January 2013
On Call



My name is Larry Udry, and I am the editor of the CALL-IS e- newsletter, On CALL. This is just a quick teaser newsletter before the convention this year in Dallas. By the way, be on the lookout for another newsletter in late February or early March. This one should have the entire Electronic Village (EV) booklet or a link so you can peruse the schedule before the conference. In addition to the articles, one of the most important parts of this letter is the EV schedule and write-ups. The schedule is a list of all the activities currently slated for the convention, and the write-ups is a description of all the types of events. A must-have for TESOL convention goers. Of note, there is an Academic Session titled “Gaming and Language Learning” and two InterSections: one with the Elementary Education IS and the other with the International Teaching Assistant IS.

EV Schedule 2013

EV write ups 2013

The other important piece of information I wanted to get you clued into is the Electronic Village Online (EVO). Carla Arena has said, “This project is a virtual extension of the TESOL 2013 Convention in Dallas in which educators around the globe will have the chance to enhance their professional development, network, collaborate, share, and learn with like-minded professionals in wonderful online sessions that were carefully designed by our moderators.” Please note that you don’t have to be a TESOL member to participate in these 5-week sessions. They are free and online. Visit the Announcement web page to select one among the various session offerings. Registration starts January 7, 2014. If you want to be reminded of the EVO registration period and the latest news, join the mailing list.

Thanks, and I look forward to seeing you at the conference.

Larry Udry


Bringing Corpora Into Teacher Education

In the master’s in TESOL and literacy program at Holy Family University in Philadelphia, in the United States, class activities and assignments with corpora are embedded throughout the coursework. This article describes a class activity to prepare materials for a grammar exercise suggested in a methods text. Rather than make up material for the exercise, authentic language from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) was used. COCA contains 450 million words from a variety of genres, is easy to search, and is free.

In his methods text for teaching reading and writing, Nation (2009) suggests transformation techniques such as sentence combining to help learners understand and use patterns like too + adjective + to + stem (pp. 107–108). A class activity with COCA was developed to engage the graduate students with the use of COCA. The point of the activity was to demonstrate how material to construct teaching materials can easily be obtained from a corpus. After completing the activity described in this article, the graduate students worked in pairs and small groups to independently create grammar exercises for a reading passage using material found in COCA.

Searching COCA for “too [j*] to” yields a list of the most frequent phrases with that pattern. By not specifying verb stems in the search, it is possible to pick just one adjective and create exercises with a variety of verb stems for that adjective. Below is a screenshot showing the search field. Note that entering a part of speech is not difficult with the drop-down menu.

Here is a list of the top 25 too + adjective + to phrases and their frequencies, out of 14,993 total occurrences:

In COCA, clicking on a phrase yields sentence-level context, which can be searched for suitable sentences. The first 10 items for the most frequent phrase, too late to, are the following:

From these 10 items, 5 sentences were selected as being appropriate to construct an exercise for intermediate or advanced learners. They were copied and pasted in a list with the original formatting.

it's not too late to book an inexpensive weekend getaway
It wasn't too late to turn back.
It's too late to get a babysitter.
it would be too late to turn back.
It's never too late to help an old friend

A text-only paste removed the online formatting, the sentences were numbered, and a sentence combining exercise was created with students only having to fill in blanks to complete the pattern. As seen below, the first pair of sentences was combined as an example, and the remaining four were prepared with blanks for some or all of the too + adjective + to + stem pattern. The sentences are presented in order of increasing difficulty.

  1. It's not too late to book an inexpensive weekend getaway.
    1. It’s not too late. We can book an inexpensive getaway.
    2. It’s not too late to book an inexpensive getaway.
  2. It wasn't too late to turn back.
    1. It’s not too late. We can turn back.
    2. It’s not too late _____ _____ back.
  3. It's too late to get a babysitter.
    1. It’s too late. We can’t get a babysitter.
    2. It’s too _____ _____ _____ a babysitter.
  4. It would be too late to turn back.
    1. It would be too late. We can’t turn back.
    2. It would be _____ _____ _____ _____ _____.
  5. It's never too late to help an old friend.
    1. It’s never too late. We can help an old friend.
    2. It’s never _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____.

Note that in the exercise above, the original sentence was left to make the items easier. To make the exercise more difficult, the original sentence could be deleted as below:

  1. It’s never too late. We can help an old friend.
  2. It’s never _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____.

The vocabulary of the exercises was not difficult. Using the Word and Phrase feature of COCA, it was found that in these sentences 77% of the words were from 1–500 most frequent words in COCA, weekend was in the 501–3,000 most frequent, and only inexpensive and getaway were in the greater than 3,000 range. There were no academic words. The frequent vocabulary would allow students to concentrate on the too + adjective + to + stem construction.

Rather than use very frequent items, the teacher may wish to focus on specific vocabulary found in a reading text, but the principle remains the same: Identify a pattern, search COCA for suitable material, and use the material to construct exercises.

Activities and assignments like this one, where teachers can see the utility of corpora as source material for teaching activities, helps bring corpora into the classroom.


Nation, I. S. P. (2009). Teaching ESL/EFL reading and writing. New York, NY: Routledge.

Roger W. Gee, PhD, is a Professor at Holy Family University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) where he is the Director of the Masters in TESOL and Literacy Program.

Using Wikis for English Language Learning With Lower Proficiency English Learners in a Hong Kong Secondary School Context

Wiki Conundrum


I've done it, I've done it!
Guess what I've done!
I've invented a light that plugs into the sun.
The sun is bright enough,
The bulb is strong enough,
But, oh, there`s only one thing wrong…
The cord ain't long enough.

Shel Silverstein

Have you ever done it?! Invented a great solution only to find out that it didn`t quite reach your learners? This article is about one such wiki design failure and subsequent learning curves which are gradually creating variant wiki success in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has three bands of schools, Band 1 having the highest academic rating and Band 3 having the lowest. This narrative takes place in a Band 3 secondary school. The learner population is generally at a low socioeconomic level. And although these learners have, for the most part, had 7–12 years of English as a foreign language (EFL) learning, they have almost no basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS) or cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) in English (Cummins, 1981). BICS is usually acquired in conversational language settings, whereas CALP requires a more formal understanding of second language language structures, such as morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, which require more formal schooling (Cummins, 1981).

Much has been written on how wikis (editable websites) support traditional Western learning paradigms such as social constructivist philosophy by giving learners opportunities to interact, collaborate, and co-construct their learning (Bonk, 2011). However, very little has been written about how wikis can assist low-proficiency EFL learners who hold non-Western culturally embedded learning beliefs.

I arrived in Hong Kong in 2010 and found out that I had more than 600 low-proficiency English language learners in classes of 40. My academic role was to teach them to speak English. More than 200 of these learners were in line to write impending high-stakes Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) examinations. I soon realized that the majority of these learners had very limited English language skills, and most learners did not have enough BICS to carry on a basic English conversation. I decided to start the Facebook group English Friendship Exchange with a hope that in creating an English-speaking community outside the classroom, learners would become more connected with English and more likely to use it communicatively. To make the English Friendship Exchange into a real community, I started hosting English social events, such as English cooking nights, English movie nights, English music nights, and going to English concerts and a local karaoke club to sing English music. This caught the attention of the Form 5 students who were 14 months away from writing the new HKDSE examinations and, therefore, were starting to think about ways that they could learn more English.

The English Friendship Exchange was an important milestone because it immediately launched me into the lives of students and gave me insight into some cultural differences that got me thinking that I was failing because I didn’t know how these learners were thinking and learning. But paying absolutely no heed to this niggling thought, I started generating creative, engaging, collaborative, socially constructed, and co-constructed online wikis under the assumption that “If I build them, they will come.” I promoted them, but they didn’t come! The cord wasn`t long enough. A huge part of me felt like a failure, but another part of me knew that if I was going to reach such a large volume of learners, I had to engage them in an open online learning platform. Using wikis seemed like the obvious solution. So I kept trying out variant wiki designs without any positive results.

At the time, I was enrolled in an online MA TESOL program from Trinity Western University, so I decided to attend the Hong Kong Association for Applied Linguistics (HKAAL) conference at the Hong Kong Institution of Education (HKIED). I have never been more grateful to the HKAAL conference that got me to HKIED and to Biggs and Watkins (1996, 2001) and Chan and Rao (2009) for showing me the way! When I was at the conference, I went to the HKIED book store and bought a book on Chinese-Taiwanese-Hong Kong culturally held learning beliefs: Revisiting the Chinese Learner: Changing Contexts, Changing Education (Chan & Rao, 2009). By the end of the weekend, I had also purchased The Chinese Learner (Biggs & Watkins, 1996) and Teaching the Chinese Learner (Biggs & Watkins, 2001)—“and that has made all the difference” (Robert Frost).

Biggs and Watkins (1996, 2001) and Chan and Rao (2009) shed important new light on the Chinese learners I was teaching and why my wiki experiments were failing. Having read these three volumes, I became ever observant of how the learners were learning, and I was equally amazed that these authors were spot on. For example, in this particular Hong Kong context, culturally held learning beliefs support initial memorization, then intrinsic building of knowledge through consistent revision, followed by personal application to real-life situations, whereby questioning and re-modifying understanding is based upon application results, and finally the last step is verbalizing their understanding (Biggs & Watkins, 1996, 2001; Chan & Rao, 2009). Once I understood these pedagogical differences, I understood why learners were not engaging or participating in the way that I had predicted, and I was ever more grateful for their patience with me! Had I done due diligence and read the New Senior Secondary curriculum guide, it would have introduced me to the notion and importance of repetitive learning in this context. Regardless, Biggs and Watkins as well as Chan and Rao have been indispensable in helping me understand how these particular learners are pedagogically situated (Kristjánsson, in press).

Going against Western pedagogical paradigms, I designed a wiki not as a collaborative tool but rather as a specific learning resource, because it was obvious that if learners had these culturally held learning beliefs, what they were lacking were English-speaking materials at their learning levels which they could use to practice, memorize, revise, modify, self-perfect, and then verbalize. Ever so gradually, the learners have slowly but surely started coming into these new resource-based learning wikis and using them as a place of noncollaborative learning. See the sample from Wiki Conundrum.

Over the past 2 years of introducing learning wikis to low-proficiency Band 3 English language learners from Form 1 to Form 7 in Hong Kong, I’ve observed the following: The more I’ve used wikis in face-to-face (f2f) instruction, independent learner use of wikis has increased, albeit very slowly. And some, but not all, learners prefer to initially learn how to say vocabulary items independently with a supportive native English voice rather than f2f. Overall, there has been a substantial increase in f2f participation in oral vocabulary practice, oral sentence making, and overall willingness to speak English in and out of the classroom. Learners who are improving or have more English language proficiency are more motivated to use the wikis as learning resources than learners who are not improving and/or are not motivated to do so.

Watch and listen to a short interview with Lau Yim Ching, a highly motivated Form 6 English language learner who has used these wikis to help her learn English and to study for her HKDSE examinations.

Click here to link it to her Facebook account.

It is very insightful to listen to Lau Yim Ching as she articulates her culturally held learning beliefs and her English language learning experiences. Click here to listen to the Lau Yim Ching interview.

What is vital from this experience is that it isolates a very important fact about wikis: They are flexible learning tools which can be easily created and/or adapted to meet specific learning contexts and different culturally held learning beliefs. Research offers guiding points of light, but instructors should know where and how learners and their learning are situated (Kristjánssen, in press). This excerpt from Lau Yim Ching`s writing journal illustrates the importance of situatedness from one learner`s perspective:

We have been raised not to show other skills until we are good enough by keeping practice by ourselves. As we are always embarrassed to show others the unprofessional side and we do care about saving faces a lot. Most importantly, we get used to learning new stuff by listening first to our teachers. That’s how exactly we learn. So even though, a “group” Wiki is such a nice tool to learn English, it still not really suitable at least for the time being.

Without a doubt, the absolute strength of wikis is their inherent oak-like durability and bamboo-like flexibility, giving wiki creators a tool which can be bent to meet various learning styles, strategies, contexts, and culturally held learning beliefs. Vive la difference!


Biggs, J., & Watkins, D. (1996). The Chinese learner: Cultural, psychological and contextual influences. Hong Kong: Comparative Education Research Centre & Australian Council of Educational Research.

Biggs, J., & Watkins, D. (2001). Teaching the Chinese learner: Psychological and pedagogical perspectives. Hong Kong: Comparative Education Research Centre & Australian Council of Educational Research.

Bonk, C. J. (2011). The world is open: How web technology is revolutionizing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Chan, C., & Rao, N. (2009). Revisiting the Chinese learner: Changing contexts, changing education. Hong Kong: Springer.

Cummins, J. (1981). Immigrant second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 11, 132–149.

Kristjánsson, C. (in press). In J. Arnold & T. Murphey (Eds.), Meaningful action: Earl Stevick’s influence on language teaching. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Ruth M. Smith has taught English for 25 years and has been working in an EFL context for the past 2 years. She is currently working as an English instructor at The Jockey Club Edu Young College in Hong Kong and is also the founder of Smith English Education. She has an MA in TESOL from Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, Canada.

Film Project Application as Proof of Learning: Information Processing, Senses, and Windows Live Movie Maker

The educator is often faced with the dilemma of uncertainty. The students are taught; they practice; they assimilate, reflect, and build confidence in their sense of knowing how to communicate teaching material effectively. But the question remains: Will the students do so when faced with teaching in the “real” setting: Will they do what they have been mentored and/or molded to do, or will they just fall into the established education setup they have been employed in to follow—using predetermined instructional methods, lesson plans, and activities?

I believe that the educator has a responsibility to mentor students to become advocates of reform when teaching/learning setups need reform. For such students to be nurtured, the educator must plan that students work on self-efficacy, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Students need to feel secure with the material, be able to critically think about it, plan how to apply it, reflect on it, and judge the effectiveness of the whole exercise. These students need to be able to meet the needs of their future students; these students need to be able to teach, facilitate, and mentor their students’ learning. Simply put, these students need to know how to apply the learning theories and conditions at any moment in a teaching/learning setting to reach out and touch each future student’s learning endeavor. This, I believe, is the responsibility of the educator.

In a pre-post teacher development class, I used the information processing theory, specifically the encoding and retrieval phases, as a strategy to enhance students' learning and understanding of learning theory application in the classroom. Combining the use of senses and projecting the main learning theories in classroom processes, the 25 students created short films using Windows Movie Maker. The purpose of the activity was to have the students show understanding of learning theories by integrating how information in the environment gets coded and used. The students were allowed to use all the senses in creating their film, but they were not allowed, on tape, to verbally communicate, explain, or interpret what the images portrayed for the viewers. The results showed that the students understood the content and were able to creatively communicate that. The planning, executing, and showing of this confidence building hands-on technology exercise proved to be rewarding for use in other learning quests.

As the educator, I wanted to focus on the way(s) students’ process information, how the processing leads to the response(s), and how the students treat the information that comes their way. Partnering with technology, I planned the project-based learning activity.

Aware of the teaching/learning assumptions that are drawn from the theories taught in the course, I facilitated the students’ learning journey. Each teaching of a learning theory was planned as an active goal-directed practice, with performance measures as well as confidence building, self-efficacy, and self-regulatory behavior opportunity. Students were taught the five basic learning theories: cognitive learning theory—information processing; cognitive developmental theories; behavioral theories; social learning theory; learning and motivation, and the developmental theories—moral, psychosexual, and social. The students were given 45 hours of instruction.

The students were given the following instructions to follow in creating the short films using Windows Movie Maker:

  1. Identify the key aspects of each learning theory. Use your course readings and notes to help organize your work.
  2. Think “outside the box” as to how to portray the theories through the use of your senses or images. Note: You are allowed to use your senses in creating the film, but you are not allowed, on tape, to verbally communicate, explain, or interpret what images you portray to the viewers.
  3. Familiarize yourself with Windows Movie Maker. In class, I showed you how to use it; now, you need to practice how to use it. Also, please feel free to find tutorials on how to use Movie Maker on the web.
  4. Plan film. Either select location(s) to cover video footage or camera shots for a storyboard or find appropriate websites for an educational Internet image search.
  5. Import the images, then drag and drop the needed ones in the appropriate the storyboard or timeline frames to complete the narration.
  6. Add the needed effects, music, transitions, and/or titles/credits to produce narrations.
  7. Tweak and edit work completely before saving or publishing the narration.

Two weeks later, the students showed their films in class.

Overall, the movies showed that the students had understood the course content and that they were able to creatively communicate the key issues in the learning theories. I noted that each movie was unique and clearly showed how each student processed the course content. Their motivation and determination were clearly observed as goal directed. Each endeavor, I believe, was a learning outcome success. However, the movies did depict differences in confidence, narration creativity, context selection—ready-made images or created, and in storyboard and/or timeline creativity. The differences had to do with the degrees of self-confidence the students’ acquired in using the technology, which in turn may have influenced their self-efficacy, reflection, and judgment. All the students were eager to show their work.

In conclusion, the planning, executing, and showing of such a confidence-building hands-on technology exercise proved to be rewarding for use in learning quests. I recommend the use of Movie Maker as a means to cross-check the meaning of material, to assist students in their information processing endeavor, and to help students self-regulate their learning.

Dr. Christine Sabieh, professor at Notre Dame University, is the vice president of ASIACALL and the editor-in-chief of the ASIACALL Online Journal, its fully peer-reviewed international publication. An advocate of CALL and a certified online instructor/trainer, she does education consultancy, workshops, publishes, and participates in conferences on a national, regional, and international level. She serves as a member of TESOL’s CALL-IS Steering Committee (2012–2013).

YOUTUBE in New and Unusual Ways

Russell Wilson

Randall Davis

New Angles on YouTube Use in the Classroom

The vast popularity of YouTube has inevitably found its way into the ESL classroom. This can be a great benefit, as long as pedagogical considerations are not overshadowed by the mere presence of a video. In fact, YouTube can be utilized in less known ways that can be of benefit for the student. This article discusses three tools that can be used to maximize YouTube for instructional purposes: creating video annotations, controlling the playback speed of the video, and displaying videos with minimal distractions.

YouTube Annotations

Many students are accustomed to adventure games that allow for seemingly infinite choices. With YouTube, it is possible to capitalize on this to construct a branching chain of videos. The student’s experience depends entirely upon his or her choices. At the conclusion of each video, the student is given two or more clickable choices. One pedagogical application would be a listening comprehension practice. Students listen to a conversation between characters in the first video and then click a choice that depends upon their understanding of the conversation. Students who understand and answer correctly are presented with the choice to continue to additional videos that are not otherwise viewable, while students who answer incorrectly are given the chance to choose again and/or watch the video another time. Although this is an informal task, it is essentially an adaptive listening comprehension exercise. Dozens, or even hundreds, of experiences are possible once the instructor has chained the videos together.

The YouTube feature that makes this possible is Annotations. You must have a YouTube account to add annotations to a video. It may be a video that you upload yourself or a video in the Creative Commons domain that you can edit and release. First, select “Video Manager” from the taskbar, and then select a video. Above the video, an Annotations button appears. Click it, and an “Add annotation” button appears to the right. There are several types of annotation, not all of which will support links. The following support hyperlinks: Speech bubble, Note, Spotlight, and Label. Add the text you want in the text box, and then click the “Link” button. A box appears, into which you simply paste the link to the next YouTube video in the chain. Not only can you precisely control when the annotations appear, you can go back and edit, remove, or add annotations at any time.

With the Annotations feature, you can make the chain as simple or as complex as you like. You may require students to choose a correct answer from a number of available choices, make an adaptive activity, or simply link consecutive videos in the order you would like the students to watch them. The possibilities are potentially endless. See a simple example of using the annotations feature in this way here: Sample YouTube.

In these days of smartphones and tablets, one caveat to keep in mind is that YouTube’s annotation feature does not work dependably, if at all, on mobile devices that do not support Flash Player.

Controlling Playback Speed

One of the challenges facing teachers is limitations in controlling the playback speed of the videos. Without such control, much of YouTube content is simply beyond the linguistic reach of students learning English, rendering YouTube somewhat limited in terms of the audio track. (Of course, you can always turn down the audio and do silent viewing for language practice.)

This is where the VLC Media Player can become a really powerful, and portable, tool for language teachers. Basically, the VLC Media Player is a free cross-platform multimedia player that can handle multiple media formats, including MPEG, WMA, MP4, RealMedia, and WAV, to mention a few. Furthermore, it can handle a variety of streaming media protocols and DVDs. It runs on Windows, Mac OS, Unix, and Linux platforms, and it is completely free without any ads.

One of the best features is that there is a portable apps version that you can load onto a thumb drive, and thus you can play streaming media files in locations where you do not have administrative permission or rights to download the VLC player or other applications to computers at work or school. It is in this way that I will discuss how to use the VLC player to slow down the video playback of YouTube videos. Before anything else, be sure to download and install the most recent version of the VLC player from Portable Apps for the portable version of the application.

First of all, find the specific YouTube video and its URL you want to play. Next, in the VLC player, select “Open Network Stream” from the “Media” menu, or use the Control + N sequence. Then, enter the YouTube video URL where it says, “Please enter a network URL.” Click the “Play” button in the same window. At that point, the video will shortly open in the VLC player. Make sure the Status Bar (the very bottom section of the application window) is selected in “View” menu, for this is where the speed slider is located. You can adjust the speed from .25 to 4.0 times normal speed, which provides great audio with very minimal tone distortion.

All this said, be aware that there can be times when your local network settings at work or school may not permit the streaming of YouTube videos.

Viewing Videos With Fewer Distractions

Another important task for teachers is to provide a safe and friendly viewing experience for students without the numerous unrelated links, comments, and graphics appearing right next to the video you have selected to play. You never know what video links might appear that could be distracting or offensive to your audience. With this in mind, services such as SafeshareTV provide a simple option for teachers to show video to students in class or to create a link that can be emailed to students.

Basically, you paste a YouTube video link into the “Generate Safe Link” field on the SafeShare website, and it creates a unique SafeShare link that, when clicked, shows the YouTube video in its own browser window, less all of the normal YouTube content and links around it. Furthermore, the generated link never expires, so you can save this information for use in your course curriculum. Having such an option and sharing this information with school administrators might allow them to assess or reassess the terms of use YouTube content in cases where it is now prohibited.

Keep in mind that SafeShare does not act as a filter to block objectionable sites or even pre-roll ads that often accompany YouTube videos. It also does not prevent students from accessing YouTube directly. It simple removes the superfluous distractions surrounding YouTube videos when you access that site directly.

Rus Wilson and Randall Davis teach at the English Language Institute at the University of Utah.



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