TESOL Connections

Quick Tip: Filming for Picture Perfect Progress in Presentations

by Sarah Kassas

Learn how filming student presentations can help your English language learners with their oral presentations and speaking skills: It can boost their confidence and self-awareness, improve their pronunciation and oral grammar skills, and teach them how to self-evaluate. Use these tips when you begin filming. 

Audience: Secondary, postsecondary, and adults; beginner to advanced

A convincing method to show ESL students at any level how they can improve their oral presentations is by filming them. While students may initially feel uncomfortable with being filmed and watching themselves, they do come to enjoy the process. One of my university students, Ying, said, “Getting a copy of my presentation is significant. I can compare each of my presentations to find if I have any progress, and if I need to work on other areas.”

Benefits of Filming

1. Filming Builds Confidence
Standing up in front of a crowd can make anyone nervous, especially ESL students who lack cultural awareness about expectations for presentations. The camera lens helps them to become self-aware in the privacy of their own home. 

2. Filming Improves Eye Contact and Body Language
ESL students can forget to look at their audience because they are so focused on just trying to remember what they want to say. They may look up at the ceiling, or read off their note cards, stare at their PowerPoint presentation or even stare into space. In addition, they do not always incorporate appropriate gestures. They might touch their face or their hair repeatedly, swing back and forth, or just stand in front of their audience with a blank expression on their face. Filming draws direct attention to these issues. 

3. Filming Improves Pronunciation and Volume
Through filming, our students can take a step back and place themselves in the audience’s role, and focus on how their presentations sound. They will quickly learn if they are mispronouncing words or if they need to adjust their volume or intonation.

4. Filming Improves Oral Grammar Skills
Students may not always be convinced that they have poor oral grammar skills until they watch and listen to themselves. Through filming, students can pause the video at places where they produce a grammar error, write it down, and think about how to correct it.

Of course, simply pointing a camera at a student and then hitting the record button is not enough. The most effective approach is to require your students to view their own video and evaluate themselves using a standard rubric before giving them your own feedback. 

What to Keep in Mind When Filming

  1. Film students at the best angle to record their facial expressions and body language.
  2. Make sure that the camera is close enough to capture their actual volume.
  3. Keep a copy of the video files on your computer.
  4. Require students to bring a flash drive or external hard drive to collect their personal video from your office.
  5. Ask students to sign up for an individual 5-minute feedback session.
  6. Require students to watch their video twice at home and evaluate themselves using a class rubric. A rubric is very important because it requires students to reflect honestly on specific parts of their performance.
  7. Remind the students to bring their self-evaluations with them to their feedback session.
  8. Ask students what they think their strengths and weaknesses are, and then offer your feedback.

In addition to individual presentations, students can also benefit from being filmed in other communication activities, like group discussions and debates. This allows students to observe how they are interacting with a group and to learn appropriate group communication skills. Filming does take more time, but it provides both instructors and ESL learners with a digital portfolio of student progress that is worth the investment.


Sarah Kassas earned her MA in TESOL from the University of Alabama. She teaches at Qatar University and has taught at the University of Iowa and the University of Alabama.

Free Book Chapter From "Teaching English for Academic Purposes"

By Ilka Kostka and Susan Olmstead-Wang

This chapter, "Reading and Writing Academic Texts," from the English Language Teacher Development series, edited by Thomas S. C. Farrell, discusses how academic reading and writing are interconnected processes. The authors explore how varying linguistic ability and vocabulary knowledge, diverse cultural expectations and attitudes toward reading and writing, and student motivations contribute to how students approach reading and writing. 

In this chapter, we describe how academic reading and writing are interconnected processes. Smart readers can become smart writers, and if students have a clear sense of their ideas, their writing is likely to be clear as well.

Nonetheless, instructors should remember that individual differences may affect how students learn to read and write academic English. For instance, students within one class may have varying linguistic skills and vocabulary knowledge. They may also have little or extensive experience with academic language either in English or their first language. In addition, students may bring varying cultural expectations and attitudes toward reading and writing, which might be influenced by their families or society. They may also have different motivations for reading and writing and use a wide range of strategies to approach the reading task based on their first language literacy skills (Birch, 2007); as Nergis (2013) has shown, students’ awareness of their own reading strategies may help them better understand the texts they read. All of these factors can play a large role in how students approach reading and writing.

Reflective Break

Think about how you learned to read and write in academic language.

  • Were those two skills taught together or separately?
  • How does your reading and writing in academic settings differ from your reading and writing in other contexts? 


Academic Reading

Reading is a complex process that is crucial for students’ success. Knowing about students’ reading experiences early on can help teachers tailor their instruction to students’ needs. For instance, an open-ended survey can provide critical insight into students’ experiences and attitudes toward reading. After completing the survey, students can interview each other and ask questions such as: How much reading (in English) do you do per week? What is the “reading culture” of your country? Of your family? A class discussion can help highlight similarities and differences in students’ experiences and in their prior academic settings.

Another important piece of information that teachers will want to gather from students concerns their reading strategies, because academic reading differs from other kinds of reading. Astute readers understand their own reading strategies so they can adjust them when they encounter any difficulties while reading. Helping students become aware of their reading strategies can provide enormous benefits and help them read academic texts successfully in their other courses.

Download the full chapter (PDF)

Order the book online
(and see another free chapter!)

TESOL Member Price: US$13.95
Nonmember Price: US$16.95

About this book

Why do students feel that mastering academic English is difficult? Is it really so different from other types of English? The authors present academic English as a particular type of English that is not necessarily better, fancier, or harder; rather, it is simply a different kind of English that is usually learned in scholastic settings after general English has been acquired. This easy-to-follow guide shows how learning academic language can be achieved by developing a set of skills that can be honed with practice, effective instruction, and motivation.



Enlivening Dialogue Practice With a Free App

by Keith M. Graham
When the standard textbook dialogues become boring and predictable, use this app and activity to help students write new dialogues, and then illustrate, record, and share them. 

Most language course books have a dialogue page. The purpose of the dialogue is to put the target language of the lesson into an authentic context for students. Unfortunately, my students rarely find these dialogue pages relevant. In fact, they find them downright boring. Perhaps this is a reflection on my teaching, but I suspect that they question how authentic the dialogue really is to their own life. To help my students connect with the dialogue and make it their own, I use a free app called Educreations to turn the course book dialogue into a narrated story with illustrations.

About the App

Educreations is a free electronic whiteboard app for the iPad or computer that can record your voice and screen to produce a video, which can be shared online. On the whiteboard, you can write or draw using 10 different colors, you can type text, and you can import pictures from your iPad or from the web. The app allows you to share your video in many ways, such as through e-mail, sharing a link, embedding on a website, or positing on Facebook and Twitter.  Here is how you can use the app for dialogue practice.

1. Teach the Dialogue

Before they can make the dialogue their own, students first need to become comfortable with the course book version. Each teacher has his or her own style and structure for doing this, but I use the following steps:

  1. Explicitly teach and practice unknown vocabulary
  2. Listen to the dialogue
  3. Practice reading in partners or small groups
  4. Discuss the dialogue

2. Write a New Dialogue

Once students are comfortable with the dialogue, it is time for the students to make the dialogue their own in pairs or small groups. Depending on the students’ abilities, you can scaffold this step as much or as little as needed:

  • For more advanced students, you can give them free reign to change the dialogue completely as long as the new dialogue demonstrates usage of the target language.
  • For less advanced students who need more scaffolding, you can have students underline words or phrases in their course book that they can change.
  • For beginner students, you may want to develop a list of words or phrases they can use to fill in each underlined area.

The class can brainstorm the list of possibilities together and then, in their groups, choose which ones to use. This will help them recycle vocabulary and help improve their fluency.

The following is an example of what a beginner dialogue may look like and how the students can change it to make it their own.

A: Do you have a ball?
B: Yes, I do. I have a red ball.
A: Do you have a kite?
B: No I don’t. How about you? Do you have a kite?
A: Yes, I do. I have a green and yellow kite.

In this example, students would substitute different nouns and colors when they rewrite the dialogue. An example of this dialogue rewritten by beginner learners may look like the following:

A: Do you have a toy car?
B: Yes, I do. I have a white toy car.
A: Do you have a yo-yo?
B: No I don’t. How about you? Do you have a yo-yo?
A: Yes, I do. I have a blue and red yo-yo.

An example rewritten by advanced learners might look something like this:

A: Hey! That’s a great blue yo-yo. Do you have any other colors?
B: Yes, I do. I have a green and yellow one, too.
A: Do you have any other toys?
B: No, my other toys are at home. Do you have any toys with you?
A: Yes, I do. I have a big, brown teddy bear.

3. Draw the Illustrations

Once the dialogues are written, the students are ready to create their illustrations. Before students start, you should decide how many illustrations they need. For shorter dialogues, one or two pictures may be sufficient. For longer dialogues, you will need more. The illustrations are important because, for many students, drawing pictures helps them connect with the meaning of the text. However, when deciding on how many pictures, you should keep in mind the amount of time you have for the activity. This step can take up a lot of class time if you do not plan ahead.

4. Create the Video

Using an iPad, take a picture of each of the illustrations. Then, import the pictures into Educreations, one picture per page. After all of the pictures are imported, press record and have the students recite the dialogue they have written.

The way this step is executed largely depends on your classroom situation. Older students can typically handle creating the video on their own without too much teacher intervention, while younger students may need to be guided explicitly by the teacher.

The number of iPads available in your classroom also is a determining factor. In 1-to-1 classrooms where every student has an iPad, all students can work at the same time. However, in a classroom with only one iPad available, it is best to either set up learning stations or have another activity ready so that students remain engaged for the entire class time while waiting for their turn with the iPad.

See the handout (PDF) on how to create the video using the app.

5. Share

Now it is time for each group to share their video. You can share them in class or you can require students to watch them for homework by providing students with the links for each video. To keep students engaged, have them write short notes about each presentation. If teaching in primary or secondary school, don’t forget to share with the students’ parents. They will be thrilled to see their child is using English in a real situation, even if they don’t understand English themselves.

A Note About Sharing and Internet Privacy

Whenever working in a digital environment, teachers must keep student privacy and safety in mind. Educreations offers four choices for sharing completed videos: Public, Private, My Students, and My School. Choosing “Public” allows for the video to be visible to anyone and searchable on the Educreations website. “Private” only allows those with a link to access the video and it is not discoverable through search. “My Students” and “My School” will make the video searchable for students who have registered for accounts on Educreations and have enrolled in your course or school through a course code. Like “Private,” these two options also are viewable to people with the link.

There are a few ways teachers can ensure the privacy of students. First, the teacher should be sure the students do not reveal any personally identifiable information within their dialogue. Second, it is safest to use the “Private” share option, which restricts the video from being shared through social media or from being embedded on a website; it can only be viewed with the link. “My Students” and “My School” are essentially the same as “Private,” with the exception of making it searchable for those with accounts enrolled in the course or school, but it requires students to register on the Educreations website. Finally, it is best practice to get parental consent before sharing. This ensures that all parties involved are aware and comfortable that the work is being shared through a third-party platform.

Other Uses and Activities

There are many other ways teachers and students can use Educreations. First, teachers can use it when flipping their classroom: They can create a video lesson, such as for a grammar concept, that students can watch at home whenever they need. This is particularly helpful when students are working on their homework or reviewing for a test.

The app also offers endless opportunities for creating student presentations on any topic. Students can use the app to record a presentation that includes voice-accompanied writing, drawing, and imported pictures that can later be shared with the class. The presentation capabilities of the app are only limited by the students’ and teacher’s imaginations.


Our goal as language teachers is for our students to connect with and use the language we teach. Unfortunately, students don’t necessarily find the dialogues provided in course books as authentic and useful as they were meant to be. Using technology such as Educreations, students can dive deeply into any dialogue or language concept and really make it their own.

Download this article (PDF) 


Keith M. Graham currently teaches at Yuteh Private Bilingual School in New Taipei City, Taiwan where he is both an EFL and music instructor. Mr. Graham holds a Masters of Education in international literacy from Sam Houston State University and a Bachelors of Music from the University of Houston. His interests include content-based language teaching, educational technology, and music education at the primary and secondary levels. 

Supporting ELL Transitions in Early Education

by Karen N, Nemeth
Careful attention to a young ELL's transition to and from your classroom can set the stage for the school year and beyond. These strategies and resources will help.

A young child’s experiences on the first day of school can set the stage for the whole school year and beyond. When that child is new to the language of the school, the adjustments are even more challenging. Careful attention to a young ELL’s transition into your classroom, and then from your classroom to the next, can really make a difference for the child, the teacher, and the whole class. Here are some strategies and resources to turn transitions into opportunities for success. Though these suggestions are primarily for students in U.S. schools, most are still excellent suggestions for supporting the transitions of ELs in any academic context.

Get to Know the Child and Family

Head Start preschool programs arrange home visits for every child before they enter the program. This practice helps to build rapport with the whole family and gives the teachers valuable insight into the child’s language and cultural background. Many U.S. school districts do some kind of home language survey. The most successful districts provide those surveys in any language needed by the family, then follow up with phone calls or visits to clarify the information on the form. They also take care to make sure each classroom teacher knows as much as possible about each child’s language, culture, and prior school experiences as possible so classroom material and lesson plans can be prepared accordingly. If your school district doesn’t provide these services, it is worth the extra effort to take these steps on your own.

Partner With Families to Ease Transitions

The more the family knows about what to expect at each transition, the greater help they can be preparing the child to move from one setting to the next with confidence. Parents also need to feel confident, respected, and welcome when they bring their child to your class and when they learn their child is moving to a new class or service. Keeping them informed and giving them opportunities to ask questions and express concerns are important strategies. (See Judie Haynes’ August 2014 blog about creating a welcoming environment; that welcoming environment is a key factor in effective transitions, too.)

Understand Differences in Regulations and Policies Between the Programs

The first step in understanding transitions from preschool to kindergarten for ELLs is recognizing that these programs are likely to operate under entirely different rules, standards, and practices. Even in districts that operate preschool, there is often a serious disconnect between preschool practices and K–12 practices for ELLs. In some cases, a child may have been in full-day preschool but transition to a half-day kindergarten. In other cases, the preschool teacher may have worked tirelessly to build the Spanish-speaking child’s English proficiency, only to have the child placed in a bilingual education program for kindergarten that is 90% in Spanish.

Almost no state has explicit regulations for bilingual education in preschool, but most states do have regulations that begin in kindergarten or first grade. This report (2012) by the Head Start’s National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness shows what rules exits in each state. This creates a great divide, because preschool programs are doing whatever they think is best and what they choose to do is not necessarily connected to whatever will happen in kindergarten.

Collaborate With Any Program That Will Be Sending ELLs to Your School

Elementary schools should get to know who is going to send their ELLs to kindergarten and work with those programs to help them get ELLs ready. This collaboration helps the preschool and helps the primary school. Many schools are not in the habit of meeting with local child care centers, preschools, or family child care homes. This is a missed opportunity, because, whether you work with them or not, they are still going to be sending children to your kindergarten. Working together can only make your job easier in the long run. Castro, Espinosa, and Páez (2011) review the research to describe what makes up a high quality preschool program for young ELLs, and learning about these practices will help you plan for smooth transitions to kindergarten.

Contact your local Head Start preschool programs. They may have already identified children who need English language development support and can support transitions by sharing information about their curriculum and encouraging the families to share information about their child’s progress. Because Head Start programs are designed to serve children from low-income families, they have an even greater percentage of ELLs in their programs. Their federally funded resources provide a wealth of information, research, teaching strategies, and professional development resources about working effectively with young ELLs (Head Start uses the term “dual language learners.”) So, as much as you can help Head Start programs prepare their children to transition easily into kindergarten, Head Start can also offer assets that school districts may not have. Check out the website of the Head Start National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness.

Elementary school teachers and administrators may be unaware of all of the child care and preschool programs in their area. The best place to find potential partners is by contacting the local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (CCR&R). Visit the National Child Care Aware website to find the agency in your area. In New Jersey, for example, there is a CCR&R in each county that receives state funding to keep a detailed database on every licensed child care center or preschool and every approved family child care home.

Work with the CCR&R to put you in contact with every program that may be caring for children before they come to your school. Invite them in to learn about your kindergarten entrance process for ELLs, your kindergarten curriculum, and your standards. Learn more about the curriculum approaches and learning activities that preschool ELLs are exposed to. Collaborate on shared professional development opportunities. Create a system for transferring information about each child, such as a portfolio of their work or the pages of their family story scrapbook. Share resources such as translated materials and interpreters.

Ideally, every school district will invite all of the local child care providers—including Head Start, chains, private programs, faith based programs and family child care home providers—to discuss, collaborate, and plan together. Compromises can be reached. Resources can be shared. Policies can be adjusted. Common goals can be established. Adding families to these partnerships is the best way to ensure each child will be well-served as they move from program to program or class to class. If these partnerships are not happening in your area, you may be able to accomplish some of these goals by participating in local chapters of professional associations. Look for the local affiliate of the National Association for the Education of Young Children or the National Head Start Association to get to know the early childhood professionals in your community and talk informally about shared issues and interests.

Prepare Children for Each Transition

Every child deserves the respect of being told when change is about to happen, and every child deserves sufficient support to make that change manageable. Let the child visit the new setting and meet the adults and children. Rehearse the transition. Use pictures and videos to let children know what to expect. Be prepared for young children to reveal their discomfort during transitions through their behavior rather than with words. Look for signs of stress and offer support before that stress starts to affect the child’s behavior in a negative way. With planning, communication, and collaboration, transitions can become opportunities for learning and growth.


Castro, D. C., Espinosa, L. M., & Páez, M. M. (2011). Defining and measuring quality in early childhood practices that promote dual language learners’ development and learning. In M. Zaslow, I. Martinez-Beck, K. Tout, & T. Halle (Eds.), Quality measurement in early childhood settings (pp. 257–280). Baltimore, MD: Brookes. Retrieved from http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/cultural-linguistic/docs/zaslow-chapter-11.pdf

National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness. (2012). References to dual language learners (DLLs) in state early childhood guidelines and standards. Retrieved from http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/cultural-linguistic/state-guidelines/references.html


Guccione, L. M. (2012). Oral language development and ELLs: Five challenges and solutions. Retrieved from http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/50910/

Nemeth, K. (2012). New kid, new school, new year AND new language: That first day really makes a difference. Retrieved from http://www.languagecastle.com/2012/08/new-kid-new-school-new-year-and-new-language-that-first-day-really-makes-a-difference/

Nemeth, K. (Ed.). (2013). Young dual language learners: A guide for preK–3 leaders. Philadelphia, PA: Caslon.



Karen N. Nemeth is an author, presenter, and consultant specializing in first and second language development. She has written several books and articles on this topic and works with preschool programs, organizations, and government agencies to improve early education policies and practices to meet the needs of preschool ELLs. She hosts a resource sharing website at www.languagecastle.com. She is a Steering Board member of the TESOL Elementary Education Interest Section and is on the Board of NJTESOL/BE.

Using the Syllabus as an ESL Oral Fluency Activity

by Richard R. Day
Help your new international students adjust to U.S. academia with this interactive activity. They'll learn the syllabus and engage in meaingful communication.

When international students enter their first courses in ESL at the university level, they have to make rapid adjustments to a very unfamiliar academic environment. One of the first differences may be the course syllabus. In fact, it could be the first time that international students have seen a course syllabus.

When the teacher passes out hard copies of the course syllabus, and then goes over it with her or his students, asking for questions, and so on, the students may not understand either the document itself or its importance. Generally, a course syllabus sets out the learning outcomes or objectives, the requirements, important deadlines and dates, topics and readings, and grading and policies (plagiarism, class absences, etc.). All students, then, need to have a solid understanding of the course syllabus. An understanding of and appreciation for the course syllabus will be a benefit to the international students in their academic studies.

One way of helping students at the university level gain an appreciation for and understanding of the role of the course syllabus is to introduce it as an activity. This article describes how this can be done through an oral fluency activity.

Purposes of the Activity 

The purposes of the activity are:

  • to help ESL students gain an appreciation for and understanding of the course syllabus,
  • to provide opportunities for ESL students to engage in purposeful listening,
  • to allow ESL students to engage in meaningful interactive communication,
  • to introduce ESL students to working in small groups, and
  • to begin to develop a learning community.


When using this activity, here are the general steps:

1. Reflection
At the first meeting of the course, before handing out the course syllabus, instruct the class to think about the course. After a short period of reflection, ask the students to jot down on a piece of paper three or more questions about the course (e.g., What are the course requirements? Will there be a final examination?). Explain that the focus of their questions should be on the course, and not to worry about grammar, spelling, punctuation, and so on.

2. Group Work
Next, place the students into small groups of three or four and ask them to discuss their list of questions. Their task is to make a single list of questions (no more than five) for their group. Each group then selects one person to write their questions on the board. Ask the student from the last group to write on the board to erase, with the help of classmates, all of the duplicate questions, and then go over the questions as a class to make sure that everyone understands all of them.

3. Read the Syllabus
Tell the class that you will read the syllabus. Instruct them to listen for answers to the questions on the board, and point out that perhaps not all of the questions may be answered. They may take notes as you read. Read the syllabus, trying to speak at a normal rate, and emphasizing important aspects. Depending on the level of the class, you may want to read the syllabus a second time.

You can vary this step depending on two factors: the length of the syllabus and the listening proficiency of the students. If the syllabus is more than 500 words (or two pages, double-spaced) and if the students’ listening comprehension is intermediate or lower, then consider presenting it as a lecture and scaffolding with PowerPoint slides. When preparing the slides, be careful not to put all of the information verbatim on the slides; you want to avoid turning the activity into a reading exercise. Generally, put the major headings on the slides and then go into detail and discuss them in your lecture.

4. Answer the Questions
The students return to their original groups and compare and discuss their answers to the questions. While they are still in their groups, reread the syllabus, and have the students revise their answers as a group.

5. Discuss as a Class
Go over the answers with the entire class. Discuss which questions were answered and which were not. As appropriate, draw a distinction between those answers which were found directly in the syllabus and the answers by inference. In addition, if important elements of the syllabus were not covered (e.g., due dates of assignments), make sure to discuss them.

6. Conclude the Activity
Conclude by asking the students, in their groups, to discuss what they learned from the activity.

This activity can easily be adapted for use in EFL academic preparation programs in EFL students’ countries to prepare them for syllabi when they enter universities abroad.


This activity gives ESL students an appreciation for and understanding of the role of the course syllabus in a university setting. It also gives ESL instructors insights into their international students’ awareness of the course syllabus and their concerns about the course. Further, the activity introduces international students to small group and whole class discussions. Finally, the activity helps ESL instructors gain an understanding of the listening ability of their students.

Download this article (PDF) 


Richard R. Day, PhD, professor in the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaii, is the author of numerous publications. He is the coauthor of Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom, and the coeditor of Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language. His most recent publications are New Ways in Teaching Reading (2nd edition) and Teaching Reading. He is the coeditor of the online scholarly journal, Reading in a Foreign Language.