: ELT course design

The expert informants point out that modern armed forces on peace-support missions are frequently involved in complex roles that include supporting fragile communities and interacting with civilian agencies.  The informants see it as essential that language training should prepare the military to meet these challenges, and that it should do this by moving the focus of the training away from subject-specific terminology to a set of broader communication skills.  The informants also stressed that the everyday use of English for social and professional purposes is now as important for military personnel as it is for business professionals.  Building these communication skills should be the focus of future training courses. No course can prepare everyone for everything, and international peace-support missions can involve a massive range of tasks where success depends on being able to communicate through English.
Programmes specifically designed for personnel preparing to enter a training course or to join peace-support operations, should therefore include:

  • writing and reading e-mails
  • completing official forms
  • communicating by telephone and radio
  • dealing with a wide range of different accents
  • communicating socially
  • the use of English versions of Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer and Powerpoint.

Implications for training: professional training delivered through English

Parallel to the need for appropriate English language training, our expert informants also made it clear that serious thought has to be given to how information and ideas are presented and discussed on the professional course itself. As a minimum, and no matter whether native or non-native speakers of English, trainers need to ensure that:

  • spoken input is supported by suitable graphic (and not text-filled) visuals (e.g. through hand-outs, OHP slides, or PowerPoint).
  • the rules of good practice for presentations are adhered to (e.g. the spoken text should never simply be a reading out aloud of the text on the screen).
  • it should never be forgotten that the trainees are using a foreign language and, for example, that communication can be totally destroyed by unfamiliar cultural references (eg. “about as long as a cricket pitch”) or attempts at humour.
  • space and opportunity are built into the presentation to allow for serious interaction between trainer and trainees, and to allow for clarification and confirmation of understanding.

English for Telecommunications – Problems and Possible Solutions

Written by: Dora Blagova, PhD,  lecturer, New Bulgarian University
In this paper we address some of the problems arising in teaching English for Telecommunications due to the diversity of its subject matter coupled with the students’ different background knowledge and skills both in the subject fields and in language proficiency. A possible solution is seen in designing and structuring the course for maximum flexibility based on TBL (Task-Based Learning) and PBL (Problem-Based Learning) approaches and the Internet as a resource.

Teaching language for specific purposes is inherently difficult because of the subject content and the specifics of the language that carries information. Quite naturally, the first questions to be answered are “What has to be taught?” and “Who can teach?”. There are two main trends related to the first question, namely skills-based teaching organized about skills like taking notes, summarizing, essay writing, giving presentations etc. and subject content-based learning in which the emphasis is on the content and the language is treated as a tool. When the emphasis is on teaching skills the more appropriate instructor is a language teacher, but when the content is in focus the problem arises whether an instructor who does not possess appropriate knowledge of the subject is the happy choice. In this case the language teachers in the role of ESP instructors are presented with the challenge to acquire an appropriate level of background knowledge in their students’ academic subject.
Another problem is related to the students’ proficiency level in the foreign language as well as the level of their background knowledge in the special subject. The development of interdisciplinarity leads to the necessity students to become knowledgeable in several fields as the subjects they study are interdisciplinary.
The field of telecommunications is no exception. Being the main medium for the development of the information society it quite naturally has to deal with several subjects.
1. Problems
1.1. The field of telecommunications and specifics of the language
The telecommunications industry has truly become an interdisciplinary field of knowledge, combining computer science and electrical engineering disciplines.When discussing the content of the field of telecommunications we need to consider first of all its three major aspects, each including a number of disciplines:

  • Technological aspect – It is technology that provides for information transfer;
  • Economic aspect – It is money that play an important role in the development of technologies;
  • Human aspect – It is people who deal with information and the meanings that flow in all directions and it is people that have control over the delivery of information and the meanings.

It is obvious that the content of the area of telecommunications is marked by a diverging and ever-increasing number of disciplines. Networking professionals and communications specialists in today’s information society require knowledge in numerous areas: computer engineering, information management, telecommunications networking, wireless communication, satellite, radio, TV, to name a few. What is more, any of the major topics can be dealt with not only on a technical level but also on many others. For example: business – market, players, company strategies, marketing, etc. cultural/intercultural: personal, local, corporate, national, societal, international, economic, legal, political: laws, lobbies, regulation, social – impact on society, individuals, news – current trends, innovations – e-government, e-commerce.
Correspondingly, the discourse of telecommunications is modeled by all these disciplines. There are various types of texts to be dealt with, including business letters, strategic planning, manuals, articles, etc., hence students will encounter a variety of rhetorical structures. The diversity of the field of telecommunication reveals the fact that although terminology has to be monosemous actually it is not – on the one hand the same term in two different fields may have different meanings and consequently different translations, on the other hand, the same meaning can be represented by different terms. Terminology, although vernacular words are often used to name technical concepts, poses a problem because as stated by Vygotsky (1982(1934):217), the naming of abstract concepts involves mental operations that are different from the those used for concrete concepts . Within terminology a distinction is to be made between scientific terms and technological terms along the line of how close to vernacular lexis they are with regard to categorisation. In short scientific terms are defined by necessary and sufficient features while technological categories mainly focus on functionality and social purpose (Pueyo, 2000). The structure of terms is characterised by long chains of n+n compounds often mixed with other morphological classes as well as acronyms which tend to be lexicalised (White, 1998).
1.2. Students

Students need English in their course of study and for their future professional occupation. There are many foreign companies operating in Bulgaria where all employees are required to possess a certain level of English proficiency besides the requirement for being able to readily apply technology from several disciplines in order to seek innovative solutions to the full range of telecommunications needs. From this follows that upon completion of their study at university, students need to be able to deal with a variety of subjects using English as a primary tool and to perform well in: negotiating contracts, participating in meetings and discussions, explaining technological developments and new products, attending social/ professional events, making presentations, reading academic/ professional journals, attending professional conferences, written business communication.
An ESP course needs to equip them with skills and knowledge to do these activities. But, when students embark on an ESP course, there are problems related to:
– the homogeneity of the group with respect to their level of English proficiency and their background knowledge in the subject matter. Although at NBU the first two years of study are devoted to more general subjects, including general foreign language, there are problems with the homogeneity for several reasons: not all students meet the mandatory requirement for foreign language at B1 in English (they can choose between 6 languages). On the other hand, not all students are hard-working and achieve the required level. What is more, they are not equally equipped with special subject knowledge (they may do the same course at a different time, for examples some students may have studied electronics, but others – not), their background knowledge before entering the university is different (some have studied at vocational schools). And last, but not least important is the fact that not all students acquire the same level of knowledge either in their major or in English. This leads to well known problems, which I shall not discuss now.
– the attitude of the students towards the study of the specialized language. Students with higher level of proficiency often think that they do not need to study specialized language. They are not aware of the true difficulties and what exactly they lack and what might hinder them from performing well in an English telecommunications environment. To raise their awareness we need to put them in situations in which they cannot manage on their own, to show them in texts and through tasks they have to complete that they need to notice specifics and identify difficulties. Such students usually read texts in their field with an ease convinced that they understand them perfectly well. But when they have to utilize the information in the text they start experiencing difficulties. When they are asked to make a summary of the text, translate part of it or give an equivalent of a term, or inform their colleagues about what they have learned from the text, they realize that they either have not understood the text entirely, or are unable to interpret it and formulate the message the author makes. On the other hand they have insufficient knowledge of the subject field in terms of concepts and flexibility of meaning. They usually experience two difficulties – adaptation of their general language proficiency to the demands of a special subject field and deriving new knowledge from a text in a foreign language. On the other hand students with lower level of proficiency think they are unable to use any texts for any purposes. They are not aware that they can still learn and get information from a text in the foreign language based on their knowledge of the subject and their proficiency in the foreign language by manipulation of the features of the text
– the environment is Bulgarian, which means that if students have to do a task that entails looking for information from institutions or other sources, or discussions with specialists, they will most probably use Bulgarian, not English; but there are some positive facts: special subject lecturers are knowledgeable as regards the terminology in English and usually present the concepts with both the English and Bulgarian name, and there are many mixed companies where one can find information in English.
2. Possible solutions
The first consideration is related to the choice of a method that will equip the students with skills and knowledge that will provide for their further learning while performing either at university or the workplace. It is obvious that the  PresentationPracticeProduction model is not fit for solving the problems stated above: one could not cover all the topics within a course, grammar could not be graded and presented based on proper texts. A skills-based approach is not appropriate from the point of view of content as it does not contribute to students’ obtaining any knowledge from the texts they are dealing with and they easily lose motivation. What is more, they will have to go through some adaptation in order to start using their skills when they have to do a real life task. Obviously we could not dispense with language teaching, but the problem is how it is to be done: as the main focus or as a follow-up.
A possible approach is teaching across the curriculum that will broadly mean learning the language in relation to other subjects studied in the major program, or interweaving language tasks and content with the tasks and content of other courses. Still, the method of teaching has to be identified. Where we shall look for solutions depends on our point of view regarding language. Although we cannot reduce a point of view to a method, the point of view determines what method/methods we choose.
If we adopt a semiotic point of view of learning it is only natural to choose methods of teaching that will not separate language from knowledge and experience, neither shall we lay the emphasis on any of them as they are interwoven. Language is a tool that helps us make meaning of the world we live in through experience. Here I shall cite Donald Thomas, who concisely and clearly points to these relationships and their place in the teaching process:
Language grows out of life, out of its needs and experiences . . . Good work in language presupposes and depends on real knowledge of things. I never taught language for the purpose of teaching it; but invariably used language as a medium for communication of thought: thus the learning of language was coincident with the acquisition of knowledge (Thomas, 48).
The problem is how such a view could be implemented in the classroom. To what extent a well-structured curriculum and syllabus with the accompanying materials is the method that can help implement this view? Is there only one method that can be used to implement such a view? If a variety of methods is used, how this happens in class, how does this reflect on students’ motivation? How is the balance between language learning and subject learning to be maintained?
Within the semiotic view of language as a representational device interconnected with the other representational devices of culture Danesi (2002) develops network theory as a framework for discussing language acquisition. He contends that “associative conceptual structure is convertible into linear surface structure through a process called reflexivization” (Danezi p.58). Thus Danesi lays the emphasis on conceptual and metaphoric networks and the acquisition of the conceptual structure of the foreign language since the acquisition of its grammatical structure and lexis is not enough.
Another method which deviates from a syllabus organized in terms of grammar and vocabulary is the task-based learning. Willis (1996) defines TBL as an activity which involves the use of language but in which the focus is on the outcome of the activity rather than on the language used to achieve that outcome. The syllabus is organized around tasks which the learners are expected to carry out in the language, such as using the telephone to obtain information; drawing maps based on oral instruction; giving orders and instruction to others, etc.
From a constructivist point of view Savery and Duffy(1995) consider PBL as organizing proper learning environment. They state: “In our own examination of learning environments, however, we have found one application that seems to us to almost ideally capture the principles — the problem-based learning model of Howard Barrows (1985; 1992).” Further they outline the distinctive characteristics of PBL as: “all of the learning arises out of consideration of the problem”, “cognitive apprenticeship focusing on both the knowledge domain and the problem solving associated with that knowledge domain or profession”, “The learners have ownership of the problem.”(Savery & Duffy, 1995:13). Their work is not related to language teaching, but to instructional design in general. A concrete, practical development of the PBL in the field of ESP is the 1999 Leonardo project for Teaching English for Technical Purposes ( TENTEC). The purpose of this approach is to integrate language and content study to facilitate autonomous learning. Students are presented with a problem to solve in their field of study. They have to prepare a report in the target language and present the results in the class.
While in TBL a task is an activity which is designed to help achieve a particular language goal and the answer is known to the teacher, in PBL problems are ill-defined, there are several possible solutions and the answers are not known to the instructor.
All the above mentioned approaches are new trends in methodology which turn the focus from language practice to dealing with real life problems in the solution of which language is a tool and the study of the language is necessitated by the need to appropriate the tool so that the task be done and the problem solved.
I shall present below some ideas how to exploit these methods in an ESP course for students of telecommunications:
1. I consider the idea of a real life problem to be solved around which the course is organised as the most appropriate for our situation. In this way the difficulty of selecting texts for teaching purposes is resolved because given the problem, the students themselves will find proper materials that will motivate them to work on them. Using mind mapping (the technique which was originated by Tony Buzan; the online mind42 software is used) they brainstorm for concepts and ideas they have already learned in the field of telecommunications, identify their existing knowledge of English terms and structures they can use to represent this knowledge, identify what they further need to learn in terms of language and content, then search for new information on the internet and libraries, discuss and use the new knowledge to solve the problem. Mind mapping can be used for developing conceptual networks which is done based on students’ previous knowledge and looking for sources of information to complete the map. In this way at the first stage they obviously will start with Bulgarian conceptual networks, but with the help of English sources they will switch to the English conceptual networks and will be able to make the corresponding comparison and discover the points of difference. Then they can produce a text based on the mindmap, thus effecting what Danesi calls reflexivization. Since this can be done collectively, students with better command of English will help other students produce grammatically correct sentences and use appropriate lexis. In this process, the teacher is a facilitator helping out when students cannot cope on their own.
2. The fact that neither the students nor the teacher know the solution to the problem turns the process of problem solving into a natural activity and not a simulated one.
There is a change from “I know the answer, but I will not tell it to you. You need to invest effort in order to find it, present it and compare it with mine to see whether you’ve done a good job.” into “I don’t know the answer. I’ll be looking for it, too. I can tell you, show you, give you advice on how you can cope with the problem. You can come up with all possible solutions. We shall discuss them together, compare our findings and learn from each other.”
3. Cooperation with lecturers in telecommunications is very useful as the problem-solving task will have a real outcome. The major subject lecturer can suggest a case or a task the outcome of which is to be presented as a course assignment in his/her discipline (sometimes the task is to translate an article to serve as a basis for a presentation on a given topic, sometimes a review of a technology, other times it is an essay expressing students’ opinion). The language teacher is the one that organizes the preparation, the development and fulfillment of the task, which can only be done using the foreign language as a tool for getting information, developing knowledge in the field. In this process, the teacher, who is looking for answers together with the students as he/she doesn’t know the answer beforehand, naturally becomes a partner and an assistant, gives guidelines and shares experience in finding answers.
Students either read or summarize their findings depending on their abilities. More proficient students summarize, less proficient ones – read, then they prepare an outline putting the main points on the board, discuss them and finally prepare a summary collectively. In this process the less proficient students get involved in using the language in a friendly and cooperative environment with various clues and prompts available. Classroom management becomes a student-driven operation – the teacher has to be ready for all sorts of deviations from a preconceived plan.
4. The place and role of language instruction changes as there isn’t a syllabus organized in terms of grammar and lexis that helps students master “the target language in ready-to-assimilate pieces” (Foster, 1999), starting with easier elements and gradually moving towards more difficult ones. Language points to cope with appear while working on the problem or the task and they are dealt with as they arise. More knowledgeable students instruct the less knowledgeable ones, the teacher only monitors and interferes if necessary, instructing them to look for clues in the text that will help interpret the meaning, and, if needed, find an appropriate Bulgarian equivalent. Students will also need to get used to looking for help from various reference materials such as online dictionaries, online grammar books and sites like or to use Google wisely as a corpus of texts to check some language points such as usage of prepositions, collocations, or the correctness of a phrase. The teacher can also provide the students with handouts explaining grammatical points, giving examples, revealing the relation between grammar and text. For example, to help reading comprehension some information may be given on cohesion, how it is realized and how it can help understanding. If needed, some practice can be done through appropriate tasks, such that can be done by finding clues in the text.  If the task is to fill gaps in the text, its successful completion must be dependent on clues in the text so that students are aware that they need to read the text carefully to find support and prompts for the decisions they have to make. For example, in a text on transistors students have to choose the correct preposition in the phrases: “current flows toward/across collector” and “current flows toward/across transistor”. The decision is based on knowledge of transistors, movement of electrons and manipulating signs (interpretation and translation). The prepositions across and through can both be translated in Bulgarian with preposition prez. Knowledge about transistors and current makes it clear that current cannot flow toward the transistor, but inside it can flow toward the collector (the relation emitter – collector). This distinction of the meaning of the above prepositions is acquired at the stage of general language, but it needs to be acquired in the new context (conceptual and linguistic knowledge).
5. Translation could not be avoided as the environment is Bulgarian and when students have to act as problem-solvers they will have to use all sort of sources; there will be articles and informers who will give information in Bulgarian, they will be tempted to discuss difficult points in Bulgarian, etc. But since one of the requirements to students of Telecommunications is to be able to translate texts, although not as professional translators, the need to translate the information found in Bulgarian will actually be helpful because there is a real purpose for doing the translation, namely to be presented in class (this could be done with the help of articles in English on the same topic). On the other hand, regarding translation as interpretation, we should state that translation is an integral part of the whole learning process. In order to acquire and appropriate knowledge one has to interpret various facts, situations, etc. represented in different manners in different semiotic systems, both typological and topological. To solve the problem students read texts, listen to audio materials and watch videos, use the Internet. Translation often helps deeper understanding of the concept and ideas presented in the text. Translation of terms is important as they name concepts which have been acquired in the mother tongue and it will be more efficiently to translate than to make the student go through the process of learning the concept again. On the other hand, concepts form the so called conceptual networks, mentioned earlier in this paper, which are not identical in the different languages. There are differences which the students need to become aware of in order to be able to effectively understand texts (written or oral) in the foreign language. That poses the problem of looking at concepts both ways: in any language separately and at the level of translation equivalence between the languages.
In conclusion, I would state that PBL as a general framework for organizing an ESP course seems to be the most appropriate approach. Techniques from other methods and approaches can be used and successfully applied, but not in the structured way more traditional methods require. There is a lot of flexibility and the instructor has to be prepared to provide for various resources, to change plans, modify instructions, etc. The greatest danger is the possible avoidance of using English in the process of working out the solution to the problem because of the environment and the sources used to solve it. Eguchi (Eguchi 2006) inform that students do not use English while working on solving the problem, which prevents them from developing good language proficiency. This could be overcome by using the Internet not only as a recourse for information, but for communication as well.
Danesi, M. 2000. Semiotics in Language Education. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Eguchi, M. and Eguchi, K. 2006. The Limited Effect of PBL on EFL Learners:A Case Study of English Magazine Projects, Asian ESL Journal, Volume 8. Issue 3.
Foster, P. (1999). Key Concepts in ELT: Task-Based Learning and Pedagogy. ELT Journal, Vol. 53/1
Pueyo, Isabel González Technical Metaphor And The Creation Of Field In The Esp, São Paulo, Vol. 22, Nº 2 191-218, 2000
Savery, John R. & Thomas M. Duffy. 1998. Problem-based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework. In B. Wilson (Ed) Constructivist Learning Environments: Case Studies in Instructional Design, 1995, 135-150
Thomas, D. 1980: Semiotics 1: Signs, Language and Reality. Ginn Custom Publishing, Massachusetts.
Vygotsky, L.S. 1982. Sobranie sochinenii v 6 tomah. T.2. Problemi obshchei psihologii. Mishlenie i rech (Thinking and Speaking). M. Pedagogika (1934)
White, P.R.R. 1998 Extended reality, protonouns and the vernacular: Distinguishing the technological from the scientific. In: Martin, J.R. & R. Veel (eds) Reading Science. Rootledge. 266-294.
Willis, J. 1996. A framework for task-based learning. Oxford: Longman.
Mind Mapping:

Can You Teach a Young Learner?

Written by: Nikolina Tsvetkova, Syana Harizanova English Language Teaching In The Primary School Survey
Since 2002 foreign language teaching has been officially introduced in the primary curriculum in Bulgaria, which has created a vast demand for teachers of foreign languages to children aged 7-11. Quite often, unfortunately, the teachers who undertake the difficult task to work with young learners are not very competent users of the language themselves, or lack experience with this particular age group. Sometimes their English is sufficient for the job but they have no teaching experience at all. The Ministry of Education and Science recognises these facts and has proclaimed qualification of primary foreign language teachers one of the priority areas in the education reform.
British Council, a major agent of change and a traditional promoter of progressive ideas in education, does a lot to respond to the needs of our English teachers through various partnership projects and numerous other initiatives. One of the projects, Materials and Methodologies for Primary English Teachers, is dedicated particularly to Teaching English to Young Learners and aims at satisfying the needs of a wide audience of newly qualified or re-qualified primary English teachers.
As a result of the first stage of the project (September 2003 – March 2004), over 600 primary English teachers from all over Bulgaria were introduced to varied and relevant classroom practices for teaching English to Young Learners by using Bulgarian folk tales. The seminars were carried out by 23 specially trained teacher trainers.
The second stage of the project (expiring March 2007), aims at offering a more systematic methodological and practical support to English teachers of young learners, covering a wider range of their needs. The final product of the project will be a new Methodology and Materials Resource Pack based on the established good teaching practice and the expertise of local professionals. The Pack will be accompanied by video recorded examples of teaching children English for training needs. The idea is, through active implementation of the methodology guide at in-service and pre-service teacher training levels all over the country, to enhance the improvement in teaching English to young learners in Bulgaria.
The project team for this stage of the project is the following:
Project Managers – Nikolina Tsvetkova, Syana Harizanova
Resource Pack authors – Nikolina Tsvetkova, Syana Harizanova, Rossitsa Milkova, Svetla Tashevska, Valya Angelova, Ilonka Nestorova, Adelina Stoyanova, Deshka Margaritova, Stanislav Bogdanov
Teachers of the video-lessons – Zhivka Babarova, Tanya Ivanova, Maria Ivanova, Maria Dimova
Project consultants – Carol Read (UK), Maria Georgieva, Ph.D. (Sofia University)
The survey
In order to respond to the specific needs of primary teachers of English in Bulgaria and to offer ideas for further development in relevant areas, it was considered appropriate to survey the needs of primary English teachers across the country. The survey was conducted by means of a questionnaire which was compiled by the two project managers, with the active support of the two consultants.
One of the basic aims of the questionnaire was to find out the educational and professional background of practising English teachers at Bulgarian primary school. It was important to create a rough picture of the situation with primary teachers’ qualification. Moreover, the questionnaire helped us to get aware of how confident teachers felt about their own language competence and about their teaching skills. It also revealed in which areas teachers felt they needed help most urgently and which areas they were not particularly interested in. Besides, it identified what forms of further qualification and professional development appeal to teachers most strongly.
The questionnaire was sent to 100 practising teachers of English to young learners across the country. We received back only 53, which is certainly too small a number to allow us to consider the findings representative. Yet, we believe that they reflect the existing situation in the country and can help us to help primary teachers in their work as professionals.
The questionnaire consisted of three main parts: Personal Profile, Professional Expertise and Professional Development. The sum-up of the results has been done along the same lines.
Personal Profile

  • 73.60% of the answers came from the capital and other big cities and towns, and the rest – from small town and villages.
  • 71% of the teachers surveyed teach just English in primary or both primary and secondary school. The rest are either primary class teachers who teach English on top of all/some subjects or are primary teachers retraining to become English teachers of young learners.
  • When asked about their confidence to teach different ages and levels in primary, teachers confess that they feel least confident to teach English to first graders and most confident to teach second graders. This is easy to understand having in mind that teaching first English lessons (preferably in English or with the right proportion of mother tongue) is a specific and extremely challenging task. The successful completion of this task, as a rule, strongly influences the further English language training of the learners. Hence, teachers ‘fright’ of the great responsibility. Moreover, there isn’t a universally recommended coursebook to suit the needs of first graders, who according to the Ministry of Education’s instructions should acquire English just orally. So teachers often have to create their own materials and build their own teaching sequences.
  • In terms of their own language competence, teachers feel more confident with reading and grammar than with speaking and listening. It could be assumed that this is so because of the way they were trained, as well as because of the limited opportunities to practise the language for real communication. Obviously, primary teachers should be more aware of various ways of raising their oral proficiency in the language. Not surprisingly, later in the answers, teachers consider the improvement of their language competence an important area for professional development.
  • While the majority of the teachers (37 out of 53) have a considerable general teaching experience, only 21 have been working as teachers of English for five or more years. These results are reflected in the teachers’ further answers where they say they do not need theory in teaching methodology, but mainly practical teaching skills.

Professional expertise

  • As could be expected from their previous answers, teachers are less confident with general ELT methodology than with primary school teaching methodology and primary ELT methodology.
  • Most teachers feel confident to teach all skills although they are slightly less confident with teaching speaking and pronunciation. This is in unison with the above answers about their own language competence.
  • When asked to rank the frequency with which they use various classroom procedures and activity types, teachers said they didn’t use storytelling, drama or role play very frequently, nor did they include activities with movement or art and craft very often in their teaching. The most often used are songs, language drills, pair work, dialogues and games. Among the teachers’ own additions to this list were project work (4 people), multimedia and the Internet (3 people), computer games (2 people), letter-writing to pen-pals (2 people) and some others.
  • As for integrating other areas into their teaching, teachers think that it is very important to include learning-how-to-learn strategies as well as culture in their teaching of English to children. They don’t think, however, it is worth integrating citizenship education or content from other primary subjects.
  • The most frequently used and, obviously, perceived as most useful resources are coursebooks, tapes, flashcard and posters. Story books for English speaking children are not very popular. The least popular resources are the Internet and interactive CD-ROMs, closely followed by videos and DVDs. It needs to be pointed out, however, that this low rate came as a result of the fact that nearly half of the teachers don’t have the facilities to use CD-ROMs or the Internet blank. Hopefully, with the installation of computers at school all over Bulgaria, teachers will start appreciating these resources more, and will look for ways of using them effectively.
  • Teachers were asked to comment on the positive and negative aspects of the materials they currently use to teach young learners. The answers came in a great variety but some of the reoccurring ones were (on the positive side) that they are adequate to children’s age, address concrete topics, contain many pictures and communicative and amusing activities, stories, cross-curricular links, are graded in difficulty, etc. On the negative side, the main criticisms were that they are expensive and difficult to provide, the flashcards they include are too small, the audio-cassettes – of a bad quality, some activities are inapplicable to large classes, there are too many new words per lesson, there aren’t enough cut-out-and-stick activities, etc.

Professional development

  • Asked to identify the modes of professional development they consider most useful, teachers replied that they don’t want to read books, they want workshops and seminars. They need more practical teaching skills rather than methodology, although quite a few of them think that a more systematic methodology course is quite useful. On-line resources and interactive CD-ROMs are once again not a preferred choice.
  • Ts were free to add other useful modes of professional development. Their additions can be roughly divided into two: forms aimed at improving their language proficiency (refresher English courses, communicating with native speakers, exchange/practical experience in English-speaking countries), and such that would guarantee a higher professionalism in teaching English (British Council-sponsored seminars and summer schools, periodic methodology upgrade, projects involving exchange of experience, on-line presentation of lessons).
  • According to teachers’ answers, what most of them need further development in are the following areas, ranked in order of importance: developing children’s vocabulary, teaching English through English (classroom language), working with mixed-ability groups, developing children’s speaking skills and organising communicative activities in class. (Here again, one can feel the teachers’ comparatively low confidence about their spoken English.)

The least interesting/useful area for further development for the teachers is the difference between adult and young learners. This is not surprising as most of them are qualified primary teachers and feel pretty confident about working with young learners. Planning lessons and managing children effectively does not seem to be a big problem for them either, very probably due to the same reasons.
An interesting addition to the list of useful topic areas for Ts’ professional development was “Taking part in educational projects”, which might be assumed to prove that there are teachers who have personally experienced the benefits of the latter.

  • A separate question aimed at finding out whether primary teachers are members of any professional organisation. Of all 53 teachers only 12 were such: 4 members of BETA, 6 members of OPTIMA, 1 member of both, and 1 member of the Bulgarian Union of Scientists. This comes to indicate that primary teachers are either not aware of the existence of such organisations or are not convinced of the professional benefits from being their members. The relevant conclusions have to be drawn from this finding.

Finally, teachers were invited to add any additional information which would help us in understanding their professional situation and needs.
Here are some of the concerns they expressed:

  • Teaching English to Roma kids is very difficult as this is a third language for them, they do not study at home. Can we do something about it?
  • In a mixed class, Bulgarian children cope with English better than Roma kids.
  • How can we divide the big primary classes so that we work with smaller groups?
  • Should we assess in a different way children who work on their own and children who have private lessons in English?
  • I have difficulties in testing and assessing my students.
  • I live in a small town where it is difficult to get relevant information in time. I would be happy if I can get such.
  • In Kozludui, there are not enough materials for teaching English at pre-primary and primary levels or test and activity books for these levels.
  • I need more teaching materials, especially for the first grade.
  • I need help to get better oriented in the variety of textbooks and teaching materials to be used at state school.
  • How to choose an appropriate set of textbooks which will lead to building on the children’s language at lower secondary?
  • I need advice about teaching English at pre-primary level.
  • Networking among primary English teachers would be great.

And these are some of the positive comments:

  • My experience as a primary English teacher at a state school and at a private institution together with my experience as a mentor helps me a lot.
  • I am very pleased with the quality of the Summer school and the seminars from teachers of English. I find them useful for developing my English language competence as well as my skills as a primary teacher of English.
  • I’m taking part in your needs analysis with pleasure because after the Summer school in Kiten I feel extremely enriched as a professional and inspired as a person.

* * *
The results of this survey were thoroughly analysed and taken into consideration when the project team, together with the consultants, met to plan the content and structure of the Methodology and Materials Resource Pack. It was decided that:

  • The training pack should be content- and reality-oriented.
  • Trainer/ teacher materials should be practice-oriented.
  • There should be balance between theory and practice.
  • There should be a balance between trainer and participant-led tasks and types of outcomes (open-ended/ closed).
  • Materials should reflect needs/ characteristics of grades 1 – 4.
  • The training pack should follow a modular principle.
  • There should be consistency in design.
  • There should be possibility of flexibility in delivery.
  • Support for the trainer should be clear and contain full rationale.
  • The language should be accessible.

We selected 20 relevant topics to be included in the Pack and agreed on a workshop framework along the following principle:

Awareness raising ► Experiencing ► Analysing ► Applying ► Evaluating

The process of writing the draft modules of the pack is under way now. For most of them authors are working in pairs. E-discussions and face-to-face meetings help pairs to exchange ideas and collate the modules. No need to say, it is a very demanding and difficult job, but also very interesting and inspiring. We hope to bring it to a successful end and move on to the next activities in the project in order to achieve the overall aim – to improve teaching of English to young learners in Bulgaria through a good practice methodology support and teacher training.

Brainstorming techniques with involvement of poetry to prepare students for writing academic essays

Written by: Nina Raud, Assistant Lecturer of English Language and Literature
Viktoria Sokolova, Teacher Trainer and Language Instructor
Tartu University Narva College Download: Appendix 1÷4

Nowadays there is a constantly growing interest in language learning. Therefore, to meet the learner’s needs, teachers of foreign languages try to integrate various authentic materials including literature to develop language skills. One of the examples of such integration can be the use of poetry to help student’s master writing skills. In this article we will attempt to demonstrate how the language teacher may use a poem as a way to brainstorm ideas for creating a coherent and meaningful outline of the planned essay.
To begin with, let us define what academic writing is. According to Oshima and Hogue (1999:2) academic writing is the kind of writing required to be done in college or university; it differs from other kinds of writing by its special audience, tone and purpose. It is mainly formal, impersonal and objective. One genre of academic writing is an academic essay, which appears to be the most popular genre introduced at school and university. An essay is a short piece of writing that discusses, describes or analyses one topic. The academic essay usually presents central claim(s) and supports claim(s) using arguments based on evidence and cautious language. The central idea is usually developed through such methods of organisation as chronological order or comparison and contrast. Essay writing is a complex process, which requires the knowledge and the skill. As claimed by Hogue and Oshima (1999) writing of the essay mainly consists of two stages pre-writing and writing, where the emphasis is made on preliminary work done.
Preliminary work done by a student consists of the following steps (Oshima and Hogue, 1999; Barnet, 2000)

  • annotating (choosing and narrowing a topic from general topic to very specific one)
  • brainstorming (listing, free writing, clustering)
  • grouping (determining subdivisions and grouping ideas around the key subtopics)
  • outlining (making a plan of an essay)

Each of these steps contributes to the formation of an essay outline and cannot be omitted.
Thus, to quote Robert Frost (as cited in Barnet, 2000:25): “All there is to writing is having ideas. To learn to write is to learn to have ideas.” Therefore, let us start with reading in order to find ideas. But the question is what to read to initiate the process of thinking and generating ideas to write. The choice of reading texts can be various: prose, drama and poetry. We recommend poetry to start with as it differs at the level of expressive means employed. In other forms of literature such as prose and drama we want to know what happens next. However, poetry insists that we read not only to get to the end of the work, but also to enjoy the trip by taking pleasure in the words, rhythms and sounds as well as in the statements made. Poetry often says complex things with a minimum of words because its language calls attention to itself. Perhaps, the most important feature of poetry is its compression (Biddle and Fulwiler, 1989:48). A poem is so compressed that, if everyone considers what can be considered, he will never run out of things to write about.  Poems are typically compact; each word carries a heavy burden. It leaves much for readers to infer and conclude; it sets us free to feel and think.
To see how a poem can be turned into a source of ideas for future writing let us look at one famous poem written in the 19th century by Lord Alfred Tennyson – ‘Flower in the Crannied Wall’. The recommended procedure of working with the poem (based on the literature classes conducted by the authors in Narva College of Tartu University) could be the following. First, the teacher shows the title of the poem in order to draw students’ attention to the poem and asks about students’ associations regarding the key words of the title: FLOWER< CRANNIED< WALL.  The suggestions should be written on the blackboard. Some typical answers received from Narva students were beauty, love, ruins, broken, solid, power, weakness etc. Jotting down of students’ associations is done in order to trigger predictions of the content of the poem (annotating). In addition, the teacher may also ask students questions such as: “Why do you think that Tennyson chose these words, as opposed to other words he might have chosen? How would the effect of the opening line be different if, for example, Tennyson had written “Flower in the cracked wall” or “Flower in the broken wall?” in order to involve students to a fuller extent before reading the poem.

Flower in the Crannied Wall
by Lord Alfred Tennyson
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower – but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
(Clare, 1980)

The teacher reads the poem aloud first and then allocates some time for silent reading before initiating a discussion with students. He/she should point out that every poem appeals to one of our senses and feelings (Biddle and Fulwiler, 1989:52); therefore, poets try to make us see, hear, smell, taste and feel what they are describing. This characteristic feature of poetry is called imagery. Hence, the teacher may ask students what picture this poem suggests. For instance: We can see a crannied wall maybe somewhere in a garden, and a man standing by the wall. He sees a beautiful flower in the crack of the wall, plucks it out and holding it in his hand thinks about eternal things such as God and Man and Nature. And then students should try to answer the main question of what the meaning of this poem is and what is implied by the picture imagined. The suggestion may be elucidated in groups and later given to the teacher to be written on the board. Thus, the students try to analyse the poem and at the same time they brainstorm ideas for future writing.
At this point the teacher should explain that the process of generating ideas, in other words, brainstorming, is of utter importance in the process of writing.  According to Barnet S. (2000:27) brainstorming asks students to “jot down at length whatever comes to mind, without inhibition”. It is important to emphasise that in the brainstorming process the student should not worry about spelling or writing in complete sentences but concentrate on connection between ideas. And later he can review his jottings by omitting the irrelevant ones and connecting the meaningful points.
The next step after brainstorming is grouping the generated suggestions, which imply similar ideas. This could be done through group work. It is important that the teacher should also explain that usually there is the central idea, which is supported by several subtopics, usually not more than three (Oshima and Hogue, 1999). Why do we need three subtopics? Because three subtopics with supporting points and details (Oshima and Hogue, 1999) can shape the preliminary paragraphs of the planned essay (see appendix 1). Hence, the task of students is to elucidate the three leading ideas among the suggestions they have come up with and find the other suggestions that support the same idea.
To continue with Flower in the Crannied Wall we may ask: What could be the central topic of the poem? In our classes students proposed the philosophy of life as the key meaning of this poem. As for the subtopics LOVE is BEAUITY, LOVE is STRUGGLE and WHAT GOD AND MAN IS were suggested (see appendices1 and 2).  Those subtopics became the central ideas of the three paragraphs of the main body (see appendix 2). Taking into account our narrowed essay topic the philosophy of life we may hypothesise that life can be understood through BEAUTY, STRUGGLE and the relationship between GOD and MAN. So these are going to be the subtopics of the essay with a title The philosophy of life.
The last step in preliminary writing stage is outlining the essay. Normally, the essay contains five paragraphs (Oshima and Hogue, 1999): the introductory paragraph, main body paragraphs and the concluding paragraph. The main body paragraph is considered in detail. Any paragraph should start with a topic sentence, which represents a subtopic of the essay and must have supporting points and details (see appendix 1). Thus, the teacher explains to students that some ideas in each subdivision can be of more importance, therefore, they are named supporting points, as they can unite several others, namely supporting details.
The way how Narva College students outlined the first paragraph of the main body is presented below:

Subdivision 1 Life is beauty

Topic sentence Life is based on beauty
1.1.   Supporting point                          1.1 Beauty of life
1.1.1.      Supporting detail                          1.1.1. beauty is power
1.1.2.      Supporting detail                          1.1.2. eternity of beauty
1.2    Supporting point                           1.2 Beauty can be destroyed
1.2.1.      Supporting detail                          1.2.1. beauty is fragile-easy to damage
1.2.2.      Supporting detail                          1.2.2. God creates beauty but man kills it
Similarly students can outline the other two paragraphs (see appendix 4). Once the outline of the main body is prepared the student may proceed with writing the first draft. As to the number of drafts one should write there is a saying that writing is a process, which is never complete.
In conclusion, the use of the unique features of poetry such as imagery and compression prepares students for writing one of the most challenging genres of academic writing – the essay. Successful essay writing is predetermined by thorough preliminary work based on reading for generating ideas. Thus, reading poetry may help students brainstorm a number of ideas, which later can be grouped to build a clear and logical structure of the essay. This article shows how the poem Flower in the Crannied Wall by Lord Alfred Tennyson can be used as a source of ideas to prepare students for writing an essay on the topic connected with the meaning of life. Likewise, any other poems could be turned into a resourceful mine for essay writing on any topic of canadian casinos.

  1. Barnet, S., Berman, M. Burto, W.& W. Cain. 2000. An Introduction to Literature. Fiction. Poetry. Drama. New York: Longman
  2. Biddle, A.& T. Fulwiler. 1989. Reading, Writing and the Study of Literature. New York: Random House
  3. Clare, T. 1980. A Book of Poetry New York: Macmillan
  4. Oshima, A.& A. Hogue. 1999. Academic English.(3rd ed.). New York: Longman

Download: Appendix 1÷4

Chicklit, Ladlit and Toby Litt: The Current State of British Prose and Poetry

Presented by David A. Hill [toc class=”toc-right”]


1a)  The Elders (‘literature’)

Michael Frayn (1933) Spies (2002) [Whitbread Best Novel Prize] ; David Lodge (1935) Author, Author (2004) ; James Kelman (1946) You Have to be Careful in the Land of the Free (2004); Jim Crace (1946 ) Six (2003) ; Julian Barnes (1946) Love, etc. (2000); Ian McEwan (1948) Saturday (2005) [W H Smith Literary Award]; Martin Amis (1949) Yellow Dog (2003) ; Graham Swift (1949 ) The Light of Day (2003) ; Helen Dunmore (1952) Mourning Ruby (2003) [+ Poetry] ; Tim Parks (1954) Rapids (2005) ; Alan Hollinghurst (1954) The Line of Beauty (2004) [Booker Prize] ; Sally Vickers (1954) Mr Golightly’s Holiday (2003) ; John Burnside (1955) Living Nowhere (2003) [+ Poetry] ; Adam Thorpe (1956) No Telling (2003) [+ Poetry] ; Nick Hornby (1957) How To Be Good (2001) [W H Smith Fiction Prize] ; Tibor Fischer (1959) Journey to the End of the Room (2003)

1b) The Youngers (‘literature’)

Gerard Woodward (1961) I’ll Go to Bed at Noon (2004) [+ Poetry] ; Jonathan Coe (1961) The Closed Circle (2004) ; Jill Dawson (1962) Wild Boy (2003) ; Philip Hensher (1965) The Fit (2004) [GR03] ; A. L. Kennedy (1965) Paradise (2004) [GR03] ; Zoe Heller (1965) Notes on a Scandal (2003) ; Nicola Barker (1966 ) Clear: A Transparent Novel (2004) [GR03] ; David Peace (1967) GB 84 (2004) [GR03]; Toby Litt (1968 ) Ghosts (2005) [GR03]; David Mitchell (1969) Cloud Atlas (2003) [GR03]; Tobias Hill (1970) The Cryptographer. (2003) [+ Poetry] ; Dan Rhodes (1972) Timoleon Vieta Come Home (2002) [GR03]; Matt Thorne (1974) Cherry (2005); Zadie Smith (1975) The Autograph Man (2002) [GR03] ; Jon McGregor (1976) If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002) [Betty Trask Prize] ; Anne Donovan (19??) Buddha Da (2003); Helen Walsh (1977) Brass (2004)

2) Short Stories (Single author collections)

Susan Hill (1942) The Boy Who Taught the Beekeeper to Read (2003) ; A.S.Byatt (1936) Little Black Book of Stories (2003) ; Julian Barnes (1946) The Lemon Table (2004); Patricia Duncker (1951) Seven Tales of Sex and Death (2003) ; Alexei Sayle (1952) The Dog Catcher (2002) ; Helen Simpson (1959) Hey Yeah Right Get a Life (2000); Jackie Kay (1961) Why Don’t You Stop Talking? (2002) [+ Poetry] ; Ali Smith (1962) The Whole Story and Other Stories (2003) ; Philip Hensher (1965) The Bedroom of the Mister’s Wife (2000); Toby Litt (1968) Exhibitionism (2002) [GR03] ; Dan Rhodes (1972) Don’t Tell Me the Truth about Love (2000) [GR03]; Anne Donovan (19??) Hieroglyphics and Other Stories (2001)

3a) Chicklit

Helen Fielding (1960) Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996) [Film] ; Adele Parks (1969) Still Thinking of You (2004) ; Jenny Colgan (1971) Do You Remember The First Time? (2003) ; India Knight (19??) Don’t You Want Me? (2002); Sophie Kinsella (19  ) Shopaholic and Sister (2004) ; Allison Pearson (19??) I Don’t Know How She Does It (2002) ; Marian Keyes (19??) The Other Side of the Story (2004) ; Carmen Reid (19??) Did The earth Move? (2003); Anna Maxted Being Committed (2004)

3b) Ladlit

Tony Parsons (1954) The Family Way (2004) ; Tim Lott (1956) The Love Secrets of Don Juan (2003); Matt Dunn (1966) Best Man (2005); Mike Gayle (19??) His ‘n’ Hers (2004) ; John O’Farrell (19??) This Is Your Life (2002) ; Mark Barrowcliffe (19??) Lucky Dog (2004); Matt Whyman (19??) Columbia Road (2002)

4a) Themes: Man and Boy

Tony Parsons (1954) Man and Boy (1999 ) ; Nick Hornby (1957) About and Boy (1998) [Film] ; Simon Armitage (1963) Little Green Man (2001) [+ Poetry] ; John O’Farrell (19??) The Best a Man Can Get (2000) ; Mark Barrowcliffe (19??) Infidelity for First Time Fathers (2001 ) ; Dave Hill (19??) Dad’s Life (2003)

4b) Themes: Multiracial Britain

Andrea Levy (1956) Small Island (2003) [Orange Prize/ Whitbread Prize] ; Meera Syal (1962) Life isn’t all ha ha he he (1999) ; Monica Ali (1968) Brick Lane (2003) [W H Smith People’s Choice Award] [GR03] ; Zadie Smith (1975) White Teeth (2000) [Guardian First Book Award; W H Smith Best New Talent Award] [GR03]; Nadeem Aslam (1967) Maps for Lost Lovers (2004); Francis King (19??) The Nick of Time (2003)

4c) Themes: the Bildungsroman

Michael Frayn (1933) Spies (2003) ; Seamus Deane (1940) Reading in the Dark (1996)[+ Poetry] ;
Julia Darling (1956) The Taxi Driver’s Daughter (2003) ; Roddy Doyle (1958) Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993) [1993 Booker Prize] ; Andrew O’Hagan (1968) Personality (2003) [GR03] ; Toby Litt (1968) deadkidsongs (2001) [GR03]; Helen Falconer (19??) Sky High (2003)

4d) Themes: Literary/Artistic Lives

Michael Frayn (1933) Headlong (1999) [Breughel] ; Beryl Bainbridge (1935) According to Queeney (2001) [Samuel Johnson] ; David Lodge (1935) Author, Author (2004) [Henry James] ; Emma Tennant (1937) The Ballad of Sylvia and Ted (2001) [Sylvia Plath/Ted Hughes] ; Peter Ackroyd (1949) The Lambs of London (2004) [Charles & Eliza Lamb] ; Andrew Motion (1952) The Invention of Dr. Cake (2003) [John Cake/William Tabor] [+ Poetry] ; Colm Toibin (1955) The Master (2004) [Henry James]; Tracey Chevalier (1962) Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999) (Film) [Vermeer] ; Will Self (1961) Dorian: an Imitation (2002) [Dorian Gray] ; C K Stead (19??) Mansfield: A Novel (2004)

4e) Themes: The New Technology

Jeanette Winterson (1959) The PowerBook (2000) ; Jesica Adams (19??) Single White e-mail (1998)
Matt Beaumont (19??) e  (2000); Matt Whyman (19??) Man or Mouse (2000)


1) The Elders

Michael Hamburger (1924) Wild and Wounded (2004) ; Elizabeth Bartlett (1924) Mrs Perkins and Oedipus (2004) ; Charles Tomlinson (1927) Skywriting (2004) ; Peter Porter (1929) Afterburner (2004) ; Anthony Thwaite (1930) A Move in the Weather (2003) ; Adrian Mitchell (1932) All Shook Up (2000) [PBS Rec] ; Geoffrey Hill (1932) The Orchards of Syon (2002) [PBS Choice] ; Anne Stevenson (1933) A Report from the Border (2003) [PBS Rec] ; Tony Harrison (1937) Laureate’s Block (2000) ; John Fuller (1937) Now and for a Time (2002) ; Gillian Clarke (1937) Making Beds for the Dead (2004);
Roger McGough (1937) Everyday Eclipses (2002) ; Seamus Heaney (1939) Electric Light (2001) [PBS Choice] ; Michael Longley (1939) Snow Water (2003) [PBS Choice] ; Douglas Dunn (1942) The Year’s Aftenoon (2000) [PBS Choice]

2) The Middlers

Eavan Boland (1944) Code (2001) ; Carol Rumens (1944) Hex (2002) [PBS Rec] ; Wendy Cope (1945) If I Don’t Know (2001) ; Bernard O’Donoghue (1945) Outliving (2002) ; Selima Hill (1945) Lou-Lou (200) [PBS Rec] ; Peter Reading (1946) [untitled] (2001) ; George Szirtes (1948) Reel (2004) [PBS Choice] [Whitbread Prize]; Ciaran Carson (1948) Breaking News (2003);  Paul Muldoon (1951) Moy Sand and Gravel (2002) [PBS Choice] ; Andrew Motion (1952) Public Property (2003) [Poet Laureate] ; Matthew Sweeney (1952)  Sanctuary (2004) ; Carol Ann Duffy (1955) Feminine Gospels (2002) [PBS Rec] ; John Burnside (1955) The Light Trap (2001) [PBS Rec] ; Jamie McKendrick (1955) Ink Stone (2003) [PBS Rec] ; Adam Thorpe (1956) Nine Lessons from the Dark (2003) ; Benjamin Zephaniah (1958) Too Black, Too Strong (2001) ; Lavinia Greenlaw (1962 ) Minsk (2003) [PBS Rec] ; Kathleen Jamie (1962) The Tree House (2004) [PBS Choice] ; Don Patterson (1963) Landing Light (2003) [T S Eliot Prize] [PBS Choice] ; Michael Symmons Roberts (1963) Corpus (2004) [PBS Rec]; Simon Armitage (1963) The Universal Home Doctor (2003) [PBS Rec] ; Kate Clanchy (1965) Newborn (2004) [PBS Rec] ; Glyn Maxwell (1968) The Nerve (2002) [PBS Rec] ; Ruth Padel (19??) The Soho Leopard (2004) [PBS Choice] ; Alice Oswald (19??) Dart (2002) [T S Eliot Prize] [PBS Rec]

3) The Youngers

Paul Farley (1965) The Ice Age (2002) [Second] [PBS Choice] [2002 Whitbread Poetry Prize] ; Tracey Herd (1968) Dead Redhead (2001) [Second] [PBS Rec] ; Polly Clark (1968) Kiss (2000) [Second] ; Kona Macphee (1968) Tails (2004) [First] ; Matthew Welton (1969) The Book of Matthew (2003) [First] [PBS Rec] ; Julia Copus (1969) In Defence of Adultery (2003) [Second] ; Helen Ivory (1969) The Double Life of Clocks (2002) [First] ; Jane Griffiths (1970) A Grip on Thin Air (2000) [First] ; Joanne Limburg (1970) femenismo (2000) [First] ; Colette Bryce(1970) The Full Indian Rope Trick (2004) [Second] [PBS Rec]; Matthew Hollis (1971) Ground Water (2003) [First] [PBS Rec] ; Antony Dunn (1973) Flying Fish (2002) [Second] ; Leontia Flynn (1974) These Days (2004) [First] [PBS Rec] ; Owen Shears (1974) The Blue Book (2000) [First] ; Jacob Polley (1975) The Brink (2003) [First] [PBS Choice] ; Clare Pollard (1978) Bedtime (2002)  [Second] ; Cheryl Follon (1978) All Your Talk (2004) [First] ; Henry Shukman (19??) In Dr No’s Garden (2002) [First] [+ novel]


  • In Prose Sections  1a), 1b) and 2) the novels/story collections given are the most recent ones published by the authors. In 2) the collections are all single author collections.
  • In the thematic Prose sections, the books listed are the relevant ones.
  • In all three Poetry sections the books listed are the latest ones.
  • In all sections the authors are arranged by year of birth (in brackets after the name) where known. The other date is the year of publication.
  • Further information is given in [square brackets] : prizes won; in the Poetry sections, where the book was a Poetry Book Society Choice or Recommendation; in Prose Section 4d the name of the real person who the book is about; in Poetry section 3, whether it is the First or Second collection published.
  • The division of the Poetry sections into Elders/Middles/Youngsters is more to do with when and how much the poets have published, rather than actual date of birth.
  • The division of  Prose section 1 into a) and b) was made at 1960.
  • [GR03] means that an author was chosen as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2003.

This is neither an exhaustive nor complete list of all the names/works which there could be, however it is a representative selection, and includes those writers I consider to be among the most important.

Reference Books

The following books may be useful for anyone wishing to look at the period under discussion.
Connor S (1996) The English Novel in History 1950-1995.

(London: Routledge)

Draper R P (1999) An Introduction to Twentith-Century Poetry in English.

(Basingstoke: Macmillan)

Gasiorek A (1995) Post-War British Fiction: Realism and After.

(London: Arnold)

Jack I (Ed)  (2003) Best Of Young British Novelists 2003

(London: Granta)

Head D (2002) The Cambridge Introduction to Modern British Fiction, 1950-2000.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Herbert W N/ Hollis M (Eds) (2000) Strong Words: modern poets on modern poetry.

(Tarset: Bloodaxe Books)

Kennedy D (1996) New Relations: the refashioning of British poetry 1980-94.

(Bridgend: Seren)

Lane R et al (Eds) (2003) Contemporary British Fiction.

(Cambridge: Polity Press)

O’Brien S (1998) The Deregulated Muse: esaays on contemporary British and Irish poetry.

(Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe Books)

Padel R (2002) 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem.

(London: Chatto & Windus)

Tew P (2004) The Contemporary British Novel.

(London: Continuum)

Thorne M/Blincoe N (Eds) All Hail The new Puritans.

(London: 4th Estate)

Thwaite A ((1985) Poetry Today: A Critical Guide to British Poetry 1960-84.

(Harlow: Longman)

Verdonk P (Ed) (1993) Twentieth –Century Poetry: from text to context.

(London: Routledge)


What is Chicklit?

In the late 1990s, when Bridget Jones’s Diary and a plethora of other novels about female insecurity were emerging, women’s lack of confidence was beginniing to seem like a global epidemic. I thought that it had a lot to do with with the explosion of images of perfection in movies and advertising.
A hundred years ago, a woman in a rural community might have had one or two attractive local beauties to compare herself to. But in the latter half of the 20th century, women were bombarded with images of perfection, and not real perfection either; painstakingly lighted, airbrushed, computer-enhanced moments that never existed in the first place.
(Helen Fielding: Never mind your bottom in  The Daily Telegraph 04.09.04)

The term “chicklit”, with its post-feminist use of the word “chick” and its sing-song almost-rhyme, originated as a way of describing young women’s fiction of any sort. Now its specifically means a “fun”, pastel-covered novel with a young, female, city-based protagonist, who has a kooky best friend, and evil boss, romantic troubles and a desire to find The One – the apparently unavailable man who is good-looking, can cook and is both passionate and considerate in bed.
(Scarlett Thomas: The great chick lit conspiracy in The Independent on Sunday 04.08.02)

What is Ladlit?

….the essentials of Ladlit have always been constant. You need one or all of the following: sport, music, friendship, children, work, where you fit in society, what being a man means. And, of course, you need women. How to get ’em, how to shed ’em, how to deal with ’em generally, them being creatures from another planet and all. The problems in Ladlit always come women-shaped…the solutions to this lady trouble are not always pleasant.
Still, men treating women badly is no news, really. What’s more interesting is the way these men, these characters, deal with it. Certain writers – like Hornby and Welsh – have a strong feminist streak. Their heroes might dish the dirty, but their female counterparts chuck it right back at them: their women characters are often stronger, more honest, better at dealing with things than the useless men thatsurround them. …the women in Ladlit books..might not be politically correct, but at least they give as good as they get, and aren’t always moaning about ‘finding the right man’.
……there is romance in these novels. It’s just that it’s a male sort of romance. A sliding scale that has wanting to be a shag-happy popstar at one end, and wanting to be a husband and father at the other. A rock ‘n’ roll romance. Recently this sliding scale has tipped more towards the role than the rock. Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons, John O’Farrell all deal with man as father….
The best thing about Ladlit is this: it may not be perfect, but ut does try to find truth, to be honest and unpretentious. I think this is why we all think of it as almost-fiction; why we assume each author is writing about himself, as opposed to creating his characters. We think it’s effortless, like jotting down a diary. The fact that these books use everyday language adds to this impression, as does the recognisable places in which they’re set.
(Miranda Sawyer: How to Understand Men in Waterstone’s Books Quarterly, 2003)

David A. Hill has had the following poetry and prose published:
Poetry:                   The Eagles and the Sun (1986: Prosveta, Niš)
The Judas Tree (1993: Collina Press, Milan)
Singing to Seals (1999: The Collective Press, Abergavenny)
Short Stories:         A Matter of Chance (1999: Cambridge University Press)
How I Met Myself (2001: Cambridge University Press)
The Boy (2004 in Pulverness A/Moses A (Eds) The Outsider. ELI, Recanati)
Why Didn’t You Tell Me (2004: WorldWide Readers at

Action Research: The Teacher as Researcher in the EFL Classroom

Written by: Dr. Ryan James, Ed.D.
E-mail –
American Council for English Studies (ACES) – Hungary
Because this writing is long and uses advanced formatting, it’s only available for download: MS Word .DOC format | Adobe .PDF format