Comprehensible Input via Infographics

It’s hard to imagine a language classroom without text—as a culture, we place a ton of importance upon the ability to read and write. The integration of the four skills—reading, writing, listening, and speaking—is a key feature of successful language teaching. However, with all the emphasis we place on the written word, “it’s an indisputable fact that images are processed in the brain faster than words” (James, 2014). As such, when teachers are presenting new concepts or reviewing them with English learners, they are encouraged to bring in visuals, realia (objects from the real world), or film/video media to illustrate the concepts as well as talking and reading about the concepts.

Visual stimuli are a huge part of creating comprehensible input, a concept posed by Dr. Stephen Krashen in the 1980s to explain the role of input that is understandable to students for the most part, but slightly higher than their current level of mastery to promote further learning. A commonly-used abbreviation for this relationship is “i + 1.” In the input hypothesis, Dr. Krashen asserted that comprehensible input is not just helpful for, but absolutely necessary to, language acquisition.

Technology has enabled teachers to provide new, engaging ways to provide comprehensible input. Applications such as, wherein teachers can find videos for almost any topic, to PowerPoint, which allows teachers to outline information and add graphics, video, and animation, have added dimension to comprehensible input in classrooms. Another new way to synthesize concepts to provide comprehensible input to learners is via the use of infographics. Infographics have long been used by authors and educators to analyze or show relationships via maps, graphs, time lines, and so on. Now, with many different free online tools, infographics have a new look and many different options.

I recommend using infographics with future L2 teachers to help them synthesize key concepts or processes in second language acquisition or lesson planning, perhaps in place of the traditional research paper or lesson plan. They are also great summarizing alternatives to article reviews or reading responses. A colleague of mine has used them extensively in an L2 reading and writing class for future teachers, and her students came up with amazing products. I also appreciate using infographics with future teachers because they are an excellent way for teacher educators to “practice what we preach”—if we encourage teachers to creatively incorporate visuals for student understanding, then we should do the same for our own students!

Sample Infographic created at

Sample Infographic created at

So far, the tool that I’ve seen the most frequently is Piktochart. Educators new to infographic use will appreciate the free templates to get started, and the live chat window if they have questions about the program. There are also video tutorials and online articles about how to create them. The sample I included here was created with a Piktochart template.

Another site, Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, has many infographic examples and other tech tools geared specifically for teachers.

Finally, a site for different kinds of information visualization can be found at Creative Bloq, which lists 10 different tools for visual creation.

If you have other tools or uses for infographics, or if you’d like to share one you’ve created, please add to the comments! Happy visualizing!


James, S. (2014). 10 free tools for creating infographics. Retrieved from

Krashen, S. D. (1985). The input hypothesis: Issues and implications. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley Longman Ltd.

from TESOL Blog


Teaching Second Conditionals Through Absurd Sentences

The second conditional (e.g., If I were, I would…) often causes difficulties even for advanced English learners. This fun and interactive activity will help learners practice this structure.

The first part of the activity gives learners a chance to interact with each other by working on a meaningful grammatical task. The second part of the activity adds a humorous component to facilitate their learning (Garner, 2006; Gorham & Christophel, 1990; Wanzer, Frymier, & Irwin, 2009).


  • For group work: handout with if-clauses (see Appendix), small blank cards
  • For class work: PowerPoint slides (or cards) with if-clauses



Before class, prepare PowerPoint slides: one if-clause from the handout per slide. If you don’t use PowerPoint, prepare large cards (everyone in your class should be able to see the card from his or her seat): one if-clause per card.

Group Work

  1. Divide the class into small groups. Depending on the size of your class, the number of the groups can differ. The number of learners in one group should, ideally, range from 3 to 6.
  2. Give each group the handout with the list of if-clauses and a set of blank cards (the number of the cards corresponds with the number of the if-clauses on the handout).
  3. Ask learners to finish each if-clause and write only the end of the sentence on a blank card, for example: for the clause on the handout “If I were hungry…” learners can write on the card “…I would buy myself five hamburgers.” Encourage learners to be creative.

Class Work

  1. When learners are done with the sentences, ask them to shuffle the cards and put them facedown on the desk.
  2. If you are using PowerPoint slides, display one if-clause on the screen. If you are using large cards with if-clauses, place one card on the board so that everyone can see it and read the if-clause aloud. Alternatively, you can ask a student to read the clause aloud.
  3. Each group will have to pick the card from the top of their pile and read the end of the if-clause. For example, you read the clause that says: “If a cashier accidentally gave me too much change…” and learners will finish the sentence by reading the phrase on their card that might have been written for a different if-clause, for example “I would take my dog for a walk”. Picked at random, the clauses may not match and produce funny, bizarre, and even nonsensical sentences. But because the combinations are usually absurd and silly, the sentences should produce laughter from learners.


  1. You can make this activity more exciting for learners by assigning categories to the sentences (e.g., the most realistic, the most bizarre, the most nonsensical) and giving points to the winner of each category.
  2. You can also use this activity for practicing first conditionals. In this case, you will have to revise the if-clauses on the handout and your PowerPoint (or large cards). For example, “If a cashier accidentally gives me too much change…”, learners’ responses will start with “I will…”
  3. Similarly, the activity can be modified for practicing third conditionals, such as “If my friend had given me a Christmas gift…” In this case, you will have to modify the if-clauses on the handout to ensure their meanings would create plausible sentences with third conditionals.


Garner, R. L. (2006). Humor in pedagogy: How ha-ha can lead to aha! College Teaching, 54(1), 177–180.

Gorham, J., & Christophel, D. M. (1990). The relationship of teachers’ use of humor in the classroom to immediacy and student learning. Communication Education, 39(1), 46–62.

Wanzer, M. B., Frymier, A. B., & Irwin, B. (2009). An explanation of the relationship between teacher humor and student learning: Instructional humor processing theory. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Communication Association.


If-clauses (you can use these examples or create your own):

  • If I were hungry…
  • If a cashier accidentally gave me too much change…
  • If I had a dinner with the president of the United States…
  • If I knew how to speak the language of an animal…
  • If I found a wallet full of money in the street…
  • If I happened to be on a deserted island all by myself…
  • If my friend crashed my car…
  • If I were to fly to Antarctica…
  • If my first date with someone I like failed…
  • If I owned an airplane…
  • If I saw someone stealing from a store…
  • If I lost the ability to speak…
  • If I lived in Paris…
  • If my friend wrongly accused me in lying…

from TESOL Blog

All the News That’s Fit to Teach: Reviewing News Sites for ELLs

When I was an ESL volunteer with a community program, I thought using brief articles from magazines like Time or Newsweek for reading activities was a good idea. They seemed easy to read and had articles about interesting subjects, right? But in practice, I learned what I thought was easy to read was often riddled with confusing idioms, and the subjects I thought were interesting were confusingly new to my students.

Since then, many new websites geared toward teaching English through current events have appeared. I used many of these for activities and learned the pros and cons of them through trial and error. Here’s what I found for some of the most popular sites.

Voice Of America Learning English
One of the most popular American English news sites, Voice of America (VOA) offers stories, recordings, and videos about current events with simple yet informative language. Other than a breakout of some vocabulary words, though, it doesn’t offer many activities, so you’re on your own for the quizzes and homework. And even though it’s arranged into three levels, I found the lowest level challenging for intermediate-level students due to the stories’ use of rather specific terms that aren’t used in conversational English.

Breaking News English
With more than 2,000 free lessons and a Google search bar, it’s easy to find something that your students will like on this site. Each one comes with a short (two paragraphs at the highest level) summary of the news story that only focuses on the issue itself. Unfortunately, many of the activities it suggests are very similar vocabulary matching games, so much so that after a while they can become routine unless you do some personalized adaptations. Also, all of the spellings are in British English, so American teachers like me may have to check and change any dialect differences.

News in Levels
True to its name, this site offers three levels of news for each article. The articles range from simple enough for high-introduction-level students to the speed and word choices of a mainstream news article. Personally, I found levels one and two to be rather close, which made the transition to the advanced level-three articles abrupt. Each article also comes with a video and a short thought question about the story. To get any more exercises, though, you need to download a file, and that automatically gets you put on the company’s e-mail list.

English Club
This site is geared toward listening activities. Every Tuesday it adds a new article about a major news event and comes with a cloze writing activity, comprehension questions, and discussion questions. Unlike the other sites, this one seemed to be at only one level—an intermediate to low-advanced one—and its archive was difficult to search, which made it hard to find topics by subject.

In addition to these sites, I also used many that are meant for native-English-speaking students. These may take a little more work to adapt to ELL students’ needs. I’ll review some of these and give some tips that worked for me in my next column.

from TESOL Blog

Speaking More English Outside of Class:

If you teach English in an English-speaking country, how often have you asked your students to tell you who they practice their English with, only to discover that many of your students have virtually no English-speaking friends, and typically largely speak only their L1 outside of class? If this answer sounds dismally familiar, I want to tell you about an important resource that has helped a number of my students expand their personal network to include more English speakers. is a website that allows your students to find and connect in person with others who share their interests. Whether your students love to go hiking, write poetry, do yoga, go dancing, play soccer, make homemade Christmas decorations, or photograph sunsets, they can use the website to find a local group with members who get together regularly to pursue their joint passion.

Interested students can search the site for Meetup groups near their home or, if they are more adventuresome, they can choose to venture a little further afield. I teach at a community college located in the suburbs outside of New York City. Some students prefer to find a group close to where they live. Others have found that if they are willing to drive or take the train into Manhattan or Brooklyn, they can find an even larger variety of meet-up opportunities.

The homepage, showing the Japan Cultural Appreciation Meetup Group

The homepage, showing the Japan Cultural Appreciation Meetup Group has been a boon for my shyest students. One, a Peruvian chemical engineer who rarely spoke in class, was passionate about poetry. He wrote poetry in English and frequently brought it in to show me. I suggested that he see if he could find a poetry “meetup” so that he could connect with others interested in poetry. Sure enough, he searched on the Meetup website and found a poetry “meetup” that met regularly at a Starbucks in Manhattan. Off he went, armed with his laptop. As he later explained to his classmates, he and his fellow poets spent the first hour writing poetry in each other’s company, then devoted the remaining hour to reading their poems to each other.

Similarly, a student from Colombia lamented that she had no English-speaking friends and very few opportunities to speak English outside of class. I asked her what she liked to do in her free time, and she said she loved salsa. A week later, she came back to class, beaming. She had found a salsa dance group in Manhattan through Meetup. Texting back and forth to the organizer of the group had provided a lot of practice writing in English. At the dance session, she met people from around the globe who shared a passion for salsa and a common language—English.


The homepage, showing the London Pugs Meetup Group


The homepage, showing the Outdooraholics Super 18s Meetup group

I now make a point, right at the beginning of the semester, of demonstrating to my students how to search the Meetup website.  Although I don’t require my students to attend a meetup group, I do expect them—for homework—to at least explore the Meetup website and to see if they can find a group that appeals to them. And I have been pleased to see that more and more students are making the move from checking out the website to getting out there and meeting English speakers who share their passions.

How do you help your students get speaking practice outside of class? If you have used, please tell us about it in the comments section, below!

from TESOL Blog

Together We Are Better

Hello everyone!

TESOL has an interesting article on co-teaching that I wanted to share.

The article Together We Are Better 


  • a definition of co-teaching
  • what makes collaboration/co-teaching successful
  • models of co-teaching/collaboration
  • barriers and pitfalls

 Click on over to Together We Are Better  to view the full article.

Happy reading,

Happy Teaching!
from Fun To Teach ESL – Teaching English as a Second Language

Take a Classroom Break With GoNoodle

I recently had the opportunity to ask a group of colleagues what websites, apps, and software they used in the classroom, and a number of them recommended the website GoNoodle. Having never heard of it before, I decided to check it out for myself. For those of you teaching young learners, you will want to, too, as GoNoodle is full of short brain breaks that help kids release energy and focus.

GoNoodle’s homepage is simple yet appealing. The introductory video is very well done and clearly illustrates the role that activities like the ones on GoNoodle can play in the classroom. Signing up takes no time at all and, even better, it is free! If you like it and decide you need even more, you can always upgrade to GoNoodle Plus, but I always adopt a “wait and see” approach to these things.

Once you are registered, explore the site to learn about its various features. You will start by creating your classes and choosing a champ for each class. Rather than putting in each individual student, you are only asked how many students are in each class, which makes this a pretty quick process.

Choose a class to start looking through activities. There is a nice GoNoodle 101 introductory video under the Explore tab that explains the site to students and highlights some of the activities available. Under the Categories tab, you will find my favorites, guided dancing, free movement, stretching, sports and exercise, kinesthetic learning, coordination, and calming, which means there is something for just about every occasion. Do students need to be energized? Relaxed? Focused? Browse the videos to see what will work best and know that most of the videos are less than 5 minutes, so you can always squeeze them in when you need them.

When going through the process myself, I definitely noticed that the site targets young learners. This is evident in the design, but also in the choices that you, the educator, are given. For example, when creating classes, your options are pre-K through 8th. This is something I especially noticed because I teach adults and everything about GoNoodle told me it was not designed for my student population. Having said that, I thought the videos from Fresh Start Fitness, Think About It, and others seemed appropriate for middle school students and perhaps even older students who might not connect with the site initially because of its childlike design. You will know whether or not the site will work with your students, and, if you are not sure, you could always test it out.

Well, I barely just scratched the surface of what GoNoodle offers, but it definitely seems like something I would use if I taught younger students, so I would recommend checking it out. Even if you decide not to use GoNoodle in your classroom, maybe you have some coworkers or know some parents who might benefit from it, so pass it along.

What do you think about GoNoodle? Share your thoughts and similar sites by leaving a comment below. Personally, I am hoping there is something out there that targets adult learners.

from TESOL Blog

ELT: Teach to the Test!

Alright, so if you balked at the title, I admit that I’m not really going to suggest that you teach to the test. That can undermine your pedagogy and compromise your values. But in adult ed and other ESOL settings, we often find ourselves in a tricky predicament: to satisfy funders or bureaucratic stipulations (BS, for short), we have no choice but to use standardized tests to demonstrate our students’ progress.

And these tests, often, are, unfortunately, well, forlackofabetterword—alright I’ll just come out and say it—bad. No need to name names or acronyms, but the problem fits a common profile: We see our students progress drastically, and they feel that progress themselves, but when the results of these tests come in, that progress just isn’t reflected. It’s frustrating. It’s disheartening. In some cases it can be of great consequence to the future of the program.

So though I’m not going to tell you to teach to the test, if you’re stuck with a test that simply isn’t working, you’ve got to do something. I want to propose that we can teach toward the general direction of the test, teach testward, in a testerly direction, teach north by northtest.What I propose is that we can teach in a way that ensures alignment between testing and your course without contravening your teacherly ethics. I’ve employed this method myself, with excellent results, teacherly ethics entirely intact.

The idea isn’t all that complicated or secret. Plenty of teachers out there are surely doing it already.

Analyze the Test

Take a look at the test and determine the original intent. However bad the test may be, some serious experts spent a lot of time designing it to assess some skills that somebody deemed to be important. And they likely weren’t completely off-base when they did so. Run through the test and identify the major areas of focus, both in terms of language and content. What skills and strategies are being tested and how are they tested? If there’s a listening section, are students listening for details or main idea? Maybe both? Are the questions selected response or constructed response? Are they straightforward or do they demand some level of inference? How are their answers scored? Do grammar and mechanics count?

Compare With the Syllabus

Now that you’ve got a sense for the test, take a look at your own course objectives, syllabus, and materials. Hopefully most of what is assessed in the test is covered in your course, but most likely there will be some minor holes and discrepancies. You will almost certainly identify some problems with the test, even more than you had seen before (and here it’s good to cut the test publishers a little slack and remember that assessing language in a quantitative way is an endeavor that involves some fundamental, insurmountable challenges).

You may also, however, notice some oversights or discrepancies in emphasis in your own syllabus, materials, or activities. For instance, I once found that the listening section of the standardized test my students had to take was so challenging for my students because the recordings used in the test involved more authentic language with speech disfluencies such as hesitation phenomena and false starts, even distracting background chatter, whereas the listening sections of our core text were built around clearly articulated complete sentences, more akin to written language than natural speech.

Make Appropriate Instructional Shifts

It’s discrepancies like these that we want to focus on: The issue was relatively easy to address (we incorporated some podcasts as supplementary listening texts), and the change was a clear improvement. Not all shifts will be as easy as this one, but you’re seldom going to come across problems whose solutions are completely unacceptable to you. It’s going to be to emphasize grammar a little more when scoring, to incorporate more of this kind of activity, or to introduce this structure a bit earlier in the curriculum.

If you come across some larger discrepancies, there are ways to mitigate the need for larger instructional shifts. One of the tests that I was once stuck with put what I considered to be undue emphasis on the what-I-consider-to-be-useless-in-the-year-2015 skill of letter writing. A nice skill, to be sure, but when prioritizing the many skills my high beginning students needed to develop in their 6 class hours per week, letter writing ranked pretty low. Moreover, points were awarded (or not) based not on arbitrary conventions (like the placement of the date and mailing address) that have little if anything to do with English language proficiency.

I certainly wasn’t about to scrap any of our course content to include a unit on letter-writing. On the other hand, digital literacy is a component in our program, as are career readiness and systems navigation skills. It wasn’t much of a stretch to compare the conventions of email with those of paper correspondence. Likewise, it wasn’t a big problem to introduce a rudimentary version of a cover letter a bit earlier in the scope and sequence than we otherwise would have. We also had students bring in letters from utility companies and immigration services as relevant reading texts when appropriate in the units they were studying.

Though the discrepancy between test content and course objectives was larger in this case, a handful of small changes scattered throughout the curriculum was plenty to make sure our students were able to demonstrate their skills on the required test.

Also teach some basic test-taking skills, and teach them in the context of other valuable, closely related or transferable skills, such as forms literacy or following written instructions.

from TESOL Blog