Category Archives: Resources

Better, Best, or Next Practices in English Language Teaching

Best. Choice, practice or Service. Wooden letters on the office desk, informative and communication background
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I find the term best practice troubling; and I say this as I wear my language instructor hat and my consultant hat. Full disclosure: I am working on TESL Ontario’s Directory of Best Practice Resources. The Directory is a compendium of online (and hard copy) high quality resources for adult ESL and FSL instructors and administrators. Please check it out: . In putting together our Directory, our team scoured the literature for descriptions of best practices in adult English teaching, and we talked to researchers, administrators, and exemplary teachers, to identify effective materials to meet learner and instructor needs.

The notion of best practice seems to be the term du jour. Every profession – from social work, to psychiatry, to the legal community – is concerned with identifying best practices in the field. I’m not saying that is a bad thing. Educators who care about their students should be committed to professional development. We should be looking for ways to improve our teaching practice by staying abreast of developments in the field and adopting effective pedagogical practices and resources to enhance our students’ learning. No problem there!

What bothers me is the notion of best in the term best practice. There is a finality to the phrase that implies that once we have labeled a pedagogical strategy or a specific resource as the best, our search is over. Once we employ a best practice, there is nothing more to do, nothing more to learn. But we know that this is simply not the case. Looking back in the annals of language teaching, we find the now defunct Grammar-Translation approach, The Silent Way and the Audio-lingual approach, with its commitment to drills and set phrases. The current standard is the Communicative approach, also called the Natural approach, based on Krashen’s (1983) theory of comprehensible input, in which language learning relies on meaningful interaction – natural communication – in the target language. Language scholar Dean Mellow (2002) advocates Principled Eclecticism, a set of pedagogical guidelines for categorizing, selecting and sequencing learning activities, that form a coherent, pluralistic approach to language teaching. Theories and methods evolve, with the expectation of improving on existing practices.

What are the recognized best practices in second/additional language teaching? Jim Cummins (2007) states three assumptions have traditionally formed the basic tenets of language teaching and still dominate the conversation regarding best practice: the target language should be used exclusively in the classroom, translation between a student’s first language and the target language should not be encouraged, and finally, in immersion and bilingual settings, the two languages should be kept separate. Cummins has challenged these assumptions using empirical data, pointing to new insights in applied linguistics and cognitive psychology that provide new understandings of the bi/multilingual brain. He has called on educators (and policy makers) to abandon monolingual practices and instead, capitalize on learners’ linguistic capabilities and implement instructional strategies that build learners’ language and academic skills in English and their home languages. More recently, the pedagogical practice of translanguaging, articulated by Ofelia Garcia and Li Wei (2014), echoes Cummins’s work; English learners are encouraged to build their entire communicative repertoires, so that all languages are welcome and employed in the classroom. Could translanguaging transform the way we teach English to newcomers or will it go the way of the Silent Way?

Instead of looking for a singular best practice, we should perhaps focus attention and research on effective practices. After all, experienced instructors draw from their extensive teaching toolkits to meet the needs of their learners. Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan (2012) use the terms best practice and next practice to describe innovation in the field of education. In their book, Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, the authors advocate for a mix that incorporates best practices – existing practices that are widely accepted for their effectiveness – with giving instructors the freedom, space and resources to create next practices, innovative approaches that grow out of experimentation with new and existing practices.

Clearly, there is no best practice, method or resource in teaching, although it would be nice to find the magic bullet, wouldn’t it? I find there is a kind of beauty in our never-ending quest to find what works best – or should I say really well – with our students. It’s an on-going process of discovery and self-discovery that makes us co-learners, alongside our students.


Cummins, J. (2007). Rethinking monolingual instructional strategies in multilingual classrooms. Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics/Revue canadienne de linguistique appliquée10(2), 221-240.

Garcia. O., & Wei, L. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, education, and bilingualism. Houndsmill, Basingtoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: Transforming teaching in every school. Teachers College Press.

Krashen, S.D., & Terrell, T.D. (1983). The Natural Approach. Hayward, CA: The Alemany Press.

Mellow, J.D. (2002). Toward principled eclecticism in language teaching: The two-dimensional model and the centring principle. TESL-Electronic Journal (5)4, A1. Retrieved from:

What is translanguaging? (July 26, 2016). Retrieved from:


Type 2 Diabetes: An unequal occurrence for newcomers

image source: Toronto Public Health

November is Diabetes Awareness Month so it’s timely to talk about this serious chronic disease that occurs when the body loses its ability to produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that controls sugar levels in the blood. High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and nerves and over time, can cause serious health complications.

Let’s begin with an interesting piece of trivia – did you know that November 14th was World Diabetes Day? Do you know why? November 14th is the Continue reading


Enhance Online Video with H5P’s Interactive Video tool

image source: John Allan

In Six Tools To Enhance Video Learning,   I posted about using online video in the classroom more efficiently and possibly creatively.  Since then a new education technology development tool, H5P, has emerged.  I have been working on a variety of projects with H5P and feel that it is important for educational developers to consider adopting it as a means for enhancing online video learning events.

HTML 5 Packager, better known as H5P, is a free tool that allows you to create custom learning objects with online video.  H5P’s Interactive Video feature allows developers to overlay resources and interactive features over a video itself.  This optimizes the learners’ video viewing area.  Until now, interactivity with the video occurred under the video, on the play back bar, or as a fly out menu to the left or the right of the video.  Overlain interactivity on a video makes the end-user’s experience intuitive. Items such as comments, true/false questions or links to further information can be strategically positioned over the video and timed to focus attention to specific parts of the video screen. Continue reading


Join the next conversation on #CdnELTchat

image source: #CdnELTchat

If you’re a Twitter user, read on to learn how you can join the next #CdnELTchat.   Below is a recap of the October 23rd chat from the #CdnELTchat moderators.

Being able to use learning strategies and study skills can empower students to become independent learners. What learning strategies and study skills do English language learners need to support their language learning journey? Bonnie Jean Nicholas (@EALStories) and Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow) moderated a #CdnELTchat to explore this topic.   Continue reading


#CdnELTchat: A Great forum to share your ideas

image source: BC TEAL

Calling all Twitter enthusiasts. Have you followed the BC TEAL’s twitter chats?  If not read on to learn all about how you can join the next chat: happening October 9th. Below is a note from the #CdnELTchat moderators.

Thank-you to everyone who joined moderators, Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL) and Bonnie Jean Nicholas (@EALStories) for the first #CdnELTchat of the fall term. Continue reading


Getting to Know Your Affiliate: TESL Ottawa

multiple hands connecting in the centre with the words Join In written overtop the image
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Did you know that when you become a TESL Ontario member, you also have opportunities to connect with your local Affiliate chapter? Joining an Affiliate chapter is a great way to network with local colleagues, explore professional development opportunities, and participate in meaningful events.  There are 12 TESL Ontario Affiliate Chapters, but today, we are spotlighting the TESL Ottawa Affiliate Chapter Continue reading


#CdnELTchat, A Twitter Chat for Language Instructors

What is a Twitter chat?

Twitter is a microblogging tool that has recently been made most famous by the American President Donald Trump. Ok, it was popular before he started running for office, but my point is that everyone is familiar with Twitter.  It has approximately one hundred million active users daily.  A twitter chat is simply a collection of users that contribute to an online conversation using a common hashtag (#).   Twitter chats sometimes feature a guest that allows a community access to his/her expertise.


This post is addressed to English language teachers across Canada.  Continue reading


Teach Writing with a Web Design Project

image source: John Allan

One of my courses specifies that students create a presentation on an educational resource and present it to their peers.  The following is a model I’d like to share with you as a potential means of using a common theme with a final presentation as a way of promoting inquiry, research, collaboration, communication, planning, and writing within one term of instruction. The project comprises eight separate activities.  Each activity involves the students practicing language and social skills in a variety of ways.  These steps are detailed below in the section, Project Process. Continue reading


QR Code Treasure Hunt anyone?

Recently, I tried a campus familiarization activity with my students.  In the past terms, students sat at their desks and looked at a map to identify services and their associated locations on a worksheet.  Throughout the term students asked me, or each other, where different campus resources were located. It was obvious that they did not take in the campus resources information.

My challenge was to improve this learning activity.  Reaching into my technology bag of tricks, I was looking for a technology that would improve this learning task.  Continue reading


Teach verbs with animated GIFs and Quizlet


Teaching verbs can be accomplished through a combination of miming, games, worksheets, video clips, discussion, lecture, translation, and perhaps a host of other strategies.  Reinforcing the meaning of many verbs by providing a video clip can help with retention. Flashcards can also assist with vocabulary acquisition.  Quizlet’s flashcards deliver still images or animated clips online. Animated clips can accelerate acquisition through motion in context. Quizlet’s ability to include animated GIFs makes it a useful tool for language students learning base verbs.

Continue reading