Monday 2 December 2019

What is the role of automated writing assessment in ELT?

Whenever I share a link to some form of tool that helps students or teachers to evaluate writing skills, it is inevitable that within a few hours I'll get a comment from somebody saying "I typed in xxxx error and [enter whatever tool you wish here] didn't spot it or correct it." Usually, the sentence with the error in is complete gibberish and one that a teacher would instantly see as such but one which can sometimes fool computer-based assessment software for exactly that reason. Gibberish can be very difficult to correct.

Having said that though we all know from spelling and grammar checking that all digital tools for the assessment and correction of writing still lack the judgement and expertise of experienced writing teacher and most will always miss something or spot something that turns out not to be an error. I have, however, found the same to be true of human markers. Especially when faced with piles of essay assignments to mark after a long day in the classroom, people make mistakes too. Interestingly, The Educational Testing Service in New Jersey has been working on an e-Rater system to automate admission test scoring.  They have concluded that a human rating combined with an automatic rating is more reliable than two human raters since humans tend to diverge in their judgements.

So the question is: If these tools are fallible can they still be pedagogically useful?

For me, the answer would be yes. What this means though is that we need to teach our students to use these tools in combination with and to develop their own powers of judgement to become more independent learners. Let's be clear that doesn't just mean independent from the teacher but also free from the dependence on writing support tools.

Whenever I work with any kind of writing support tools I'm reminded of an episode of the sitcom Friends in which the character Joey needs to write a formal letter and discovers that using a digital thesaurus can make the words he uses sound more intelligent.

What this highlights is that teachers and students need to work with these tools with a clear understanding of their limitations and a need to develop and use their own judgement when deciding whether to take the advice of the program.
Personally, I think this makes for a great classroom activity. If you can get a text with a variety of mistakes and different feedback suggestions from the online tool that students want to use, then you can get the students to evaluate the feedback and try to decide how accurate and useful they think it is. This is a great way to get students thinking more critically about language and encouraging them to reflect on their own writing. Once they are familiar with the tool, students should write their own essays and use the tool again to get feedback on their draft.

As time progresses though I'm sure these various writing support tools will continue to develop and evolve into better versions of themselves. Through the use of AI and machine learning, computers are becoming much better at understanding context and its connection to the use of language. This is particularly true when the computer has a clear framework understanding of what the student needs to achieve.
This tool gives students clear guidelines and rubric for what they need to write and then measures their input against those criteria. This narrows down the risk of error and enables the program to give very detailed feedback on the various criteria the assignment is being marked against. The program then checks:
  • for a question at the beginning of the introduction
  • thesis and topic sentence strength to help students strengthen their claims
  • the count of citations in body paragraphs to encourage students to use evidence to support their arguments
  • thesis reformulation in the conclusion to promote paraphrasing as contextualized skill
  • literary and film analysis vocabulary scores to encourage students to increase the active range of their vocabulary
The other great strength of these tools have over teachers of course is time. A digital platform like or can handle tens of thousands of texts each minute and students can keep coming back to them with written work every hour if they need to, whereas teacher-marking-time is expensive and very definitely finite and I would  be surprised if on average a teacher marks more than one or two pieces of written work from each student in a week.

With demands on teacher time growing and the capabilities of automated writing support improving all the time, I feel these tools can deliver an increasingly important contribution to the development of our students writing skills.

You can find links to many more resources like this and activities for the digital classroom in my ebooks at:

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Nik Peachey

Monday 25 November 2019

Setting students speaking tasks for homework with Extempore

More than any other skill, students and employers tend to value the ability to speak English most, and yet speaking seems to be one of the more difficult skills for teachers to develop and refine in the classroom.

There are many reasons for this including class size, the amount of noise created by speaking activities in the classroom and the need for a more personalised learning approach which deals with the individual needs of the student. Having the ability to listen to and deal with the needs of each student in a class of only ten or twenty can put huge demand on the teachers during classroom speaking activities, but with Extempore, there seems to be a solution to that problem.

Extempore enables teachers to create and set speaking activities for students as homework. Using the extempore LMS and app, teachers can create speaking activities for students that they can do at home using their mobile phone or computer. They can record their homework using either voice or video, which is then pushed to the teacher through the LMS. Teachers can then listen to each individual students and record personalised feedback for them using audio, video or text.

This process really enhances the teacher's ability to listen carefully to each student and respond to them in on a very engaging and personalised level.

Extempore makes it very easy to create tasks. Once you register on Extempore you just create a class and then start adding tasks and assignments. When you create these tasks you can set a due date for the task and decide whether it is a group task or an individual task. When using individual tasks, only the teacher can see and respond to the task, whereas group tasks will enable multiple students to interact with each other.

You can then decide whether you want to enable students to submit audio or video. Audio will be easier for students to submit, but using video can also enable you to work on some of the visual aspects of communication and help students to get used to communicating through video online (a very useful 21st-century skill).

You also have the option of showing students what the assessment criteria will be for their assignment and set a limit to how many times students can review their recording before submitting it.
Once all this has been done, you just need to add some questions or tasks to get students talking.

There are lots of different types of assignments you can set for your students.
  • You can use the assignments as part of a learner diary and get students eating and reflecting on their learning goals after each class. (You can find out more about Learning Diaries in an article I wrote for the Teaching English website.)
  • You can send students texts or short stories to read in a dramatic and expressive way.
  • You can get students to record themselves reading a favourite poem.
  • You can get the students to interact and share opinions on controversial issues.
  • You can get students to create a collaborative story by sending them an introductory sentence and asking each to add a few lines to it.
  • You can get students to record project reports or research assignments.
  • You can control time to review and respond, so you can use it for high stakes exams and to set assessment tests.
Once you have created your assignment you can share a link with students and they'll be able to register with extempore, see their assignments and download the free Extempore app for their mobile device.

Once they have completed their assignment you can find them in the 'Grading' section of the LMS. You can then listen and respond to their assignments. All scores are then added to the Gradebook. This also enables you to build up a digital portfolio of each students' work which you can reflect on to track and evaluate their progress over a longer time span. To find out more about how this works check out the demo videos.

Extempore looks like a really useful application for developing students' speaking and one that will make your life as a teacher a little easier and make your feedback on students' speaking abilities more impactful.

Extempore isn't a free service, although there is a free 30-day trial which is well worth trying.

Payment for the service can either be charged to the individual students (which may be useful if you have private clients who want to develop their speaking skills) or schools can buy sets of licenses for their students. the cost is really very reasonable especially given that each license is for a year rather than a month.

You can find links to many more resources like this and activities for the digital classroom in my ebooks at:

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Nik Peachey

Friday 8 November 2019

Video-based Lesson Plans for ELT and ESL Classroom

I've just had the great pleasure of looking around the Fluentize website and I have to say that I'm really impressed.

Fluentize is a collection of really high quality lesson plans and materials based around authentic online videos.
The lesson plans are very detailed and in most there is enough materials for around a 2 hour lesson, although it would also be easy to select a few of the activities and leave some of the others.

The lesson plans are really well structured with listening, vocabulary, writing, speaking and grammar focus activities that all look well thought out and appropriate for the level.

Fluentize offers plans for Level A2 to C1. At present it looks like the bulk of the material is around the B1 and B2 levels, which is the point at which it's great to start encouraging students to use authentic materials.
The videos have been really well chosen. They are high quality, short and are based on interesting and engaging content.

I really enjoyed one based around Will Smith having a date with a robot and another showing an interaction with a Google Assistant.
All the plans also have teachers' notes guides, so these are pretty much no prep ready to go materials.

Fluentize isn't a free site, although there are some free sample plans which you should try out:

If you like the plans and want to get more then you can buy individual plans for as little as $2.99 or you can buy packs of 10 plans and get a 17% discount. You can also take advantage of their monthly or quarterly subscriptions for a better value.

The cheapest way to get the Fluentize plans is to sign up for a subscription. If you think other teachers in your school will like them then it may be worth getting your school to subscribe as school subscriptions are very reasonable and white labelling is also a possibility.

These plans are really great and very professionally produced. They are ideal for anyone working with teenagers and adults. I hope you and your students enjoy Fluentize.

You can find links to many more resources like this and activities for the digital classroom in my ebooks at:

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Nik Peachey

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Using Computer Games to Improve Students' English

I’ve had a long interest in the use of computer games for English language teaching and have looked at lots of games over the years that have huge potential for language learning, from platforms like Second Life and Minecraft to more structured educational games like PowerUp and Tyto, so when I spotted Real English for Gamers, a site that sets out to help students use a variety of multi-player games to improve their English, I was really fascinated.

What it’s about
Real English for Gamers isn’t a game but it is at the most basic level, a YouTube channel full of videos of game in game interaction between players that have been turned into learning resources.

The creators of the channel have taken clips of world famous gamers playing the games, transcribed them, analysed the vocabulary and interaction between the players and turned them into instructional videos that help students to learn English with the aim of enabling them to play their favourite games in English.

This is a great idea in many ways as so many students find playing video games so engaging and to combine this enthusiasm for the games with the chance to interact with other speakers of English can really be a boost for their motivation.

How to use it
The Real English for Gamers YouTube channel has around 130 videos at time of writing and these are mostly clips from multiplayer games. Their website helps to structure this collection of videos and make it more accessible. Some of the best places to start are:
  • The Basics: This section has a collection of useful language for gamers that they can use whilst playing the games.  This includes a section on questions they can ask their gaming partner during the game, common game related vocabulary and tips for how to avoid misunderstandings during the game.
  • Practice Listening: This section helps students to deal with fast authentic speech by using short video clips with video script annotation.
  • The Gamers: This section has information about each of the celebrity gamers featured in the video clips.
  • The Games: This section has information about each of the games featured in the clips.

The site is being regularly updated and apart form watching and listening to the videos, students can also leave comments and chat with other users using the comments feature in the YouTube channel.

Real English for Gamers is an interesting concept and a great resource to recommend to students who are interested in games or as a source of learning material for homework or the classroom. It is of course a good idea to select videos that you feel are age and culturally appropriate for your students. Due to the nature of the content, some games will have language related to violence in them and others may have some bad language, so you’ll need to decide whether your students are mature enough to deal with these elements.

For students who are already keen on games this could be a tool to help them to make the shift to playing them in English and for students who are interested in games the content could form the basis of some motivating lessons that exploit authentic materials.

I hope you enjoy Real English for Gamers and that your students find it useful.
You can find links to many more tools like this and activities for the digital classroom in my ebooks at:

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Nik Peachey

Monday 30 September 2019

Redacto for Intensive Listening Practice

One of my first experiences of computer assisted language learning back in the mid 90s was of text reconstruction programmes.

My students would go to the computer room and spend ages trying to reconstruct a text they had studied, gradually typing in the missing words until the text was complete.
I always thought this was great practice for them and could see that they really enjoyed it, so it’s great to see Redacto has combined these text reconstruction activities with authentic audio to build a really useful suite of learning materials.

How it Works

The site has a range of different subjects that students can choose from.
Once they have selected the topic they have a range of article to choose from. These are graded according to the CEFR scale.

Once they select an article students can click on the play button to start listening.
They then type any of the words they hear into the field at the bottom. The words will then appear in the text.

It’s not necessary to type the words in the order they appear in the text and, for example, if students type in the word ‘and’ this word will appear anywhere in the text where it occurs, so these aren’t just dictation exercises.

If the student is using Google Chrome (recommended), and they have a microphone connected to their computer, they can click on the mic icon and say the word(s), these will then appear in the text search box.
Students can listen again as many times as they wish and can even slow the audio down if it helps them to listen for difficult words. In addition, they can click on the gapped word to get a hint, or to see the entire word.

All the time the students are working their score and the time taken is also being collected.

Once they have completed the transcript, there are follow up activities to consolidate the language they have listened to. There are also further vocabulary flash cards to revise.

Redacto also offers premium tools for schools, including a results tracker, and  a classroom mode where teachers can select activities for students and send them a pin. The students then log in using the pin and a name and they have a simple multiple choice clicker so that they can respond to exercises, in a style similar to Kahoot! These are mainly based on much shorter audio clips and students have to count the number of words or listen to see which words are included in the text.

Redacto looks like a great free tool for students who want to develop their listening skills and learn from authentic materials.

You can find links to many more tools like this and activities for the digital classroom in my ebooks at:

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Nik Peachey

Using QR Codes to Deliver more Effective Feedback

We all (I hope) know how important feedback is to students as part of their learning. Often though the people who understand this least are the students themselves and they can find it easy to overlook or disregard feedback as soon as they have seen their grade.

Qwiqr seems like a very good solution to that problem and is a great way to get students to take notice and follow up on feedback.

How it works
Qwiqr uses QR codes that you can attach to homework that provide digital feedback for students that they can access through their phone.

This feedback can be written, audio recorded or can come in the form of a web link or video.  Students just scan the code with their phone and they’ll instantly be able to access your feedback. This is an ideal system for language learning as the audio element enables you to provide models of pronunciation, target language and new vocabulary that students can listen to repeatedly.

Using Qwiqr you can even make feedback an interactive process and students can record a reply to your message and send it back to you.

Qwiqr is very safe for students, as only someone with the QR code can access the recordings.

To create your Qwiqr  QR codes you simply print and select the number of QR code stickers you want and then just print them off (using sticky paper will work best).
Then when you want to give some feedback, you scan the code with any scanner and then record and save your message. This will store the message on the Qwiqr server. Then you just give students the same QR code and they can scan it and access their feedback and review it at any time.

Qwiqr doesn’t require that students download a specific app and work in the browser with any QR code scanner.

This is a really great way to get your students really engaging with their feedback and to create a dialogue around their work so that they can check their understanding of anything they got wrong or still need to know.

On the free account you can send audio, image, text or links as feedback and the feedback stays on the server for up to 3 months.

If you like it and find it works with your students you can upgrade to premium for just £1.50 a month (that’s about $2) and this will enable you to send video feedback and your students will be able to reply and your feedback will be editable, reusable and on the server forever.

Personally, I think this is a great way to get students to really take notice and engage with their feedback. If you have a collection of code stickers ready in the classroom you could also be recording individual feedback for students while you monitor their speaking activities or you could record an overall summary for the end of the lesson that all students could scan.

Qwiqr isn’t limited to being used only for feedback though. These are some other suggestions.
  • Record video of pupils talking about their work and put the QR next to the work on display boards.
  • Record spoken conversations that students can listen to at home.
  • Create treasure hunts using images and videos that give clues for students to follow.
  • Create ‘praise cards’ and let students take them home to play for parents
This is a really great tool and I hope you enjoy it and can use it with your students.

You can find links to many more tools like this and activities for the digital classroom in my ebooks at:

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Nik Peachey

Wednesday 25 September 2019

EDIA Papyrus - A Tool for Materials Writers and Publishers

As a materials writer, editor and publisher, I’m constantly looking for tools that will save time, increase quality, and make my life easier. One of the best of these I’ve found recently is EDIA Papyrus.

How it works
EDIA Papyrus is a very simple to use tool that analyses the level of any text I write against a target level and shows me how close to my target level the text is.

More than that, it can show me which words will be difficult for the level and if I click on the words it will offer me some substitute words and show me what level those words are.

The tool is based around analysing text in relation to the CEFR, so it’s great for TESOL and TEFL teachers who want to create their own materials and professional materials writers, but it can also cross reference to a range of other measures, so almost anyone who writes educational text should find this useful.

It is possible to write directly into the EDIA Papyrus interface, but I tend to copy paste between my own documents and EDIA Papyrus as at present there is no way for free users to save their documents there.

EDIA Papyrus is a free tool for any individual teacher, but there is an API for any publisher or content production company. This is really useful if you use a number of writers and you want to help support them and standardise the level of their content across a product.

The API can plug into a number of different tools such as MS Word or Google Docs and this enables writers to check the level and change vocabulary and sentence length as they type rather than having to go to the EDIA Papyrus site to do it.

The API is based around a per-text costing and if you are interested in finding out more about the API it’s best to contact: walter [at]

I have to say, I’m becoming a regular user these days, as it is a quick way to check the level of a complete text and get a really good understanding of how I need to change it.

I hope you find it useful too.

You can find links to many more tools like this and activities for the digital classroom in my ebooks at:

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Nik Peachey

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Hypersay - For Creating Engaging Training and Conferencing Presentations

Hypersay may well be my new favourite tools for going paperless in the classroom and ensuring conference presentations go smoothly.

For a number of years, I’ve struggled with a mixture of QR codes, Backchannels and shortened links added to my presentation slides, but with Hypersay those days may be over.

How it works
Hypersay is a great tool for making presentations both interactive, multimedia and digital.
All you have to do is upload your existing presentations (PDF, PPT or Google Slides) to the platform and then you can start to add interactions such as questions, polls and surveys to each slide as well as links to websites and embedded videos.
Drag interactions onto different slides

Once your presentation is ready, you just click a button to 'Go Live' and your audience can log in to the presentation and follow it on their device.
This gives them all the links to materials and references as well as tasks to do and questions to answer as you move through your presentation. In addition to this, they can feed questions in through their device that you can answer at the end of your session, they can give you feedback and they take notes about each slide that they can then save along with the presentation for when they need to revise or review the lesson.
Students' Mobile Interface
In addition to this, you get a full report containing a range of engagement analytics about the presentation.

This includes the feedback and questions your students left for you as well as their answer to your questions and information about any notes they made or links they clicked on from your slides.
This is a really great tool to keep students engaged on their devices and give you some real data about the impact of your teaching.

It’s really easy to use, syncs your slides with your students’ device and you don’t have to convert your materials to make them compatible.

For students, it can help to make the lessons more engaging and enable them to streamline their note-taking and ensure that they have a voice and their questions aren’t lost during the lesson.

There is a free version of Hypersay which you can use with up to 20 students.
If you have a larger class or a conference size audience you can pay a one-off fee (about $4) to upgrade your presentation for the larger audience size (up to 200 people). There are also plans for conferences and individual monthly plans. You can check out the prices at:

I’m seriously trying to get the courage to try this out at my next conference plenary in Turkey at the end of the week, so keep your fingers crossed for me.

I hope you find Hypersay useful with for your teaching and training work too.

You can find links to many more tools like this and activities for the digital classroom in my ebooks at:

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Nik Peachey

Tuesday 17 September 2019

The Virtual Writing Tutor - A Suite of Tools for Developing Students’ Writing

For tech-savvy students there are many ways to get their grammar checked, from online grammar checkers to the inbuilt grammar checks that they can find in MS Word or Apple’s Pages, so in order for another grammar checker to be useful, it needs to do more than just check grammar, and that’s what the Virtual Writing Tutor offers.

The Virtual Writing Tutor is more than a simple grammar checker, it is a suite of tools and activities that you can use with your students to help them improve their writing.
  • On the home page, there is a standard field where students can enter their text and get the usual kinds of feedback and analysis, such as word counts, vocabulary checks and punctuation checks.

  • When the students click on grammar check, they get a list of their errors with explanations. They can also get the explanations translated if they are lower levels.
  • Another nice feature is that they can actually hear their text spoken using text to speech and even download the audio file, so this is useful for helping to support pronunciation skills too.

Across the navigation menu at the top of the site, there are also some interesting features.

The Games section has an error correction game that shows students a number of random sentences with errors that they have to correct. Once they have corrected the sentence they click on ‘Help’ and this will give them some feedback on whether they have corrected the sentence.
  • There is also a ‘My error game’ which uses errors from the student’s own texts in the game, so if students are registered users and regularly using the site it also becomes a great way to review and try to eradicate regular errors.

Another interesting feature is the IELTS section. In this section, students can practice answering IELTS writing test questions. These tests include a timer so that students are working under test type conditions and when they have finished, they can get some feedback on their answer and an estimated band score.
  • The feedback is informative and tells the students the kinds of words and structure the examiner would be looking for. There is also some grammar feedback on the text the students entered.

The Pen Pals section of the site also looks really interesting. Using this, teachers are able to set up and manage their class and using some example templates to manage a range of tasks. The VWT then handles giving the students feedback, correction, and a score, so this is a huge time saver for teachers who want to do this kind of writing exchange.

Last but not least, there is a section of the site for developing Hypertext Narrative. These are the kinds of texts where students read about a situation and then have choices. Their choices can guide their path through the narrative which can have a number of different final outcomes.

  • Using this part of the site teacher or students can easily construct their own hypertext narratives using simple editing tool. You can also access a number of texts that have already been written, so this might be a good place to go to introduce your students to the concept or to find some content for your lessons.

As with most grammar checkers, The Virtual Writing Tutor looks like it’s still a work in process and the analysis of writing isn’t always going to be perfect, but this looks like a great suite of tools to try out and to keep an eye as there are obviously lots of good ideas here.

You can find links to many more tools like this and activities for the digital classroom in my ebooks at:

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Nik Peachey

Wednesday 7 August 2019

TeachVid for Developing Listening Skills

I've always been a huge fan of using video for language development, so I was really delighted when I was sent a link to TeachVid and asked to have a look at it.
TeachVid is a really great resource for developing listening skills multiple languages, not just English. The learning is based around short video clips but there are a whole range of different activity types that students can select.

The activities use a parallel text technique that combines the use of L1 subtitles with L2 transcription so that students can understand the content they are listening to even if they are quite low level learners.
At the most basic level students can watch and listen to the videos with both languages visible, but if they click on 'Activities' this opens a whole range of choices for different ways students can challenge themselves to reconstruct the text.
When the students are in activity mode they watch chunks of the video and then reconstruct the text. This could be line by line with the words jumbled up or they may have all the letters and have to find the word boundaries. Once they complete a line the video advances.

All the time students are working with the activity their progress is being tracked.

There is also a great LMS feature for teachers called 'Classroom'. This allows you to set up assignments for your students and track their progress. You can select a video for an assignment and choose the types and sequence of activities you'd like your students to do. You can even set a due date for the assignment.

There are quite a few video resources already on the site, but if you can't find what you are looking for you can also create your own resources using TeachVid's resource creation tools, accessible via the 'My resources' tab on the resources page.
TeachVid is based on a freemium business model, so you can register for free as a teacher and create five resources for your students and track their progress. Students can also register independently for free and access any of the featured resources on the site. Registering for a paid account gives you access to many more features and is very reasonably priced. The best deal though is to register as a school. Prices will depend though on the number of student accounts you create.

I really recommend TeachVid as a language learning and development tool. I used it to try to improve my Spanish and found the activities really motivating and engaging. This is a great tool to get your students learning independently or in class.

You can find links to many more tools like this and activities for the digital classroom in my ebooks at:

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Nik Peachey