September 2020
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Alison Larkin Koushki, Alaa Dehrab, Sarah Lowen, Katy Meren Fuchtman, Minsun Kim

The following articles on speech-related applications are based on sessions from TESOL’s July 2020 Virtual Conference.

Alison Larkin Koushki

Alaa Dehrab

Poetry Collage via InShot: Video, Voice, Music, Text, Photos
Alison Larkin Koushki, American University of Kuwait, Salmiya, Kuwait

Alaa Dehrab, American University of Kuwait, Salmiya, Kuwait

Poetry is uncharted territory in English language teaching (ELT; Gonan, 2018). Though project-based learning is well known to TESOLers and digital literacy has taken center stage in the pandemic, poetry as a medium of language education has remained behind the curtain, peeking out only occasionally.

“I Am” Multimodal Identity Poem Project

The intensive English program (IEP) classroom project we developed on personal and cultural identity combines poetry with project-based learning and digital learning—launching leaps in language, multimedia savvy, and self-discovery. English learners (ELs) dive into their identity, capture it in a poem on paper, and digitize the poem using the free, easy phone app InShot. They voice-record the poem via the app and upload music, photos, text, and video clips. Voila! They share and enjoy.

Why Poetry?

A goldmine of benefits unique to this genre awaits ELs. Enhancing vocabulary, they search for the right words. And because poetry is written to be recited, ELs listen for the music in language—intonation, stress, rhythm, and rhyme. Emotionalized language is meaningful and memorable, and unlike academic writing, poetry kindles myriad emotions. Once poetic devices enter the picture, student poets and peers feel the images by way of words through their five senses. Unlike prose assignments, through poetry, ELs can play with language, loosening the confines of grammar/mechanics.

Why Identity?

In a word, relevance. Mining the riches of oneself is deeply engaging. Sharing the results is riveting and builds community, self-respect, and self/peer-acceptance. By dispelling stereotypes and humanizing the individual, sharing identity—whether personal or cultural—is what the world needs now: an antidote to racism (Hanauer, 2012).

Why Media?

Like students everywhere, ELs are wedded to their phones, and particularly to photos, videos, and social media. This project harnesses that fact. Instead of consuming media, ELs produce it through their InShot video. By putting phones to work rather than switching them off, the “I Am” digital poem links ELs’ class life to real life, dramatically deepening engagement (Buckingham, 2006).

Approximately 100 students in our classes have created InShot video poems. Anecdotal evidence hints tantalizingly at the power of this project to boost language skills, e-competence, and self-knowledge. The digital poem creation process, whether straight to the InShot video or stopping en route to perform in class, is enriching if not transformative.


Buckingham, D. (2006). Defining digital literacy - what do young people need to know about digital media? Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 1(04), 263–267.

Gonen, I. (2018). Implementing poetry in the language class: A poetry-teaching framework for prospective English language teachers. Advances in Language and Literary Studies, 9, 28–35.

Hanauer, D. (2012). Meaningful literacy: Writing poetry in the language classroom. Language Teaching, 45(1),105–115.

Alison Larkin Koushki is cofounder and community manager of TESOL’s Arts and Creativity PLN. Twice a reviewer for TESOL Convention proposals, she is Assistant Strand Coordinator for TESOL’s Materials Development and Publications Strand. Senior language educator at American University of Kuwait, Alison celebrates language through literature, drama, and the arts.

Alaa Dehrab has been teaching ESL courses since 2016. She is a full-time instructor in the Intensive English Program at the American University of Kuwait. In her classes, Alaa equally focuses on academic and social growth with emphasis on critical thinking, project-based learning, and digital literacy.

Sarah Lowen

Katy Meren Fuchtman

Zoom Interviews for Functional Language

Sarah Lowen, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA
Katy Meren Fuchtman
, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA

When we proposed this topic for TESOL 2020, we had no idea Zoom would be dominating instruction during the year. Now, we assume the reader to be Zoom-literate, so we can move directly into implementation. Here, we provide a definition for functional language, rationale for Zoom in the classroom, three tried-and-true activities, and best practices.

Why Zoom?

First, we use Zoom as a video conferencing platform because it has good features for our purposes (recording, screen sharing, breakout rooms, cohosting, etc.). Surprisingly, we’ve found these activities to be more efficient in Zoom than in person. Furthermore, everyone—from employers conducting job interviews to families calling grandma—has been using video conferencing for a decade, indicating it’s a valid form of communication. Finally, Zoom offers greater accessibility, with the important caveat of internet access, leveling the playing field for diverse students. We hope professionals will advocate for Zooming in the nonquarantined future.

A brief Note on Functional Language

We define functional language as any language English speakers use to introduce or communicate the purpose of their speech. Academically, examples include language for interrupting, asking for clarification, rephrasing, and giving opinions. Functional language can be especially hard to teach, being particularly vast (how many functions does so have?), nuanced, and dynamic, and using Zoom offers new tools for language development.


  1. Instant Feedback: This activity uses Zoom to give instantaneous feedback. Let’s say you have introduced functional language for interrupting in group discussions. Tell the class to discuss and that you will be on mute. Ask students to open and monitor the chat. As you listen, type comments in the chat, focusing on the target structure. Students see your positive or negative feedback, can apply it, and solidify the skill. This is a busy activity for students, requiring practice to be effective.
  1. One-on-One Discussions: Have a one-on-one discussion between you and each student, using specific parameters, such as a recent topic or text. Encourage the student to lead and support the conversation. Beforehand, students prepare questions for the one-on-one discussion. Make sure students know that they are in charge of guiding the conversation, moving it along, and ending it. Again, this may be awkward at first, but quickly it becomes a welcome change of pace for students (and teachers!).
  1. Podcasts via Interviews: A true interview, like in a podcast, requires students to clarify, argue with nuance, develop ideas, and untangle misunderstandings. Pair students and provide a specific interview topic (e.g., first impressions of [your institution]). Have students prepare questions and follow-ups. Allow interviewees to preview and reflect. Students interview on Zoom (with or without you) and record. Repeat this task over time (with editing and intro/outros), and you have a podcast!

Best Practices

  • Provide functional language needed for the task (screenshare during). 
  • Prepare protocol for worst-case scenarios: Zoom bombers, poor audio quality, poor internet connection, etc.
  • Foster a growth mindset, allowing for mistakes and questions.
  • Communicate expectations clearly.
  • Focus assessment on target structures.
  • Rehearse with low stakes.
  • Record the activity for students to self-evaluate.

Sarah Lowen loves designing the learner experience and has been teaching ESL courses since 2009. She loves learning new technology and applying it to the classroom.

Katy Meren Fuchtman loves languages—both learning and teaching them. She’s been innovating her academic English teaching at the University of Iowa for the last 5 years.

Minsun Kim

Flipgrid: Improving Language Skills Through a Social Online Platform

Minsun Kim, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

With the rapid developments of the internet and related technologies, video blogging has recently become a popular strategy to improve students’ speaking skills. As Burns (2012) notes, teaching speaking should take on a holistic approach to develop this highly complex and dynamic skill. Video blogging is similar to an interactive journal and can be an effective pedagogical tool in teaching fundamental language skills.

What Is Flipgrid?

Flipgrid is a social learning platform that lets students interact with peers and teachers by recording and sharing short videos online. In the Purdue Language and Cultural Exchange (PLaCE), we use Flipgrid as a new learning space outside of the classroom where students test learned concepts and explore their experiences with language and culture. Students not only record their videos but also view their classmates’ and leave recorded replies. Through these blog conversations, students collaborate by building upon their peers’ voices. In the process, students apply and develop their “speaking fluency, pronunciation, reading/listening comprehension, background knowledge, and vocabulary knowledge” (PLaCE, 2020).

How and When to Utilize Flipgrid?

Flipgrid is free for educators and learners and easy to use. Their website provides step-by-step instructions, and tutorial videos are available on YouTube. Basically, teachers create grids for courses, add topics, and share flip codes. While responding to given topics, students share their ideas and collaborate on this grid, which works as a message board or meeting place. Flipgrid is helpful to facilitate challenging conversations and maintain student engagement while maximizing students’ self-regulated learning experience.

Examples of Grids

The following examples show a grid created for one of my courses and a list of added topics ranging from language development to intercultural awareness. Students record and post their 3- to 5-minute videos. They respond to each other by recording voice replies up to 60 seconds for asynchronous collaboration. Teacher feedback can be written or recorded.

Figure 1. Examples of a course grid.

Flipgrid and Online Instruction

This asynchronous nature of peer-to-peer collaboration is useful for online instruction and can also scaffold synchronous discussions on other platforms, including Zoom. Dr. Allen, associate director of PLaCE, stated that Flipgrid also integrates well with a learning management system (personal communication, June 25, 2020). Teachers can make a homepage on their learning management system with a subpage for each week to organize everything in one place. They can insert the link to Flipgrid for easier use. Many options are available for teachers to create prompts and rubrics. Student response data can be exported as video or as CVS Excel sheets, including “a machine-generated transcript” of their response. This seems to have great potential for evaluation and research as well. Flipgrid is managed by Microsoft and integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft platforms, which works well with schools using Microsoft products. Others can still use Google for Flipgrid.


Burns, A. (2012). Teaching speaking: A holistic approach. Cambridge University Press.

Purdue Language and Cultural Exchange. (2020). PLACE.

Minsun Kim holds a PhD in English from Purdue University. She has taught second language learners for more than 10 years at Purdue and Miami, Ohio. Her research interests include second language writing with a focus on multilingual and multicultural contexts.
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Which of the following has been the biggest challenge with transitioning to virtual English language instruction in recent months?
Converting course materials to a digitally friendly format
Student access to hardware and reliable internet connections
Student engagement and participation
Assessment and monitoring student progress
Supporting students individualized needs

Are you a Guru on some aspect of tech use for the Guru Bar
If so, sign Guru Bar sign-up sheet for a 30-minute (or more) session at TESOL. You will work with a partner. Also the CALL-IS Tech Resource Help Sheet, a topic list, will be on a desktop Bar screen.
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