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TESL Canada session – Customising web tools for EAP classrooms

I recently attended the TESL Canada Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  With a good majority of the 400+ attendees representing the college/university sector, I decided to share some web tools I’ve used in my EAP classrooms.  Below are a slideshow of my session entitled “Customising web tools for EAP classrooms”, a downloaded PDF of these slides and an overview of the content from my session.  For those who attended my session in Halifax at the TESL Canada Conference 2011, thank you very much for attending!  For others, feel free to share this post with anyone who would be interested.

Click the arrow to view slides in sequence or click the slide itself to move to full-screen magazine.

Click here to download the presentation: Customising web tools (PDF).

There are web tools available online for nearly everything, but TESL professionals tend to limit their access to them by closed searches within the ESL field itself.  How many times have you looked for resources for the classroom simply by googling “ESL resources”?  What is important to note is that just like how your teacher eye is open as you read the newspaper, a magazine or even advertising on the subway, you can do the same when you come across websites with interesting functions that weren’t designed with language teaching in mind.  A main aim of workshops I do is to demonstrate how almost anything online can be adapted for language teaching and encourage teachers not to fear using them in the classroom, but to embrace the technology available.

Throughout the time I’ve taught in Toronto, I’ve often wondered why there wasn’t more professional development easily available between conferences.  As a result, I created Coursetree, a business project through which I continually develop new presentations and workshops to help fill this void.  With a particular passion for technology and the realisation that many TESL professionals here aren’t well-versed in what’s available to them, it seemed a natural fit for me to focus many of these workshops on web tools I’ve found through various routes, like my PLN, social network sites and just plain surfing around for fun.  More recently, my full-time position with the International Foundation Program at University of Toronto, New College, prompted me to choose web tools specifically useful in the EAP environment.  For this presentation, I am pleased to introduce free web tools useful for Listening, two for Reading and one for Writing.

One aspect of teaching Listening skills has always been the reliance on teacher-centred control of the audio in class.  Cuing and playing a track or excerpt on a CD player or computer at the front of the class for the students to listen to and use for practice disallows much student engagement with the audio itself.  The goal of increasing student-control and interaction with the audio prompted me to find Soundcloud.

For detailed information about this tool and its applications for the classroom, please take a look at this previous post.  I led a full session at the Virtual Roundtable Conference in March, the recording of which is in that post or here.  If you want to skip to the description of the 4 activities I suggested for listening, go to 16:00 or so.  =)


When looking for texts online that can be used in class, one almost always uses Google.  This is great, but what many people don’t realise is that Google has developed more tools to help specify searches more towards intended purpose.

One way they’ve done this is through Reading Level (see slideshow for exact links and examples).  Through Google Reading Level, search results are sorted by indicators Basic, Intermediate and Advanced language, but don’t be fooled by these descriptors.  Though there is a distinction based on vocabulary difficulty or obscurity, if you’re looking for beginner texts, the Basic tab won’t be much help (results tend to use simpler vocabulary and sentence construction, but not useful below a Pre-Intermediate level).  How it is helpful is as a guide for choosing online reading material or webpages that fall within a certain range of complexity.  In this workshop, I demonstrated this use by searching for reading material based on The Royal Wedding (see slide presentation for more information).

A second tool, which can be used once you’ve narrowed down your results with Google Reading Level, is Bilkent Course AWL Checker.  Simply uploading a text document or webpage URL into the fields results in a check of the language in the reading text against the  General Service Word List and Academic Word List.  This tool identifies a general descriptor based on the ratio of words from these two groups and identifies words from the AWL by sublist.  For more information and specific examples, please take a look at the slide presentation.

It is a constant battle with plagiarism in EAP writing, no matter how much you emphasise the consequences or the ethical views on it.  Sure, there’s TurnItIn, but some educators either don’t have accounts or don’t feel it’s appropriate to use for smaller written assignments.  If you have an inkling that students have copied something from Wikipedia (a continual favourite of students) or that their submissions, in parts, just don’t sound like what they are capable of writing, you could retype the excerpt into a Google search, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a tool to do that for you?

Developed by the University of Maryland, The Plagiarism Checker gives teachers the ability to copy and paste texts, click SUBMIT, and see the analysis.  The site searches through the internet, compares the writing to compositions available on the web and indicates with a simple OK or POSSIBLE PLAGIARISM beside strings of submitted text.  In the latter case, clicking on the warning shows you links to where the website where text may have been copied from, with specific text bolded.  I tested this out by copying a paragraph from Wikipedia about WWII, a paragraph about WWII from the 5th page of a Google result and one sentence from the 14th page of a Google result.  In each case, The Plagiarism Checker quickly found all of them and listed them (it even found that the last appeared on multiple websites!).  For more information and specific examples, please see the slideshow.

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[…] day of the conference, in the last time slot of the day comes Coursetree’s session, “Customising web tools for EAP classrooms“.  Unlike the previous day, its preparation didn’t stop me from attending earlier […]

Great web tools for EAP

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