Talking Tech 2: Snappy Words

One of the comments made after my first foray into blogging about some of the tech tools that are touted for teachers was that I must’ve chosen a duff site for starters so that I could have a good rant. Now, as any of you who read my blog regularly know, I do like a good rant as much as the next person, if not more, and as I previously promised, I will also be blogging at some point about some sites / tools that I rate and think have validity in ELT. However, it really must be said that you don’t actually have to look very hard to find soft targets. As the dash towards digital becomes ever more frenzied, so Scoop It and other ‘curating’ (how I loathe that term!) mechanisms become ever more clogged with uncritical propaganda bombarding decent teachers with endless things that we’re all supposed to be keeping up with if we are to survive as teachers in the 21st century . . . and, perhaps predictably, most of them are utter dross and not worth wasting teachers’ time with, let alone students’ precious spare moments! Or do I mean extra moments? Or redundant ones? Or excess? All will be soon be revealed!

Today’s topic is Snappy Words. I can’t for the life of me remember who first suggested I spend half an hour of my life checking this site out, but those are thirty minutes I’ll never get back and if and when I do remember, I’ll hold them personally responsible. As is to be expected, the site itself touts its wares with some considerable degree of self-promotion. Apparently, Snappy Words is a free visual English dictionary and thesaurus that lets you search the meaning of words and other associated words”. Enter any word or phrase into the search box and it will create a web of related words, phrases, and definitions. Hover your cursor over any word or phrase in the web to read its definition. Click and drag any node to explore other branches of the web. Double click on a node and it will generate new web branches. Oh, and it’s free! All the 21st buzzwords you could wish for in just a couple of sentences: click, drag, free, fun, web, visual – the works!

And a brief trawl of the ELT-oriented sites out there promulgating these things for teachers reveal that most folk simply take the hype at face value. Here’s just a sample of the gushing guff that folks would have us believe: “Snappy Words could be a good resource for students that are stuck in the rut of using the same words and phrases repeatedly in their writing” – yes, God forbid that students should learn how to use words and phrases and then repeat their use again. Where would we be if repetition ever occurred?! “Snappy Words will give such students access to alternative words and their definitions much faster than thumbing through a thesaurus.” Another suggested use is as follows: “learners can use it either before a new theme or reading, as well as for revisions – especially to set during a self-learning time where each learner focuses on vocabulary they want/need, thus adding personalized learning in a very simple way.”

As is always the way with these things, it sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Well, in keeping with the tech theme, I’ve made a relatively teched-up little overview of what happens if and when students were to go to Snappy Words, so you can judge the rest for yourself.

Enjoy.

Clearly, the site suffers from many of the dictionary issues arising from using free online sources that I blogged about when discussing Lingro, but these problems are compounded by its very nature: the web of supposedly related meanings just vomits forth language problem after language problem that any student ill-advised enough to waste time here would be confronted with. Within seconds of starting off on the start they wind up dropping down one rabbit hole or another, possibly only emerging many minutes later none the wiser and possibly considerably more baffled than they previously had been.

I’m reminded of a student who once came to me at the end of a lesson and asked  if the sentence It has typical peacock markings was correct. Bemused as to where this sentence had come from, and also curious as to what on earth the IT in the sentence might be if it wasn’t actually referring to a peacock, because, let’s face it, not many things out there do actually have typical peacock marking, I asked – only to be told it was from my previous class! I know I may sometimes write things up on the board that I later realise could’ve been done better, but this struck me as an unlikely lapse. I said it seemed unlikely, and asked if she could show me where exactly it was from. I was then pointed to an exercise in Innovations Intermediate (I think) that was looking at national stereoptypes, adjectives used to describe groups of people, and how to refute or argue back against stereotpyes, so it’d contained things like:

He’s a typical Englishman – cold and unfriendly.

> Oh, come on! I’ve met plenty of English people who were really warm and friendly.

and so on. TYPICAL had been used in almost every mini-dialogue, and I’d thought I’d explained it rather well at the time, but this particular student, whether because of diligence or confusion, had gone home, looked the word up and in the examples of the word in action that they’re terrible dictionary had provided for them then encountered the gem above about having typical peacock markings. As this sentence contained two words that were unknown, the dictionary had come out again and had led to peacock blue and proud as a peacock, followed by did you mark where it fell and the marks of violence! The student had given up at this point, quite wisely, but clearly could have contained unravelling this thread indefinitely!

This way of studying takes a long time and is bound to lead to confusion.  It also illustrates the problem many students have when they separate grammar and words and when they rely predominantly on dictionaries.

Yet dictionaries, even ones that come up with the kind of weirdness described above, don’t come anywhere near to taking students down shit creek and abandoning there when seen in the light of Snappy Words. And let’s face it, that’s not a place most students pay us to deposit them.

Without even leaving them a paddle!

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27 responses

  1. Funny because just the other day I tweeted about Snappy Word:

    A cute but pretty useless (for learners) Visual word association tool bit.ly/14uHeT4 #tefl #elt— Lexical Leo (@leoselivan) May 23, 2013

    1. Ha. It wasn’t through you that I first encountered the site, though, Leo, so your kneecaps are safe for now.
      Think you were way too generous about it though! CUTE? Seriously?
      And you could change PRETTY for COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY and you’d not be lying.
      And why hedge by just saying for LEARNERS as though it might somehow have something to offer to teachers?
      It doesn’t.

  2. Great post and video! Here in China when coaching individual students I like to ask tem to show me what apps and online resources they’re using. Some aren’t bad but most are terrible. I think it’s really important for me to point out flaws in some of the things they’re wasting their time on.

    While it’s great to encourage learner autonomy, we do need to make sure we’re guiding our learners on some useful resources and which resources to avoid.

    By the way, what software did you use to make the video?

    Chris

    1. Good idea to ask students to show you what they’re doing outside of class in general, I think, Chris, and to give them constructive feedback on how useful you feel thins might be for them – and whether or not there might be other things they’d be better off spending time on. Having seen over the years many of the mad books students waste hours on, I fully expect that most students will apply the same razor-sharp critical faculties to tech (!!) and gravitate towards digital versions of what they used to do on paper: mad grammar exercises mostly!

      As for encouraging learner autonomy, I think that one of the main ways we can do this is by steering students AWAY from sites and tools that don’t deliver sufficient bang for the time invested in them.

      I made the video using Camtasia, by the way. I’m still on a 30-day free trial, but am sufficiently impressed to invest in the full package. It’s great in that once you’ve made your screencast, it uploads with no fuss direct to Youtube for you, which Jing and other similar tools simply cannot do.

  3. hi hugh,

    look forward to reading your positive new tech experiences.

    one approach for teachers is for them to dive into conceiving tech language learning ideas themselves. oh no! not more unpaid work for the hapless classroom teacher you may well decry.

    true but let’s look at it from the point of developing/testing your teaching ideas, that is designing your own program for language learning is a way to do this without needing a classroom of learners.

    the tech to do quick mockups are there for those attracted by this approach e.g. why not join the Mozilla ELT #teachtheweb study group (https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/103732709087976219248) where amazing demos like this are conceived – Find the chunks – http://jsbin.com/asidaj/15

    also there are other initiatives like ELTJam – http://www.eltjam.com/

    ta
    mura

    1. Hi Mura –
      The next tech post will be a more positive one, I promise, albeit one with a couple of caveats added in, as you might expect!

      You’re right that partly I decry the fact that the vast majority of teachers who do end up being relatively au fait with the tech that’s out do need to do so in their own (unpaid) time, and I do think this is an issue, as you know. This is partly why the promulgation of sites which are essentially a waste of time and energy for both teachers and students gets my back up so much!

      However, i think the broader issue is what we actually mean by the whole notion of teacher development. We seem to have reached a place where it’s not enough for teachers to first learn the language to a really high degree (if they’re non-native), but to then learn about pedagogy and THEN have to learn about all the tech tools before they’re somehow deemed fully functional, which just can’t be right. In my experience of observing teachers, very few are particularly comfortable with language or particularly knowledgeable, and given that time for development and reflection is limited, I’d personally much rather see teachers really deal with LANGUAGE more and become more aware of how it works and is used than mess around with tech tools. If they’re reading Swales and Joanna Channell and Lakoff & johnson and Hymes and Halliday and so on and THEN doing tech stuff on top, then fine, but I suspect many teachers aren’t as grappling with those kinds of writers takes time and focus and devotion and a desire to deal with complexity: not really qualities that the Interweb seriously fosters or encourages!

      I’ll check out your links more seriously later on, but when I clicked the FIND THE CHUNKS link all I get is a mediocre, unfocused, context-free gap-fill of six sentences.
      The only advantage of the technology here (over these just existing on a copied sheet of A4 in a staffroom folder) is that they’re self-correcting, which is just as well because several of the answers could be many many things:
      I exercise because I need to / have to / like to / want to!!
      There are / were / have been some problems!

      Exactly the kind of open-ended, poorly edited material that the Internet makes available free to all – and that would never get past even the first stage of a real publishing process.

      Apologies if, of course, you’ve written this, which is always possible, I’ve suddenly realised!
      Happy to give feedback on it, though . . . as you’ve probably noticed!

      1. i was trying to draw attention and encourage participation to the Mozilla ELT #teachtheweb study group and using the very(!) barebones demo to show what little time it takes to mockup an idea (the demo was part of the #teachtheweb assignment using collaboration to produce a ‘make’ by Jon Sayers and myself).

        all your criticisms on the demo are more than fair, the point (i failed to make) is that teachers do have the means to take on tech approaches to language themselves (albeit limited by time and skills which as you point out could better be spent on language knowledge!), but as the context (or powers that be) demand tech then along with criticising the tech, constructing teacher led/fed alternatives is possible.

        going back to snappy words, the database it is based on, Wordnet, is very powerful and there are many interesting projects using it, e.g. http://www.omnilexica.com/, this has some great features like getting a related video, or scraping up-to-date sentence examples. e.g. for redundancy – http://www.omnilexica.com/examples/?q=redundancy

        for learners the state of these projects may not yet be up there with the relative simplicity of a traditional dictionary, but maybe the possiblities of getting rich information could outweigh the simplicity issues?

        for teachers that is a judgement call for the teacher.

        ta
        mura

      2. Hi again Mura –
        Glad my comments weren’t taken too badly!
        Having been through more editorial processes than I’d care to remember, I know how hard it can be to see your own work slated, so apologies if I was harsh.
        I hope I was also fair!

        I do take your point about the need to focus not only negatively, but also to suggest ways forward, though to be fair it’s not rally MY job to help things like Lingro or Snappy Words prosper.
        As I’ve said in response to another post earlier, my job is to help my students learn better!
        And I don’t see these sites as being capable of aiding them in this.
        As such, I have a duty to point this out.

        If what you’re also saying is that the tech is making it easier for younger writers such as yourself, in this instance, to find partners and collaborators, then that’s all well and good.
        We all people we trust to bounce ideas off and to tell us when things we’ve written aren’t very good.
        I just worry that too much stuff that hasn’t been through a sufficiently rigorous procedure gets stuck up online for general consumption, and clearly this comes at the expense of the publishing industry as a whole. Just as so-called citizen journalism will far too rarely be able to reach the heights of journalism funded by the newspapers that the web is slowly killing off, so too it is with web-published ELT stuff that goes out free and that slowly kills off the expertise and experience accrued over many years by so many in the ELT publishing industry. Just not sure this is really something to celebrate myself.

        As for OMNILEXICA, I’d argue that it’s trying to be too many things to too many people and failing to really be anything much to most.
        Look up the word REDUNDANCY, which i talked about in my video, and you get pages and pages of lexical redundancy that surely cannot be of use to EFL students! I just cannot see how this could possibly be recommended to students over and above a decent learners’ dictionary – and further exposure through graded appropriate reading, etc.

        That said, the example sentences you linked to are halfway decent, so there’s clearly something of value in there. Hell of a lot of digging through the dirt to get those little pearls, though, and even then they suffer slightly from the kinds of problems raw corpora data does to – in that they contain (admittedly only in places) language that’s tougher to deal with than the actual word you’re looking up, which is a major issue for EFL students if they’re not going to get stuck in the never-ending chain of dictionary use!

  4. The internet is so full of uselessness for students, I generally tell mine to avoid the whole thing altogether as a resource (apart from where I specifically direct them to go – the Cambridge online learners dictionary, the class twiducate blog and (for higher level students) certain videos on TED.com).

    A current trend amongst students is a youtube channel of a guy who spends umpteen hours ‘explaining’ grammar to students with so much meta language and so little context that even I get lost trying to follow it. At least grammar translation had translation!

    Sad but true: most ‘free’ stuff is free for a reason: it’s crap that no one would pay for.

    1. Hi Jonny –
      I tend to basically agree with you about the vast amount of useless stuff out there masquerading as useful teaching tools and top tips and think it’s fairly wise to restrict what we recommend learners spend time on to that which we KNOW is going to be of relative utility.

      Most YouTube stuff I’ve seen aimed at EFL students is total tosh, though as someone who’s in the middle of working on our own university stuff for the site I shouldn’t decry it TOO loudly. But yeah, a lot of it reminds me of the kind of public access TV stuff you get in the States that might be entertaining to watch if you’re mashed at 3am, but which really isn’t going to get students off that Intermediate plateau any time soon.

  5. I’m amazed at your tolerance, Hugh. You do a great job of explaining Snappy Words, but your critical evaluation of it is surprisingly tentative. IMHO it’s useless – a good example of badly-clustered data that does almost nothing to help anybody.

    1. Don’t mince your words Geoff. Say it how you really feel!
      I had thought that it was fairly clear I’m in total agreement with your rather pithier assessment, but I obviously need to go for the jugular with rather more vigour henceforth!
      Total rubbish, isn’t it – and clearly capable of doing not a single thing that it claims to be able to in its schpiel!

  6. Well just a minute now, Hugh.

    I’m sorry if my comments seemed a bit too damning, and “total rubbish” isn’t the way I’d describe Snappy Words. It’s just that, as you yourself point out, it doesn’t help us very much to get a handle on the important issues of how words relate to other words. Data is one thing – some way of helping us to interpret the data (in the way that the appropriate use of a concordancer can, for example) is another.

    1. Sorry for putting words into your mouth there Geoff, albeit indirectly and unintentionally.
      But you were still probably right to point out that I perhaps wasn’t incisive enough in my critique.
      “Total rubbish” isn’t helpful to anyone, looking at it objectively, but it clearly doesn’t do what it really claims to be able to, and is not, as stated, anything I’d want my students to be wasting their time on, as I fear it’d exacerbate things that are perhaps already latent tendencies.
      That said, as I may eventually get onto at some point, I’m also not a huge concordance fan either – especial not for most EFL students!
      But that’s a story for another day.

  7. Anybody who snaps their words should be snapped across their knuckles with a ruler. Years ago, I taught 4 th grade (whatever called where you are) in a ghetto school. One of the black students could read fine, but showed no desire to. Upon investigation I learned that he had been taught by nuns who rapped his knuckles. He learned to read and he learned not to want to read. Not quite the same thing you are talking about, but kind of in the same family of nonsense.

    1. Just for the record and the sake of clarity, by the way, can I state categorically that I an NOT suggesting that either the users or creators of Snappy Words site should have their knuckles – or indeed any other parts of their anatomies – rapped with rulers, etc.

  8. Somebody recently said that pedagogy should be leading technology and not the other way round. Couldn’t agree more! Too many sites are pushed as ‘the answer’ and technology itself is seen as an end in itself and not a means to an end.

    1. Hi again Chris –
      Well, that’s very similar to the point made in this earlier post here.
      I think this is being largely overlooked as we rush to find out things we can DO – before asking what the point of doing them might be, what the language goals of such activity might be, and so on.
      Good to know I’m not totally alone on this one, anyway!

  9. There’s a site called “Grammarly” which should also be avoided at all costs. It purports to be a place where people can get their writing corrected (for a price), but in fact it is of such bad quality–although taking a very prescriptive stance–that it is useless. They love to post FB comments, mostly meant to set British English proponents against anyone who thinks any other English might be just as valid (a recent one: “realize” vs. “realise.”) The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was a post that read “I’m planning to spend the weekend laying around reading.” Right. I unfriended.

    1. Not encountered it before, Cindy, but it’s on the list of ones to look at henceforth!

  10. I appreciated your detailed example of why Snappy Words is not useful at all for students (or anyone really!). This was a good reminder for me to be critical when exploring online resources to recommend or use with students –something I like doing quite often. In fact, I am now enrolled in a certificate program through TESOL to learn how to teach online (hybrid classes or fully online), so as you can imagine, there’s a lot of browsing through apps, websites, and what seems like an overwhelming amount of sites doing the same thing. As someone who enjoys exploring new tools online, I think the most important thing for us as ELT professionals is to test a resource and use it enough before we go around recommending it just because of its catchy name or flashy look. Sounds obvious, but it needs to be said.

    You mentioned how ‘free’ online dictionaries are not as good (or even useless) compared to paper ones. I have to disagree. I actually have found Merriam Webster’s learner’s dictionary to be really useful. I am currently teaching HS students in China and and there’s no access to printed dictionaries, but when we go to a computer lab to read articles from VOA, BBC, or CNN, I can encourage them to use the learner’s dictionary instead of translating everything. Back home I teach at an Intensive EAP and students who refuse to buy the dictionary at least have the option of using the learner’s dictionary. I have also found http://www.just-the-word.com pretty useful for collocations and I have asked students to make flashcards on Quizlet with collocations of words from the AWL. They do this by putting their text on a website that gives them a list of all the academic words on any given text. There are a lot of useful resources out there, but it does require trying things out enough before endorsing them. Plus, we do need to keep our objectives in mind first and not use flashy new apps just for the sake of it.

    1. Hi Laura –
      Good to hear I may have encouraged a slightly more critical perspective on the tech tools that abound!

      I think you’re right that there’s currently a real proliferation of sites and apps and tools, and personally I think the bulk of them are pretty poor.

      Those which ARE worth spending time on often seem to be more useful for teachers then for students as well, so something like Camtasia, which has been massively useful for me as a blogger, doesn’t really translate into utility for students.

      As I said, given that most students only have a really limited amount of time outside of class to spend on studying, I personally think we need to be really convinced that a tech ‘solution’ is actually better – and in particular has better content – before we recommend they spend time studying from it. And if instead it’s a tool that maybe facilitates student OUTPUT, then we need to be sure it’s easy to use, easy to explain to students and won’t require endless hours of monitoring and assistance from us as teachers.

      We also need to be aware of the fact that the very existence of so many new courses and sites and ‘gurus’ propagating tech tools is inevitably going to mean that we keep in getting bombarded with an endless stream of stuff, as without these stream, they have no waters to float in, and so we need to sharpen our critical faculties to enable us to judge sites in a time-efficient way, and to help us ask the right questions of what we’re exposed to.

      For the record, by the way, I don’t think I actually said that all free online dictionaries are automatically bad.
      I DID say that I have grave doubts abut WikiDictionary, that’s true.
      I’m a big fan of the Macmillan online dictionary myself – but I’d still recommend students buy a version to, either an app version or a paper one or both, partly just because the company deserves to be remunerated for its sterling work.

      Incidentally, given a choice of Macmillan or Merriam Webster, I’d take Macmillan every time.
      Just to take one word I was talking about elsewhere in this post, redundancy, here’s the Macmillan entry and here’s the Merriam Webster one.

      The former is clearer and simpler, written in language more likely to be accessible to a student looking this word up. It features common collocations from the off, and gives good clear easy-to-understand examples of each one. It also shows it’s a two-star word – among the 2500-5000th most common words in English.

      The latter contains too much self-referential language – redundancy is the state of being redundant, etc!
      It also contains language too complex for the level of student who might be looking this word up: if you don’t know redundancy, why would you know superfluity!
      It also lacks the sharp and immediate focus on collocations and good proto-typical examples.
      In short, it’s a dictionary aimed at native speakers, whereas the former is very cleverly crafted as for learners!

      Just-the-word.com only really works if you’re assuming students will already understand the bulk of the collocates that they encounter here.
      Look at what comes up for redundancy here, and whilst it’s all good stuff it’s also quite sophisticated and there’s nothing here that helps students decode meanings.
      Which sends them back to a decent learner’s dictionary.
      The best of which 9see above) already focus on the most useful collocates anyway!
      Thus making the site perhaps a bit redundant!

      See what i did there. 🙂

      1. I definitely agree with you in saying that we need to consider whether a tech tool doesn’t require extensive training for students to use or too monitoring from the teacher. I also believe that we should resort to apps and websites for content and practice when we can’t get the same from our existing materials. Of course our teaching context is everything when making these decisions. I used to write homework exercises using Quia when I taught in Colombia because nearly all my students had used textbooks and answers already written there. Having 120 students total, it was also much easier for me to grade work online instead of carrying their books. Additionally, I could personalize some exercises and use classmates or situations from their daily lives, something that I believe made exercises slightly more interesting. Here in China, using the Internet for news articles gives me authentic content that I would not get from the textbooks available. Back in the US, where I teach at an Intensive EAP, I may not use websites for news articles as much in class. We have great texts to read and discuss in class.

        It seems to me that you used the regular Merriam Webster’s dictionary when you entered the word ‘redundancy’, not the learner’s dictionary version. The results I get by using their learner’s dictionary do not give me the word “superfluity”. Thanks for the Macmillan suggestion. I will try it out.

        I also realize that using collocations to make lexical sets is hard because students may still not understand the collocations. I also have to admit that I am trying to learn how to teach vocabulary well. I think I found your blog for this reason (through lexical leo’s blog perhaps?). In my somewhat short teaching experience (6 years) I have seen too much emphasis on teaching grammar and not enough on vocabulary. Using online tools to help students explore words, along with collocations or meanings from a learner’s dictionary, is a much better option for than their current long lists of words with Chinese translations next to them.

        By the way, are there any books or websites you’d recommend to learn more about teaching vocabulary?

      2. Hi again Laura –
        Thanks for the thoughtful response.

        I think there’s a lot to be said for teachers learning how to write decent exercises, and if the Web can facilitate this, then great.
        Before I got into writing professionally, as it were, I used to make loads of my own material too, much of it – looking back on it – pretty poor, in truth.
        I guess I learned from the process of doing it, though I am 100% sure I learned more once I actually started moving towards being published and had editors, readers, etc all commenting.

        What kind of stuff were you writing via Quia?
        And how long – just out of interest – did you use to spend on an average day making homeworks and then marking them?

        If you’re making homework via Quia or whatever, it can obviously help you get better at writing.
        It may well also provide students with useful input and extension work.
        My own feeling these days, though, would be to see first if there’s not a workbopok – online or in paper format – that accompanies the series I’m using (and this is yet another advantage of having a coursebook to use in class: they generally come with pretty decent self-study components written specifically to consolidate and extend what’s been down in class!) If a workbook IS available, get students to use it: clear focus for them, less out-of-class work for you . . . and you’re relatively safe in the knowledge it’s at least been vetted and edited, etc. Not that this is always a guarantee of quality of course, but it helps.

        I think it’s also interesting that while many teachers are using things like Quia and Quizlet to make their own material, there’s still a real paucity of decent self-study material readily available online. certainly very very little to compare with the best published stuff anyway. I’m sure it’ll change, but at present that’s how I see it!

        You’re right about the Merriam Webster, by the way.
        I’ve just now checked their learners’ version and it’s obviously better suited to learners: better examples, easier language, etc.
        Hadn’t realised that redundancy was so exclusively British English, incidentally. Is it really the third most frequent use Stateside?
        What’s said in the US instead?
        Still rate the Macmillan more highly though.
        As I said, better focus on collocation.

        I think you’re right, by the way, abut there being plenty enough already out there on teaching grammar, but not enough on teaching vocabulary.
        Have you trawled through all the back posts on teaching lexis that I’ve written here?
        Are you mostly using coursebooks where you are?
        Or are you looking to get better at writing your own vocab exercises?
        Or both?

        Off the top of my head, some other things on the subject of vocabulary worth reading include:
        VOCABULARY MYTHS by Keith Folse
        HOW TO TEACH VOCABULARY by Scott Thornbury
        TEACHING VOCABULARY: STRATEGIES AND TECHNIQUES by Paul Nation (who’s generally always worth reading anyway)
        MEMORY ACTIVITIES FOR LANGUAGE LEARNING by Nick Bilbrough.

        Plenty more, but that should get you started.
        Oh, and Philip Kerr did a nice little blog about word lists recently: well worth a read.

        Hope this helps.

      3. Thanks for the book suggestions and the reference to your blog posts. I’ll definitely be reading through the posts you’ve recommended. To answer your questions:

        1)You asked what kind of stuff I was writing via Quia and how long it took.

        I mostly wrote very simple gap fill activities for either grammar or vocabulary. Usually a not a whole lot of production so that the assignments could be automatically graded, but of course this is a bit frustrating because I don’t believe these types of activities are as effective as those in which there’s more production. Also, it was tricky to write exercises that had only one possible answer. Sometimes I uploaded audio and asked comprehension questions (multiple choice). I tried following the format of the workbook -I had just begun teaching and it served as a model. I don’t remember how long it took me to create the assignments, but I felt like it was worth it because students were actually doing their homework, I could go over it in class by showing it on the projector, and best of all –there was a deadline imposed by the system and homework was not turned in late.

        Our textbook did not have an online component; otherwise I would have loved using that instead. I have recently taught using North Start and their online component and I have to say that it was helpful, but frustrating to navigate the platform sometimes for both students and other colleagues who were also using North Star.

        2) Do I have a course book? Want to learn how to write better vocab exercises?

        I teach at an intensive EAP in the US, but right now I am teaching some HS students here in China who will transfer to our college. I was only sent for one semester here, and I was not given specific learning objectives or materials, so I’ve had to come up with everything myself. Also, I teach large groups of mixed-level students (35 Ss ranging from A1 to B2). A textbook would be really hard to use in this context, yet they do have a textbook in their English class with the Chinese teacher. My class is supposed to be on learning Academic skills.

        I do want to become better at writing my own vocabulary exercises, but I also want to help students learn ways they can practice and learn new vocabulary by themselves.

        Anyway, sorry for the long replies here. I’ve enjoyed this exchange and look forward to reading your next blog posts!

      4. No worries at all about the long replies.
        I’m not exactly concise or brief myself, let’s face it!

        I’m glad the vocab book recommendations were of some use.
        As I said, as and when you’re ready, come back for more!

        I think, by the way, there’s nothing wrong at all with students simply working on exercises that focus on input for homework.
        You need plenty of good input before you can get anywhere near good output.
        I often wish there were better materials for students of Indonesian, my main foreign language.
        I know the kind of language I’d like to learn, and the kind of exercises I’d like to try and work through, but they simply don’t exist.

        You sound like you drew a bit of a short straw in terms of your current task!
        Design and deliver a course with vague objectives and no material!
        Tall order.
        ACADEMIC SKILLS is such a vague notion, isn’t it, and hard to see what it means outside of learning more language and getting better at doing stuff like research.
        Does your work include things like writing essays? If so, then at least you have something solid to focus on.
        Very hard as well to teach ‘general EAP’ as in reality the construct doesn’t exist!
        Each discipline has its own styles, conventions, lexis, set of basic precepts, etc.
        Good luck with all that!

        Hope the continuing focus here on lexis and language helps provide a few more ideas, anyway!
        Hugh

  11. […] lack complexity and in-depth awareness of collocations and nuances, as Hugh Dellar points out in his post about the site. Try looking up the word LOVE, see what you […]

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