Choosing your own adventure: Using interactive YouTube adventures to practice conditionals

Choosing your own adventure: Using interactive YouTube adventures to practice conditionals
by Adam John Simpson

One of the great things about being a geeky nerd is that I can relate to what?s going on in the minds of a lot of my students. Like (too) many of them, I?m fascinated by the concept of zombies. I?ve spent many classroom breaks hypothesizing with students about the impending doom that will be brought about by the zombie outbreak. Anyway, that?s only a slight part of the focus of this post. This interest has led me to a resource that I think might make for a fun class activity. Firstly, take a look at this picture. Here?s the situation: you?ve fought your way past a horde of zombies and made it to your vehicle. While you are making your escape, you find a survivor. He bangs on the window and begs you to let him into your car. He looks to have been bitten and is covered in blood. You have twenty seconds to make your decision. As a teacher who has decided to show this clip in your class, what would you do now to exploit this situation? Where could this go? Here are a few things I might do?

? Put the students in groups and get them to hypothesize about what might happen if either of the two options is taken. ? Get them to report back to the class what they think will happen if they follow each choice. ? Take a vote on which course of action to take.

This activity cries out for the use of conditionals. Assuming for one minute that what they are watching is real, you could use the situation to get them to reflect on the likelihood of what they think will happen actually happening. Something like? Before making the decision:

?If we let him in, I think he will eat us.?

After the consequences of the decision have become clear:

?If we hadn?t left him, he might have been able to help us later on.?

This might all become a little clearer if you embark on the journey yourself. This is a fairly short video clip of about four minutes, leading on to four or five more (sorry, I lost count) additional episodes, each with a dilemma at the end. The dialogue is natural, but not overly challenging. The premise is simple: chose the correct path and you avoid death. Deliver me to Hell

Ok, I think you get the idea. I should warn you about a couple of things with this adventure. Firstly, it gets a bit bloodthirsty and gruesome, so consider your ?audience.? Secondly, this is actually an advert for a New Zealand pizza delivery service, so if you have any concerns about promoting products, you may wish to use one of the other clips I?ll introduce later on. Things I particularly like about this format:

? The video clips are only 3-4 minutes long, so students get short, sharp bursts of information on which to reflect and respond. ? The dialogue is natural, even if the situations are sensational. ? The clips promote vibrant discussion. ? The activity fosters creative thinking. ? There are opportunities for language focus (think about my conditional sentence examples). ? You can develop reflection and narrative skills (write a paragraph summarizing the events and / or what you would have done differently).

Because all my students have laptops and campus-wide wi-fi access, I often find them watching funny clips on YouTube during the breaks. When this happens, I try to get them to tell me what they?ve been watching and discuss it in class. They are often reluctant to do so, and you get the feeling that they consider this as something wrong. This is a real shame, as it could make a springboard into a nice class discussion. This is another reason why I like to bring YouTube into the class. As I mentioned, this zombie story is just one of a number of interactive adventures on YouTube. Here are the first episodes of a couple of others. The Time Machine This one is less gruesome than the zombie adventure. If you like this, go to Chad, Matt and Rob?s website for many more adventures.

Choose a different ending This is what public service announcements look like these days.

A bit of advice Play through all of the options for each adventure. This will help you to decide if the content is appropriate for your learners and enable you to plan activities depending on how things go. A request If you use these in your classes, please let me know how it goes.

Melike Kesirli, Leah Bosworth, Jonathan Smith and Bünyamin Mengi at the FOCI Event

Melike Kesirli, Leah Bosworth and Jonathan Smith collaborated with colleagues from İstanbul Aydın University School of Foreign languages to plan the third Forum on Curriculuar Issues: Designing a curriculum that fosters independent learner competencies (FOCI-III) which was held at İstanbul Aydın University on Friday 13th May. Bünyamin Mengi attended the event as the School of Languages official participant. Here are a few important concepts and themes which we personally wanted to take away from the event:


One concept that seemed to come up often during the event was transparency: that this was essential in everything we do to encourage learner autonomy. Are our expectations explicit to the learners right from the start? Are our objectives and assessment criteria explicit to the learners (in language they can actually understand – not “TeacherSpeak”)? The teacher too needs to be a model of autonomy: so maybe we should encourage teachers to be open about their reflection on their own practice; letting the learners see that the teacher is a learner too and is reflecting on the learning process and how to improve it.

Special role of speaking
From the questionnaire discussion it seemed that maybe there is something particularly motivating for learners when they experience success in speaking and this maybe needs to be investigated more. Speaking is all about confidence and is closely linked with self-esteem – maybe more so than other skills. So maybe this is a key to fostering autonomy. Speaking is maybe not seen as very important in learners? future academic needs and is hard to test and so on. But maybe we can’t afford to ignore it?

Learners? beliefs about language learning underlying their behaviour in and out of class
It seemed evident from the discussions in the forum that we need to understand what the students bring along with them (i.e. their beliefs about language learning). Even if their beliefs seem incompatible with ours, we should start from the point where they are (this will minimize conflicts of expectations) and bring them to the point where we are. This can help us to better understand why they do what they do in and out of class and the insight we will gain will help to make informed decisions about our teaching and learning practices.

Self-reflection & frequent success
Learners’ evaluating their strengths and areas to improve after exams through self reflection can guide them for their further studies, which is a practice that can be exercised across levels. Also, it is not always motivation that leads to success, but it is sometimes the feeling of success that leads to further motivation. Therefore, it seems wise to provide the students with opportunities to experience the feeling of success through frequent quizzes, which is a practice that could be much appreciated by our “exam-oriented” students. The feeling of success they will experience is likely to motivate them to study more for upcoming exams.

Learners’ Voices
Hearing the learners’ voices on autonomy and using what they have experienced to inform other students’ further development in this area was a topic that we discussed at length. To do this we can use our previous learners (those with a decent level of autonomy) for both information gathering and working with current students. These ‘old’ students can provide a wealth of information as well providing ‘live’ inspiration/motivation and guidance on the keys to success. The information gathered could also inform some kind of ‘booklet’ which students could refer to as and when required.

The FOCI project was set up in May 2010 by the Curriculum Team of Sabancı University School of Languages and is a chance for representatives from a range of universities in Turkey and North Cyprus preparing learners for their undergraduate studies in English to come together to discuss curriculum issues. These have now become regular events held twice a year in collaboration with different host institutions. The FOCI-IV event will be hosted by Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus in December 2011. If your university is interested in sending a representative please visit our website to find more details about past FOCI events:

Jacqueline Einer & Jonathan Smith at the fourth ELT Symposium in Antalya

Jacqueline Einer and Jonathan Smith attended the fourth ELT Symposium organised by Dünya Aktuel & Cambridge University Press in Antalya on 21st and 22nd May, 2011. The title of the symposium was Keeping it Real and the sessions which most stood out for us were:

Corpus Linguistics and the English Profile Project by Branko Stojanovic (CUP Serbia)

The aims of the English Profile project are to investigate what learner English is like for speakers of different languages at different levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) and to describe each level in terms of the lexis grammar and functional language which learners are able to use. In order to achieve this, a corpus of learner texts is being complied to supplement the existing Cambridge International Corpus and the corpus of learners performance in Cambridge ESOL exams. The CEFRL is now very widely used but is designed to be applied to any language; the hope is that this the English Profile project will provide better linguistic specificity to flesh out the CEFRL level descriptors specifically for English and be a publicly available source of corpus-based evidence for course designers and teachers. You can visit the project?s website and sign up to be able to enable your learners to contribute samples of their English to the corpus:

Inside the Minds of the Internet Generation by David Marsh (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)

Taking the mobile phone as a starting point, Marsh argued that these devised are not new in themselves (we have had clocks, cameras, phones etc for years) – the innovation lies in the integration of these functions into a single device. The young people who have grown up using these and other integrated technological devices are generating their own habits of learning such as a preference for learning in a hands-on way and ways of thinking. This has implications for the teaching of English for academic purposes (EAP) namely that English language teaching should be embedded further into the curriculum of faculties and scaffolding the learners with with both content and language skills. Marsh envisages English language teaching professionals conversant with a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approach being more fully integrated with the content lecturers and becoming an integral part of the faculty teams rather than isolated in a Language Centre and that this approach would better suit the learning approach of the Internet Generation.

The Magic of Teaching by The Henry Brothers with Doruk Ülgen

The Grand Finale of the whole event was an innovative and imaginative exploration of the parallels between teaching English and performing magic, performed by professional magician Doruk Ülgen and his two glamorous teacher-trainer assistants John Henry Moorcroft and Paul Henry Zarraga.

The BALEAP Biennial Conference ?EAP within the HE Garden: Cross Pollination between Disciplines, Departments, Research and Teaching?

Reyhan Ok, Nurdan Çoksezen, Leah Bosworth, Jacqueline Einer and Jonathan Smith attended the BALEAP Biennial Conference ?EAP within the HE Garden: Cross Pollination between Disciplines, Departments, Research and Teaching? at the University of Portsmouth, 10th-12th April 2011.

Olwyn Alexander from Herriot-Watt University gave a concurrent session entitled ?Not just some random English class: Raising the profile of in-sessional provision through the CEM model?. The CEM model (Sloan & Porter ?Changing international student and business staff perceptions of in-sessional EAP: using the CEM model.? Journal of English for Academic Purposes Vol 9 No 3, 198.) provides a way of organising adjunct language courses for students in their faculties. The model has 3 ?lenses?:
? Contextualizing (the content and tasks are based on the reality of the particular faculty course)
? Embedding (the EAP instructor should be working in close contact and as part of the programme team together with the content lecturers)
? Mapping (the academic competencies are dealt with at the appropriate time in the course when students actually need it to do the assigned tasks by the content lecturer)
It was seen as successful by the content lecturers because it was branded as training the students to become scholars rather than an added on remedial language course.

David Hill (not our Freshman teacher!! But author of Academic Connections and EAP Now! Coursebooks) gave a concurrent session on ?Critical thinking or critical expression?: Meeting students critical needs?. In this session, he argued for the use of the term ?critical expression? rather than critical thinking as, after all, how can you teach someone to think? But we can teach someone how and when to express their critical thinking appropriately. He also suggested that the idea of teaching ?critical thinking? implies the risk of underestimating our learners? existing ability to think critically.

Karen Nicholls from Sheffield Hallam University?s concurrent session ?Transitions, autonomy and a pre-sessional course? described research she had carried out into the transitional changes that students face when they come to university and the coping strategies they adopt as well as the relevance they could see between their pre-sessional English courses and their studies in faculty. As a framework to analyse her findings she used Fazey & Fazey?s (2001) definition of autonomy (‘The potential for autonomy in learning’ Studies in Higher Education vol 26 no 3, 345) which sees learner autonomy as having three components:
? Intrinsic motivation (?I like doing this?)
? Perception of competence (?I can do this?)
? Internal locus of control (?What I do affects the outcome of this?)

Erich Cutler ?Guided Observation: The transition from language study to full-time matriculation?
Erich explained how intermediate level and above students at Oregon State Univeristy have 18 core contact hours and 6 hours of elective courses in their prep programme. One of these elective courses is called ?Guided Observation? which involves the students attending real lectures in faculty and receiving support from a language instructor. The course also focuses on the ?rhetoric classroom? i.e. helping students grasp the essential skills, knowledge and awareness necessary to be successful in their future faculty courses. Students are required to do a number of tasks, including reflective tasks on an online discussion board. He strongly believes that it is important for students to develop a real and permanent link with their future faculty courses in order to be successful.

David Button in his session titled ?Noticing by Design? explained how some principles of graphic design in materials could be best used to focus attention on what we want to focus on. He described where the ?given? and ?new? information should be (given on the left and new on the right), which fonts should be used for what (serif fonts for body text; non-serif fonts for display) and how coloring could be used to maximize effect. He also reported research findings related to text alignment: left-aligned texts increases reading speed. If a text is justified, the reading speed is reduced bur the comprehension is increased. Other graphic design features he mentioned were proximity and contrast. Some audience members stated that some of the points mentioned might be specific to western writing systems, but they may not hold true for those who read from right to left or top to bottom. He agrees that this may be true, but through following the principles he listed, foreign students could be introduced to an aspect of English culture.

Glenn Fulcher and Jenny Kemp: Performance Decision Trees: operationalising domain specific criteria for teaching and assessment

Glenn Fulcher and Jenny Kemp explained how and why they developed (PDTs) at the University of Leicester. They first expressed their views on speaking evaluation criteria based on CEFR. Their main criticism was there was some inconsistency across levels and that some points in them are not necessary in university context. They then introduced the criteria they developed which look at certain the presence or absence of certain elements in a candidate?s performance. They claim PDTs aim to ?capture more of interactive and communicative nature of speech? than traditional criteria. They also believe that PDTs can be designed in such a way that they can be used to assess language, give feedback and develop programs. They illustrated their use with the example of a travel agency encounter and the use of PDT developed required the assessors to make a yes/no decision regarding different aspects of the learner?s performance.

A workshop by Jane Mandalios ?Using RADAR to evaluate information sources

In the workshop Jane explained the importance of finding the relevant source in the sea of information on the internet. She used a simple method called RADAR to evaluate the usefulness of information that students look for. Instructors can teach this simple set of criteria to their students to reach the most relevant and academic texts.

R elevance ? How is the information that you have found relevant to your
A uthority ? Who is the author? What tells you that they are authoritative, someone that can be relied upon or trusted?
D ate ? When was the information published? Is it important to use current information?
A ppearance ? Does the information look serious and academic? Or does it look as if it was written by a non-professional?
R eason for writing ? Why did the writer publish this? Make sure the source is well-researched, unbiased and professional.

A session on Audio Feedback in EAP: the way forward? By Steve Bond, Gwyneth James, and Alison Standring

This concurrent session focused on the provision of audio feedback in in-sessional classes. The presenters collected feedback both from the teachers and the students. The instructors used voice mail function of Moodle with Wimba. Some teachers combined the voice mail with Jinx to give both written and audio feedback. They found out that the students preferred this type of feedback to audio feedback or written feedback on its own. However, the instructors who gave audio feedback indicated that recording the feedback took a similar length of time to written feedback. Those who favoured it said that it was motivating for their students in that it offered a different mode of feedback.

John Slaght one of the authors of the Garnet books that we use at Upper Intermediate and testing guru from the University of Reading. Slaght proposed that we should be using Open Book Exams as proficiency exams. He felt that the in order to help students with their needs on Faculty courses it was vital that we improve their reading skills. To do this he believes that we need to use authentic tasks in exams that reflect the need in EAP for “a task-based approach where conveying meaning through real world challenges is primary.” He believes that the authenticity of Open Book Exams will have a great washback effect on the amount of reading that students do as well as improve the way that they approach reading. He also feels that despite the logistic challenges of using OBEs for large cohorts of students, the benefits to be gained should encourage us to do our utmost to implement such exams.

Dr Janette Ryan, Director of the Higher Education Academy Teaching International Students Project gave a plenary that was thought provoking and relevant for our situation. Dr Ryan talked about how academics expected students to adapt quickly to the expectations of university but at the same time they felt unprepared to deal with the demands of teaching students whose first language was not English. They also did not really take advantage of the expertise of language instructors to help them overcome these shortcomings. Dr Ryan proposed that academics and language and learning instructors should be working together to improve the teaching and learning experiences of international students. (In our case as we are a English-medium university, our students are in a similar position to international students in the UK).

Nothing really new so far but how she and her colleagues at the UK Higher Education Academy have put this into practice with the Teaching International Students Project is. The project is aimed at enhancing collaboration between subject specialists and language support teachers. To support this, they have set up a website that is a “one-stop shop – a data base of teaching and learning resources”. The website includes resources on academic preparedness, guidelines for lectures, stories from staff and students amongst many other things. It can be found at: It seems like a good way for academics and language instructors to share their expertise and to learn from each other.

Mark Osbourne talked about a commercial program, Wordready, that creates vocabulary exercises based on words from the academic word list found in texts that students supply. The program provides introductory, practice and revision activities which are based on students’ previous activity outcomes as well as the need for providing spaced repetition and consolidation of words. Students’ progress can also be tracked and monitored.

Tony Lynch reminded us that our approaches to teaching can be influenced by concepts from outside the EAP arena. He used the metaphors of a monkey, a locust and a flying pig to make 3 very useful points: an EAP teacher should not be overly helpful but should create a space for unexpected answers and wait for learners to find their own answers.

My Space, Learner Involvement, GISS and Reading Outside the Field

Deniz Kurtoğlu Eken on My Space, Learner Involvement, GISS and Reading Outside the Field

Mark Andrews from Eötvös Lorand University in Budapest and co-ordinator of the IATEFL Hungary Culture and Literature Special Interest Group was roving reporter at the 2nd İstek Schools International ELT Conference 2011. He interviewed presenters and participants.

You can find Mark’s report on SL Director, Deniz Kurtoglu Eken’s concurrent plenary and the interview by clicking here.