Using and Adapting Authentic Materials to Help Motivate Students

This course offers an insight into how best to select and adapt authentic materials to use with students as a way of exposing them to other cultures and ways of thinking. It has been shown that authentic materials are more motivating for students (Peacock, 1997) and thus the class will feature practical demonstrations of ways in which authentic materials can be used to help motivate students. In the class, participants will look at, observe and demonstrate tasks which utilise authentic materials and participants will also have the chance to a adapt materials and design their own tasks in a hands-on workshop.

EFL Teacher Journeys, Tokyo June 2015

The teaching never stops: reflections on teacher roles, transportable identities and social networks


To be(friend) or not to be(friend), that is the question. Some teachers encourage their students to befriend them on social networking sites (SNS), others are understandably wary. SNS can be a very effective way of connecting with students outside the classroom, engaging their real lives and identities. It can also create opportunities for authentic and motivating communication, not just between classmates but also with other learners and speakers around the globe. It could also be an ethical minefield, a social ‘can of worms’ and a recipe for disaster. When people interact in different social contexts, they utilise Transportable Identities (Zimmerman, 1998). As teachers, we are not merely teachers; we each have various identities which both compliment and contradict our professional teacher identity. A quick look on my Facebook page and one can learn that I am a husband and father, a few more clicks and someone could discover what kind of music I like, who my sisters are, where they live and whether or not they are in a relationship. It would also be easy to find embarrassing pictures of me or to read a post which expresses some kind of strongly worded opinion. When I accept students as friends on Facebook, I do so knowing that this is uncharted territory, and as such I have taken pains to learn about online security and how to keep track of my so-called Digital Shadow. I have also tried to become aware of the phenomena known as ‘oversharing’ (Agger, 2012). In this presentation I will draw on both published research and personal experience to reflect on the place of these types of online interactions and the inevitable consequences they pose.


Transportable Identities (Zimmerman, 1998)

  • Situated identities, which are explicitly conferred by the context of communication, such as doctor/patient identities in the context of a health clinic or teacher/student identities in the context of a classroom;
  • Discourse identities, as participants orient themselves to particular discourse roles in the unfolding organization of the interaction (e.g. initiator, listener and questioner);
  • Transportable identities, which are latent or implicit but can be invoked during the interaction, such as when a teacher alludes to her identity as a mother or as a keen gardener during a language lesson. (Richards, 2006; Ushioda, 2009, 2011)


Agger, B. (2012). Oversharing: Presentations of self in the internet age. New York: Routledge.

Farrell, T. S. C. (2011). Exploring the professional role identities of experienced ESL teachers through reflective practice. System, 39(1), 54-62. doi:

Glatthorn, A. A. (1975). Teacher as person: The search for the authentic. English Journal, 37-39.

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor (Random House).

Richards, K. (2006). ‘Being the teacher’: Identity and classroom conversation. Applied Linguistics, 27(1), 51-77.

Sacks, O. (2013). Speak, Memory. The New York Review of Books, February 21.

Ushioda, E. (2009). A person-in-context relational view of emergent motivation, self and identity. In E. Ushioda & Z. Dörnyei (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 215-228). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2011). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao, & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Zimmerman, D. H. (1998). Identity, context and interaction. In C. Antaki & S. Widdicombe (Eds.), Identities in Talk (pp. 87–106). London: Sage.


CAES Faces of English Paper Presentation

Using self-assessment to maintain motivation in a dynamic classroom environment

In this presentation I outline how and why I have established a self-assessment system in which students give themselves a score for class participation, worth 30% of their overall grade for the semester. I explain how my experience of teaching an EFL speaking skills course for the English literature department of a Japanese university has led me to initiate and further develop this method of assessment. By expanding learners’ locus of control I hoped to help them maintain motivation, and in this presentation I attempt to specifically show how abstract concepts like autonomy and motivation have a tangible place in the everyday dynamics of the language classroom. This paper presents the narrative of an ongoing Exploratory Practice inquiry which I have been engaged with for over three years. Data come from pedagogically generated sources and teaching journals, with the aim of the research being to improve the quality of classroom life. I approach motivation from a complex dynamics systems perspective, looking at the interactions and processes that define it. I attempt to bridge the complex dynamics of motivation with actual teaching practices and classroom based practitioner research.


The slides and handout are available below.


PDFLogo Handout


Recent scholars have been viewing both language and the process of acquiring a language from the perspective of complex systems theory or chaos theory (Ellis & Larsen-Freeman, 2009; Kramsch, 2011; Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008; Menezes, 2013). Motivation is also been examined from this perspective, as motivation is dependent upon many other variables and is a dynamic process (Dörnyei, MacIntyre, & Henry, 2015). How can such ‘complex’ theories be relevant to the language classroom?

Autonomy and Motivation

Self-Determination Theory (Deci, Kasser, & Ryan, 1997; Deci & Ryan, 1985) posits that learners are more likely to be motivated and show engagement in the learning process if they have a degree of autonomy – meant as self-volition in this context; competence -they believe they are able to succeed in the task; and relatedness – here meaning the social relations between people or “feeling close and connected to other individuals” (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011, p. 25).

The importance of autonomy in L2 motivation is also a key theme in much of Ushioda’s work (2007, 2011b) and is very much an embedded principle in her person in-context relational view of motivation (2011a; 2009) which encourages us to view learners as people “with particular social identities, [within] the unfolding cultural context of activity” (2009, p. 215). Simply put, my basic rationale for introducing self-assessment in my teaching was that by fostering learner autonomy or increasing my learner’s ‘capacity for control’ (Benson, 2013) I hoped to engage them more in the learning process. This was a strategy to help my learners maintain motivation, not just over the course but in language learning generally as a long-term endeavour. One way I felt I could foster autonomy was by encouraging reflection, and the most obvious way to do this seemed to be self-assessment.


In education, self-report has been shown by Hattie (2008) as “one of the greatest influences on student achievement” (p. 31). In this study, Hattie synthesized 800 meta-analyses, effectively reviewing thousands of studies relating to student achievement in order to identify the major contributors. Self-report grades were found to have the highest effect size of all the 138 other impact factors identified.

Exploratory Practice

The data I present come from on-going Exploratory Practice (Allwright, 2003; Allwright & Hanks, 2009) inquiry on using self-assessment, see Pinner (2015).


Allwright, D. (2003). Exploratory practice: Rethinking practitioner research in language teaching. Language Teaching Research, 7(2), 113-141.

Allwright, D., & Hanks, J. (2009). The developing language learner: An introduction to exploratory practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Benson, P. (2013). Teaching and researching: Autonomy in language learning. London: Routledge.

Deci, E. L., Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (1997). Self-determined teaching: Opportunities and obstacles. In J. L. Bess (Ed.), Teaching well and liking it: Motivating faculty to teach effectively (pp. 57-71). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Dörnyei, Z., MacIntyre, P., & Henry, A. (Eds.). (2015). Motivational dynamics in language learning. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2011). Teaching and researching motivation (Second ed.). Harlow: Longman Pearson.

Ellis, N. C., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (Eds.). (2009). Language as a complex adaptive system. Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning : a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Kramsch, C. (2011). Why is everyone so excited about complexity theory in applied linguistics? Melanges CRAPEL, 2(33), 9 – 24.

Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2008). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Menezes, V. (2013). Chaos and the complexity of second language acquisition. In P. Benson & L. Cooker (Eds.), The Applied Linguistic Individual (pp. 59 – 74). Bristol: Equinox.

Pinner, R. S. (2015). Trouble in paradise: Self-assessment and the Tao. Language Teaching Research, 1-15. doi: 10.1177/1362168814562015

Ushioda, E. (2007). Motivation, autonomy, and socio-cultural theory. In P. Benson (Ed.), Learner Autonomy 8 (pp. 5-24). Dublin: Authentik.

Ushioda, E. (2011a). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2011b). Why autonomy? Insights from motivation theory and research. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 5(2), 221-232. doi: 10.1080/17501229.2011.577536

Ushioda, E., & Dörnyei, Z. (2009). Motivation, language identities and the L2 self: A theoretical overview. In Z. Dörnyei & E. Ushioda (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 1-8). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Authenticity Poster, CAES Faces of English, Hong Kong

The Social and Individual Flow of Authenticity

Authenticity in the language classroom is approached from a social and existential perspective. In this poster I attempt to reconceptualise authenticity as a dynamic component of language as a complex system, which interacts with motivation, autonomy and self at multiple levels. I propose that authenticity be reconceptualised as a continuum, incorporating contextual and social dimensions. This represents an attempt to shift the focus of authenticity away from a culturally embedded definition to a more dynamic model which focuses on relevance to learners. The authenticity continuum features a stronger emphasis on society, self and identity, thereby attempting to empower learners and strengthen the link between authenticity and motivation.

Here is my poster from the CAES Faces Of English conference in Hong Kong

The Social and Individual Flow of Authenticity
The Social and Individual Flow of Authenticity

I appreciate all of your comments and questions at the poster presentation time between 1-2 on Friday 12th of June. Please see previous posts such as this one and this paper for more information about the Authenticity Continuum.


JALT CALL 2015 Conference – Session Summary

This is the session summary/repository for my two talks at the Japan Association of Language Teachers Computer Aided Language Learning Special Interest Group conference at Kyushu Sangyo University June 5-7 2015. My supervisor Ema Ushioda is giving the Keynote Speech, and the conference theme is Language Learning Technologies & Learner Autonomy. Looks set to be a great conference!

Here is the link to the conference home-page.

I will upload a review and further resources after the weekend. Below are the resources for my session.

Session One: Learner Development SIG Forum

Transportable Identities and Social Networks: a reflection on the pros and cons of out-of-class communication

PDFLogo Session handout

Accept or Decline? Some teachers encourage their students to befriend them on social networking sites (SNS), others are understandably wary. SNS can be a very effective way of connecting with students outside the classroom, engaging their real lives and identities. It can also create opportunities for authentic and motivating communication, not just between classmates but also a web of connections with other learners and speakers around the globe. It could also be an ethical minefield, a social ‘can of worms’ and a web of disaster. When people interact in different social contexts, they utilise Transportable Identities (see Ushioda, 2011 for explanation). In this presentation I will draw on both published research and personal experience to reflect on the place of these types of Web 2.0 technology and the inevitable consequences they pose.

Ushioda, E. (2011). Language learning motivation, self and identity: current theoretical perspectives. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 24(3), 199-210

Session Two: Paper Presentation

A Reflexive Narrative of one Teacher’s Professional Digital Literacy

PDFLogo Session handout

I have always combined my interest in technology with my work as a teacher, thereby developing my own digital literacy to the extent that it has been a very influential factor in my professional development and teaching beliefs. Whilst working in London in 2007, I began teaching IT skills classes to pre-masters students and at the same time I became the eLearning coordinator for a large chain of language schools with over 40 international locations. I was responsible for maintaining an online self-access centre and virtual learning environment with over 10,000 registered users. I created my own consultancy which offered technology training specifically for language teachers. Since moving to Japan in 2011, I have continued to utilise educational technologies in my work. My story may not be particularly unusual, and therefore in presenting a reflexive narrative of my experience I hope to open up a discussion with other practitioners who have similarly developed their digital literacy in order to improve their teaching and career prospects. I will also discuss my views on EFL teacher digital literacy in general, as well as my experience of student digital literacy. This presentation takes the form of a narrative inquiry (Barkhuizen, 2013), based on data collected through the process of reflexive practice (Edge, 2011). I encourage others to utilise narratives as a way of improving their practice.

Barkhuizen, G. (Ed.). (2013). Narrative Research in Applied Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Edge, J. (2011). The Reflexive Teacher Educator in TESOL: Roots and Wings. London: Routledge.

kyushu sangyo

What We Talk About When We Talk About Authenticity

First Published on Evidence Based EFL, Monday 9th February 2015

Richard Pinner


At the end of 2014, I was lucky enough to be invited on to the TEFLology Podcast to discuss authenticity.

Listen to it here

The reason I was asked is that I am doing a PhD in which I am (attempting) to look at the connection between authenticity and motivation. I am also currently working on a book about authenticity which will be available next year (all being well).

Authenticity in language teaching is a thorny issue, and especially in English language teaching because of the nature of English’s use worldwide as an international language, with many diverse varieties. What do you understand by the term authenticity? For most language teachers, the word authentic is part of our daily vocabulary. It is stamped onto the backs of textbooks, it is mentioned when describing a particularly motivating task, and it is often used alongside other words like motivation and interest. So, just what do we talk about when we talk about authenticity?

Shadow-boxing with the definition

In his now famous article, Michael Breen (1985) identified that language teachers are ‘continually concerned with four types of authenticity’, which he summarise as:

  1. Authenticity of the texts which we may use as input data for our learners.
  2. Authenticity of the learners’ own interpretations of such texts.
  3. Authenticity of tasks conducive to language learning.
  4. Authenticity of the actual social situation of the language classroom.

Following Breen, I created a visualisation of the domains of authenticity, mainly just because I like diagrams.


This is basically what Breen was talking about, and as one can see there is a lot of overlap and yet authenticity can relate to four very different aspects of the work we do in the language classroom. What is fundamentally important here, is that a teacher could bring in an example of a so-called ‘authentic’ text and use it in a way which is not authentic. For example, a teacher could bring an English language newspaper to class and tell her students read the text and underline every instance of the present perfect aspect or passive tense, then get them to copy each sentence out into their notebooks. Is this authentic? Although for many people the newspaper is a classic example of an authentic text, what is happening in this class is anything but authentic language learning.

Authentic materials are often defined as something not specifically designed for language learning, or “language where no concessions are made to foreign speakers” (Harmer, 2008, p. 273). In the Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics, the definition of authenticity is covered in a short entry, and boils down to materials “not originally developed for pedagogical purposes” (Richards & Schmidt, 2013, p. 43). Are there any problems with this definition? When I speak with other teachers, this is generally the definition they come up with, unless we are in the midst of a particularly philosophical discussion, which, don’t worry, I will come to shortly.

Henry Widdowson is one of the biggest names associated with the authenticity debate, and I had the honour of meeting him in Tokyo last year in November 2014. Widdowson made the famous distinction between materials which are authentic and materials which are genuine (1978). Basically, genuineness relates to an absolute property of the text, in other words realia or some product of the target language community like a train timetable or the aforementioned ‘classic’ newspaper. Authenticity, however, is relative to the way the learners engage with the material and their relationship to it. Hung and Victor Chen (2007, p. 149) have also discussed this, problematizing the act of taking something out of one context and bringing it into another (the classroom) expecting its function and authenticity to remain the same. They call this extrapolation techniques, which they criticise heavily for missing the wood for the trees. In other words, simply taking a newspaper out of an English speaking context quite often means you leave the real reason for interacting with it behind, which seriously impairs its authenticity. Another very big problem with this definition is that it seems to advocate the dreaded ‘native speaker’ idea, which as we all know is an emotive argument that has been discussed widely in recent years, particularly with the rise of English as a Lingua Franca and Global English.  When Widdowson made his arguments it was during the rise of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), and as part of this methodology there was an explosion in the debate around authenticity. In particular, people writing about authenticity wanted to distance the concept from the evil ‘native speaker’ definition. But what about learning aims? What about the student’s needs? How was the debate made relevant to the actual practice of teaching?

In his famous and fascinating paper, Suresh Canagarajah (1993) discusses the way students in Sri Lanka were not only ambiguous towards, but at times detached from the content of their prescribed textbooks, based on American Kernel Lessons. The students had trouble connecting the reality presented in the textbooks with their own reality, which was markedly different to say the least. Canagarajah notes that some students’ textbooks contained vulgar doodles, which he thought could perhaps have been “aimed at insulting the English instructors, or the publishers of the textbook, or the U.S. characters represented” (1993, p. 614). This connects strongly with What  Leo van Lier (1996) calls authentication; the idea that learners have to make the materials authentic by engaging with it in some way on an individual level. Van Lier’s reasoning is that something can’t be authentic for everyone at the same time, but the important thing is to try and get that balance.

As I think this article has already shown, the concept of authenticity is not easy to define. Alex Gilmore, in his State-of-the-Art paper identified as many as eight inter-related definitions, which were:

  1. the language produced by native speakers for native speakers in a particular language community
  2. the language produced by a real speaker/writer for a real audience, conveying a real message (as in, not contrived but having a genuine purpose, following Morrow, 1977)
  • the qualities bestowed on a text by the receiver, in that it is not seen as something already in a text itself, but is how the reader/listener perceives it)
  1. the interaction between students and teachers and is a “personal process of engagement” (van Lier, 1996, p. 128)
  2. the types of task chosen
  3. the social situation of the classroom
  • authenticity as it relates to assessment and the Target Language Use Domain (Bachman & Palmer, 1996)
  • culture, and the ability to behave or think like a target language group in order to be validated by them

Adapted from Gilmore (2007, p. 98)


In order to simplify these definitions I have developed a diagram to show how they overlap and contradict each other. I will use this diagram later as the basis for a continuum of authenticity in language learning.


Another way of thinking about authenticity is from a wider perspective, something that encompasses not only the materials being used and the tasks set to engage with them, but also the people in the classroom and the social context of the target language. To better illustrate this, I proposed that authenticity be seen as something like a continuum, with both social and contextual axes (Pinner, 2014b).

authenticity continuum

The vertical axis represents relevance to the user of the language or the individual, which in most cases will be the learner although it could also be the teacher when selecting materials. The horizontal lines represent the context in which the language is used. Using this continuum, materials, tasks and language in use can be evaluated according to relevance and context without the danger of relying on a pre-defined notion of culture or falling back into “extrapolation approaches”.

As you can see, although the word Authenticity is used all the time in staff rooms and to sell textbooks, if we actually drill down into it we get into very boggy ground.

Dogme ELT and Authenticity (and motivation)

Most readers will probably be familiar with the idea of Dogme ELT, which basically tries to get away from “the prevailing culture of mass-produced, shrink-wrapped lessons, delivered in an anodyne in-flight magazine style” (Meddings & Thornbury, 2003). This movement in ELT has strong connotations for authentic language teaching and also provides a very real connection between authenticity and motivation.

In essence, the Dogme approach places a premium on conversational interaction among teacher and learners where communication is authentic and learner-driven rather than pedagogically contrived and controlled by the teacher. Choice of learning content and materials is thus shaped by students’ own preferred interests and agendas, and language development emerges through the scaffolded dialogic interactions among learners and the teacher. Relevant to our concerns here is the value Dogme places on students’ own voices and identities in these conversational interactions. Ushioda (2011, p. 205)


In essence, Ushioda is noting that Dogme is both authentic and potentially motivating because it places the emphasis on the learners as people.

If we take a moment to see where we are with the issue of authenticity, we will realise that the definition of authenticity, although a tangle of concepts and resistant to a single definition, what it seems to be pushing at is essentially something very practical. If something is going to be authentic, it needs to be relevant to the learners and it needs to be able to help them speak in real (as in not contrived) situations. In other words, when they step out of the classroom, what they did in the classroom should have prepared them to speak and understand the target language. In order to achieve this, what they do in the classroom has to be as authentic as possible, and by implication it needs to be engaging. Essentially, authentic materials should be motivating materials.

Authenticity is a good thing. It sounds like a good thing and by association, anything labelled as inauthentic must be bad. However, I think that the word authenticity is complicit with many of the problems in English language teaching. Authenticity is still too often defined in a way which, either directly or indirectly, infers the privilege of the native speaker (Pinner, 2014a, 2014b). However, if we can get away from that, authenticity can be a powerful concept to empower both learners and teachers, because authenticity connects the individual learner to the content used for learning. So, in summary ‘keep it real’.


Bachman, L. F., & Palmer, A. S. (1996). Language testing in practice: Designing and developing useful language tests (Vol. 1): oxford university press.

Breen, M. P. (1985). Authenticity in the Language Classroom. Applied Linguistics, 6(1), 60-70.

Canagarajah, A. S. (1993). Critical Ethnography of a Sri Lankan Classroom: Ambiguities in Student Opposition to Reproduction Through ESOL. TESOL quarterly, 27(4), 601-626. doi: 10.2307/3587398

Gilmore, A. (2007). Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning. Language Teaching, 40(02), 97-118. doi: 10.1017/S0261444807004144

Harmer, J. (2008). The practice of English language teaching (Fourth Edition ed.). London: Pearson/Longman.

Hung, D., & Victor Chen, D.-T. (2007). Context–process authenticity in learning: implications for identity enculturation and boundary crossing. Educational Technology Research and Development, 55(2), 147-167. doi: 10.1007/s11423-006-9008-3

Meddings, L., & Thornbury, S. (2003, Thursday 17 April 2003). Dogme still able to divide ELT.   Retrieved 4th February, 2015, from

Pinner, R. S. (2014a). The Authenticity Continuum: Empowering international voices. English Language Teacher Education and Development, 16(1), 9 – 17.

Pinner, R. S. (2014b). The authenticity continuum: Towards a definition incorporating international voices. English Today, 30(04), 22-27. doi: 10.1017/S0266078414000364

Richards, J. C., & Schmidt, R. W. (2013). Longman dictionary of language teaching and applied linguistics. Harlow: Routledge.

Ushioda, E. (2011). Language learning motivation, self and identity: current theoretical perspectives. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 24(3), 199-210. doi: 10.1080/09588221.2010.538701

van Lier, L. (1996). Interaction in the language curriculum: Awareness, autonomy and authenticity. London: Longman.

Widdowson, H. G. (1978). Teaching language as communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cite this article as: Richard Pinner, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Authenticity," in UniLiterate, May 15, 2015,

Teaching with Social Networks

Whether you find yourself addicted or at a loss when it comes to things like Facebook and twitter, more and more people are using social networks for personal and professional reasons. For example, LinkedIn has active discussions about language teaching and various professional groups of teachers and applied linguists. Many schools and institutions have Facebook pages which they use as an extension of the school’s social programme, and thousands of people stay up-to-date using information from twitter. These sites all have valuable applications for language teaching, not just in the ways described above, but as part of actual lessons as well. In this article I am going to discuss the reasons social networks can provide such rich and authentic language practise for students and explain ways to keep your own private life separate from your professional use of social media in class. I will also discuss some simple practical ideas which you could easily use in your own classroom.

Many teachers who use social networks in their personal lives may not know how they could be used for language teaching. If that is the case, what about those teachers who are not even comfortable using social networks in their personal lives, let alone in a professional context? In my work I have encountered many people who admitted they could see the value of social networks for connecting to other learners and speakers of the English. This is especially true for teachers in an EFL context where the students do not get many opportunities to interact with people outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, there are two major problems with social networks for language teaching. Firstly, many teachers may not wish to mix up their own personal lives with their professional lives (such as adding students as friends on Facebook) and secondly, teachers might feel uncomfortable about advocating for their students to make contact with strangers through a social network, especially if you teach younger age groups. A third complication could be that some teachers are unfamiliar with social networks even for personal use, and as such feel that they could not possibly recommend them to students.


These are all valid concerns. In order to avoid these problems it is important to start off with security in mind. The way social networks function is by having users enter personal information about themselves, which is then searchable by other users. All this personal information is stored in a database and much of the information provided is available for anyone to see and search. If users are not careful then it is possible to gain phone numbers, addresses, birth dates and even find out where people are going to be at a particular time. It is often possible to get all this data simply by looking at the information that comes up when you view someone’s profile. For this reason, I recommend you take one of the many quick privacy reports before even attempting to use social networks with your class. You can also view recommendations about how to improve your privacy settings there and improve your privacy rating. Once you are comfortable about your own online privacy you can turn to your students to ensure they do the same.

If you are planning to add your students as friends it is highly recommended that you make your profile as private as possible because your students and your friends will get mixed together and that could lead to issues. A possible solution is to have two accounts, or if you are uncomfortable having your students as ‘friends’ on Facebook then simply don’t accept their requests. You can still utilise social networks in your class without adding your students as friends.

Here are a few tips for teachers to remember when using social networks with your students.

  • Don’t get caught with your pants down. If you do have deeply personal content in your profile or on a site, request that it be removed or remove it yourself – this is good general practice. Alternatively, you could avoid getting into these situations in the first place, whichever is easier…
  • Test the sites are accessible from the students’ machines. If you plan a lesson involving the use of a site such as Facebook, always check that you can access the pages you intend to visit from the students’ machines, preferably using a student login otherwise your entire lesson could be ruined.
  • Keep the class together. You can create a group or page which is especially for your class, so you can keep members organised and together. If you create a group, you can also connect with students without having to add them as friends, thus ensuring privacy for you and for them. This is also how many institutions manage their students on social networks.

Each of these may require a little bit of work in terms of learning your way around whichever particular site or social network you have chosen to use, but the knowledge will help you maintain your professional image online.


For anyone unfamiliar with the term, netiquette is etiquette for the internet. Your students will hopefully have a good idea of what it means, but it never hurts to go through the list with them for good measure.


  • make contact with people you don’t know or have never had previous contact with unless there is a good reason.
  • accept connections with people who you don’t know or have never had previous contact with unless there is a good reason.
  • post offensive materials or comments which may offend other users or result in you being banned from the site


  • reply to other people’s public posts about topics which are of interest, even if you don’t know the person this is ok. For example, if you are fans of a celebrity who has a public fan page, or members of a particular group online, it is fine to chat and respond to people’s posts on these public areas because the nature of the discussion is open. This is not the same as sending a friend request to someone you don’t know.
  • check back on the site in your free time and see if someone has responded to your post.

The above rules of netiquette are by no means extensive, but if you go through them as a brainstorming activity with your students before attempting any of the following practical ideas I am sure you will compile a comprehensive list.

Some Practical Ideas

Below are a few lesson plan ideas which you may wish to use. They use a variety of different sites but hopefully the general ideas could be exploited in other ways for more variations.

Agony Aunt / Problem Page Lesson

This lesson works well if you have been learning about ’giving advice’ in class and you would like to give your students some authentic, meaningful interaction with other English speakers. Although you may need to screen the pages you use carefully, you could take your students to a site which allows people to write in with problems or ask for advice. First your students could create their own posts asking for advice (make sure they only write about something they are comfortable sharing with the class, such as the feeling that they are not learning fast enough or have no one to practice with. If they can’t think of anything they could write it on behalf of an imaginary friend). After that they should follow the thread and also try to reply to some other people who are having a problem which they think they can help with. Although it may sound risky, I have done this lesson a few times with mature classes and students always get a lot out of it. If you explain that the class will be sharing the posts then people generally do not post up anything too personal or that they are uncomfortable sharing, and my students are always respectful of other people. The real advantage of this lesson is that it goes beyond authenticity and is actual real world use of the target language. This really gives such a class the edge over any contrived language practice lessons. A lot of rich, real language also comes out of these lessons, which students can ask about and share in class later. This project can span several classes and provide a great deal of rich authentic language interaction.

Facebook Group

There are lots of groups on Facebook and other social networks which are specifically for language learning. For example, the BBC has a learning English Facebook page which allows wall comments and photos. This is a great place to get your students commenting on things and replying to posts. They could ask questions about something specific on the wall or post a link to something they found useful. Although this might not take a whole lesson, it could be treated as a homework or used as a study suggestion. Alternatively, you could have students go and post something on the wall and search other posts for something interesting to share with the class. The Facebook page is also a great way to run services such as word of the day and to promote school excursions, or to run study-buddy pairing.

Twitter Contest

If your class enjoys a bit of competition, why not ask students to create a new twitter account and to see who has the most followers after a week, who can manage the highest number of tweets in a week, and who can manage to get a famous person to follow them. There could be a running commentary of the scores going on over the course of the week and the final lesson where the winners are announced should be quite exciting. Twitter is also a great media for the consequences game, where students contribute blindly to a story and read the final result at the end.

These are just a few ideas but as you can see, there is no need for privacy to be invaded or personal space encroached on just because you are using social networks with students. The key is to try a few of these things out yourself (perhaps in a language you are learning yourself) and then get the students to have a go.

Despite the precautions needed to ensure privacy for yourself and your class, there really is a lot of scope for using social networks as part of a class. In addition, the benefits for students in terms of meeting other people to practise with and retain contact after the course is finished make using social networks a very powerful tool at the language teacher’s disposal.

 originally published in  Modern English teacher, 20(3), 37-39. 2011.

Self-Assessment and The Tao

Happy New Year for 2015!

It was a nice surprise to see that my own article had appeared on the RSS feed from Language Teaching Research as the advance online access is now available! I have had this RSS feed on my blog for several years and now finally I have a paper in this excellent journal, which is ranked 40 out of 169 journals in Language and Linguistics.

Seeing this made me take a snapshot and draw a smiley face (using a mouse hence very crudely) which I now wanted to share with everyone!

An auspicious observation to start 2015
An auspicious observation to start 2015

Here is a link to the article, which outlines my use of Self-Assessment to increase autonomy and motivation. The paper is practitioner research, using narrative inquiry and exploratory practice.

I would also like to share another article which was written by my good friend and colleague Robert Lowe which looks at the Shadow Education industry of Japan, specifically Juku or Cram Schools and their impact on ELT. The article is really interesting and I agree with his call for more research in this area. Here is the link.

39.1 TLT

Continuing the spirit of sharing, I would also like to note that the fantastic TEFLology Podcast has received a favourable review on Russell Mayne’s excellent Evidence-based EFL blog.

So, good news all round and here’s to a productive and insightful 2015!

The Authenticity Continuum: English Today

English Today (2014) 30(4).
English Today (2014) 30(4).

My article in English Today about The Authenticity Continuum is now available from Cambridge Journals

Why authenticity should be represented as a continuum in the EFL classroom

The Authenticity Continuum
The Authenticity Continuum
The authenticity continuum: Towards a definition incorporating international voices