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Twelve Days of Christmas: Printable Goodies

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Oh, it’s the seventh day, and that means I’m past the halfway point! Woohoo! Well, on New Year’s Eve, traditionally a time for confetti and streamers, we’ll be focusing on paper. Many of us have been asked recently by higher-ups to reduce our use of paper for economic reasons, and while it’s a good thing for the environment anyway, there are some activities for which there’s just no substitute for the paper-in-hand approach. Games, stickers, brainstorming, outlines–usually we’d rather print it out (okay, on recycled paper!). But if you’re like me and will spend hours fussing with a word processor that’s not really meant to create such materials, read on for a little help.

Simon_Printer_on_fire from
(best clip-art ever, or what?!)

Tools for Educators has a lot of printable material and does not require registration. They’ve provided not just pre-made items you can download and print, but generators that you can modify a little or a lot. The graphics are a little kitschy and clip-art-tastic, but hey! You didn’t have to draw it yourself nor waste hours looking through clip art sources. Here are a few of the highlights.

  • Dice! As an RPG geek, I love it. You can print and fold actual six-sided paper dice to really liven up your class activities. The page includes a link with some suggestions for language games you can play using dice, too.
  • Boardgames–simple, but lots of possibilities for various age levels and topics. Add your own or use the built-in options.
  • Two different bingo board generator pages (one image-oriented, one word-oriented and more customizable), which can be used for all sorts of things, not just standard bingo games–have students watch for certain phrases or interactions during a movie, for example.
  • Stickers and charts are available at a different URL but from the same people; you’ll be wanting to print in color and use adhesive-backed paper for these. Another site they run will get you a certificate generator with lots of nice-looking certificates you can present to your students.

There’s more at the main link, so give it a try. By the way, they mention that the generator pages should work on both 8.5×11-inch and A4 paper, which is very thoughtful since most North America-based teachers are using the former and nearly everyone else in the world uses the latter. (Confusingly, the United States and Canada do not conform to international standards on paper sizes.)

Another source (8.5″x11″-oriented) is’s Graphic Organizers. There are 56 items here, including Venn diagrams, a pros and cons scale, character description forms, storyboards, vocabulary cards, story charts, and many, many more. These could be used for reading and writing classes most easily, but also for conversation classes and other uses–just flipping through them may give you some ideas. One caveat: These are all PDFs, and for some reason, the text doesn’t display when I view them in Preview on my Mac (the shapes appear, and I can view the files correctly in Adobe).

Finally, the simplest “printables” site I’ve found, but still possibly useful, is, which simply has many different forms of graphs and lines, including handwriting, octagonal grids, calligraphy, Battleship, and more (also 8.5″x11″, sorry).

If you have any suggestions for other A4-friendly sites, let me know, although I think most of these will print OK if you preview before you print.

By the way, I still have Google Wave invitations available! If you are an English/ESL/EFL or other second/foreign language educator or educator-in-training who would like a Google Wave invitation, please go to the Contact Me form and tell me what kind of school/other teaching situation you work in and what level you teach at (or where you’re studying and for what degree). Make sure to give me your Gmail address or another e-mail address to which you’d like the invitation sent. (Do not comment here to get the invitation–you don’t want your e-mail address posted for the whole internet to see!) You must be a language educator to get an invitation.

Twelve Days of Christmas: and more

Very serious here on the sixth day, after photo fun yesterday! Is one of your New Year’s resolutions going to involve professional development? Read on for free self-guided online courses you can do from the comfort of your own computer! I’ll mostly focus on a set of courses for adult educators, but there are more at the end, including for K-12.

metalmarious_Laptop from is a “portal for online professional development” with lots of courses aimed at adult education. They also offer sessions that require registration fees, but many of the listed courses have no charge at all. Here are some of the free, self-paced mini-classes you can take:

  • Adult Multiple Intelligences Theory and Adult Multiple Intelligences in Practice (two different classes)
  • Ideas for Teaching Reading
  • Using Authentic Curriculum and Materials
  • Activity-based Instruction: Why and How
  • Overcoming Poverty Through Action-based Literacy
  • Health Literacy: New Field, New Opportunities
  • Creating a Volunteer Program in the ABE/ESL Classroom

The mini-courses mostly consist of guided readings and reflections, but they may be useful if you’ve changed which level you teach, started teaching before you had a chance to do formal study, want a refresher, have a new topic you want to learn about, etc.

A friend let me know about a project at his university which is geared toward helping teachers prepare for the PRAXIS II K-12 certification test. Visit and enter the username esol and password FHSUESOL123 — click on ESL Workshop on the top right to get started.

TESOL, the major international organization, has recently started offering free online workshops (usually to members only), but they’ll be having a session on trends in the profession sometime in February 2010, which will be open to members and nonmembers. Details to be posted here, presumably. TESOL also sponsors the Electronic Village Online Sessions, which are associated with the annual international conference but for which you don’t have to be a TESOL member or registered for the conference. Registration will start January 4, and sessions include “Bringing Language Alive through Process Drama,” “Online Games for ESL/EFL” (I’m thinking about signing up for that!), “Internet 4 Young Learners,” and more.

Finally, Benjamin over at Collaborative Understandings will be hosting a workshop on using Moodle, the course management (and then some) system. Read all about it here and sign up right away–it’s free and it starts on January 4th. Via Collaborative Understandings, I also discovered Integrating Technology, which offers free courses on “how to integrate technology for active learning via blended and blended online learning.” They also seem to have a lot of courses available, but I haven’t explored them because (free) registration is required.

I’m sure there are lots more out there. If I missed a great professional development resource, let me know and I’ll highlight it here (if it’s time-sensitive) or write about it in a future post!

Twelve Days of Christmas: Photojojo and more

On the fifth day of Christmas we’ll be taking a break from education again, sort of. Photography is a favorite hobby of many EFL teachers and teachers in general, but relatively few of us have huge amounts of money to spend on our equipment or taking classes. So, how to upgrade our photo skills? Keep reading–and if you don’t like to take photos but you do like to use them in your classroom, skip to the end.


Photojojo is one of several photography how-to sites, but it stands out from the others because of its combined focus on photography techniques and DIY instructions for everything from “tripods” to photo Christmas ornaments. Here are a few stand-out articles:

  • Fun with Food Photography: Food photos are a favorite of EFL teachers, serving to make those of us who are are not overseas hungry and jealous. This article has several quick ideas for upgrading your food photo-taking skills.
  • Camera Dogtag: A great idea for any photographer, and one I plan to implement ASAP!
  • The Amazing $1 Pocket-Ready Tripod Trick: Clever!
  • 11 Tips for Sparkling Fireworks Photos: Fireworks are notoriously tricky to capture, but are a favorite of photographers from San Diego to Hong Kong
  • Erase Tourists from Your Vacation Photos: This probably won’t work in overrun sites like the Forbidden City, but two out of the three websites recommended in the article are still functional for those excursions where there is somehow always, ALWAYS one stray schoolchild or other lingering tourist in your shot

Of course, there’s more where those came from. You can subscribe to their blog or dig through the archives on the site. They do periodically flog items for sale, but it’s not much to put up with in return for the content.

Finally, if you just need photos and clip art to use in class, I’ve previously recommended several resources for free images, but here are two more on Flickr: Creative Commons – Free Pictures and Creative Commons. The photographers have Creative Commons-licensed their photos, usually so that you can use them as long as you follow whatever rules are part of the license. For most of them, the licenses just require attribution (putting their name/username wherever you use the images) and noncommercial usage only (don’t sell it or put it in something you’re going to sell, etc.). So to use the photos for class projects, slide shows, illustrations, and so on, all you need to do is discreetly caption them with the photographer’s username. (Hey, it’s a good opportunity to model attributing sources!) Many of the photos are excellent, and there are a lot to choose from–34,753 as I write this. Just put your keywords into “search this group’s pool.” From photo definition activities to sparking conversation, serving as writing prompts, or playing a part in a game, photos have lots of potential classroom uses–and I feel a lot more comfortable when I’m using images that I’ve acquired completely legitimately.

(EDIT: By coincidence, Lifehacker just posted a link to an article from about an image search engine called Sprixi. Sprixi lets you search images that are free to use under various licenses such as Creative Commons–many from sites I’ve mentioned before. It tries to sort them by relevancy, and it lets you embed credit into the image and download that if you want. You might want to give it a try.)

Twelve Days of Christmas: The Internet TESL Journal

On the fourth day of Christmas, I’ll be introducing to you something I’ve mentioned a couple of times, but have never fully introduced. I hope that you won’t mind if I count this as a full entry, because if you don’t already know about it, or if you’ve forgotten about it, it’s worth discovering. If your binders full of lesson plans are letting you down–or if you haven’t yet built up binders full of lesson plans–and you’re interested in free activities and lesson plans, keep reading!

nicubunu_Box_with_folders from

The Internet TESL Journal (ITESLJ) is a free online journal that is different from other online journals because of its focus on short, practical, useful articles. I mentioned its existence very briefly when I posted a roundup of free online journals last year, and also when I noticed that you can download computer-generated mp3s of their articles. I never said why it was great, though, and the reason is that ITESLJ offers lesson ideas, games, and activities, as well as teaching techniques and reports on teachers’ own research projects, in an easy-to-access format that’s free to everyone.

As you know if you’ve tried to use a search engine to find lesson plans, the internet is cluttered with ESL and EFL sites that are only partially free, sites for which you need to register–only to find out they have almost no resources, sites for which you have to register–only to find out they’ve copied all of their materials from another site, and sites with low-quality materials that are unsuitable for your students.

ITESLJ has a good range of materials and ideas, and no registration is required. Many of the suggestions are aimed at EFL learning situations, although they can be adapted to various classrooms. If you don’t see something you like right away, just keep searching back: they’ve been around since 1995. There are specific lesson plans for every possible language skill, lessons focused on specific films, unusual lesson plans involving the use of cell phones, craft-based lesson plans, games with songs and physical movement, and lessons focusing on specific L1s. Here are some examples:

There are lots more, including ideas for working with children.

By the way, if the above is old hat to you, then may I encourage you to write something short and submit it to them? It looks like they need more submissions. Even a single activity that you’ve had work well would be an excellent thing to submit so your fellow teachers can benefit, and although I don’t think they qualify as a “peer-reviewed journal,” it’ll still look great on your CV.

Next? Well, I have no idea! Anybody out there? Let me know, especially if you like something!

Twelve Days of Christmas: CRAFT and MAKE

On the third day of Christmas…something completely different!

Angelo_Gemmi_scissors_silhouette from

CRAFT and its more technological sister MAKE are both the kind of things where most of their target audiences already know about them, but a lot of other people could potentially enjoy them and benefit from them. Check out the blog, projects section, and other parts of the site for more projects than anyone could do in a few years. The patterns and everything are available for free, and you don’t even need to sign up for an account or anything.

Don’t have any preconceptions about what they have there–there’s everything from how to start a fire to how to make an octopus chandelier to how to dry persimmons (Japanese style) to how to make cocktails to, over at MAKE, how to make board game pieces. All sorts of random stuff! Some of the projects are simple enough to do with students, or might be great to use in the classroom (like the game pieces), but mostly these are projects for yourself. Especially nice if you’re on a budget…

What’s next? Well, probably something more education-related….unless I change my mind!

Twelve Days of Christmas: Portable Apps

Hello, and welcome to Day Two! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

USB memorystick from

I think this one of the best things I have for you; even if it’s not something you need right now, you may make a friend’s day if you know someone who needs it. lets you install small, “light” versions of free programs for everything from word processors to web browsers, audio editors to IM programs, utilities to games. It can solve four big problems for ESL and EFL teachers:

  1. Using an office computer that won’t let you install applications? No problem–these apps can run from the Documents folder, which you usually have access to, or from a USB stick.
  2. Using an office computer running non-English Windows, but not comfortable in the other language? Just snag some English apps from the site.
  3. Using a lot of different adjunct office computers or internet cafes? Stay safe and comfortable by keeping your personal information and preferred settings in portable apps on a USB stick and running them from there, especially a web browser and a word processor.
  4. Deskwarming for hours, days, or weeks on end? Create amazing materials for class, write a textbook or a novel, chat, play games, watch video files, and more with a variety of apps to help you pass time productively and/or pleasantly. (EDIT: Naturally, I wouldn’t suggest anything doing non-work-related unless part of your job simply entails being at your desk, and you’ve already done all you can do to be prepared–which is unfortunately all too true for many teachers.)

Just to repeat the main point: these programs are small and “light” so that they don’t have to fully install themselves on the computer. Although the touts the idea of running them from a USB stick, you generally don’t have to–if you use the same work computer every day, you can usually install them wherever you like inside the Documents folder, if that’s the only folder you can change on your work computer.

EDIT 7 July 2010: Flash Drive Reminder is a small, freeware program that will alert you if you start to shut down or log out of a Windows computer without removing your USB stick (flash drive) first. Great idea! Here’s an explanation with a screenshot on Lifehacker.’s applications are meant for Windows environments since few people find themselves in a Mac-only work situation (particularly one where they can’t install their own software), but if you are in that situation…uh, do tell us about it! Especially as a teacher–that’d be a new one on me. But if that’s you, there’s an option for you too: FreeSMUG Portable Applications. (Yes, as a Mac user I agree that “SMUG” is not a good choice of acronym!)

You can still nominate a great free resource for the Twelve Days of Christmas, and I’d really love to get feedback if you find any of these useful!

(I previously mentioned in An Alternative Software Sampler, but I didn’t address its full potential nor mention its Mac counterpart.)

Twelve Days of Christmas: Google Wave Guide and Invitations

Day One: A couple of Lifehacker editors have written a guide to Google Wave, the amazing new still-in-progress collaboration and communication service that I think could be really fantastic for teachers, writers, people working overseas, and just about anyone.

abstracted-interpersonal-communication by cibo00 at

You can read a version of the guide free online: The Complete Guide to Google Wave (it only costs money if you want to buy the PDF). It can be a little strange to get the hang of, so I plan to read it myself. You can do interesting things that you can’t do in usual document-sharing and chat services, but it’s very hard to explain until you start playing with it! For example, you can insert a poll into the middle of a chat about where to have lunch, mark up a sample student essay together, scroll around and add pointers to your favorite places on a Google Map view of downtown Kyoto, and switch from one mode into another pretty easily.

In addition, since you still can’t just sign up for Google Wave directly, I have six Google Wave invitations that I’ll give out to the first six English/ESL/EFL teachers (or teachers in training) who contact me through my Contact Me page (please don’t leave your e-mail address in the comment box on this post here, because then anyone can see it!). This offer is not open to other people; just TESOL professionals and professionals-in-training, so you need to tell me your specialty and where you are teaching or studying, as well as give me your Gmail address or another e-mail address (you’ll have to set up a Gmail account). Also, keep in mind that your Google Wave account name will use your Gmail account name. If I invite you, I think we’ll automatically become Google Wave contacts, but other than that happening I won’t use your contact info to contact you for anything. And feel free to delete me.

I’ve been having fun with Google Wave and look forward to collaborating on some serious projects using it soon!

(Late start, but making Christmas dinner took longer than expected! It’s still December 25th in California though…well, it was when I was almost done with this! Rats! I’ll try to get ahead on the posts.)

Please let me know if you make use of any of the Twelve Days entries! I’d love to get some feedback.

Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas Tree by Johnny Automatic at

Stay tuned…

I’m going to try to do Twelve Days of Christmas here at Talk to the Clouds. That means that starting on December 25th, I’ll post a useful and/or fun free resource every day for twelve days!

The Twelve Days of Christmas does traditionally start on Christmas, and isn’t the twelve days before, as so many retailers seem to think … just another one of those traditions that we get wrong ourselves so often. That’s obscure enough for most people that I didn’t try explaining it to my students when I went over the “differences between Christmas in Japan and the US” handout that I do most years. One thing I did mention, because it causes a lot of confusion when they run into it, is that many Americans–like me–celebrate Christmas as a cultural event with roots that predate Christianity, rather than as a religious event. It can be pretty confusing for them when they get conflicting messages–first they’re told by some people “Japan is doing it wrong! Christmas is a religious event!” … and then they perceive a conflict between the number of Christians in the US (around 77% overall and very obviously less than that where we live) and the number of people who follow cultural traditions such as Christmas trees, gifts, donations to charities, family dinners, and so on (around 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas). Not to mention that some Christian groups do not observe Christmas or don’t observe it on December 25… It’s very surprising to them and serves as a good look at American religious and cultural diversity at the nitty-gritty in-practice level. There are other, easier and more fun to explain differences too–like no eating Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas dinner here!

Anyway, I hope you find the Twelve Days of Christmas “presents” I’ve lined up for you worth your time! I don’t have them all picked out yet, so if you know of a great free website, program, or other resource that I haven’t yet mentioned (click on “free” in the tags), feel free to suggest it! Let’s see if I can keep it up and post for 12 days in a row!

Getting on the Same Page: Book Gifts for Friends and Family

Is it just me, or do friends, family members, and random strangers sometimes make strange assumptions about us once we become English teachers? They may think we support English-only policies, are ashamed of our first languages if we are multilingual, are constantly judging them on their use of English, etc. They may resent us for the positions they assume we take, or they may take those positions ourselves and expect us to join them. This can get pretty awkward at the dinner table. Even if it doesn’t get that far, people often have really strange ideas about English and English teaching (I know I had a few myself before actually starting to study for my certification and MA).

Here are a few last-minute holiday gift suggestions that can introduce the way linguists and language pedagogy specialists think about language to non-specialists in a readable–maybe even enjoyable–way.

Language Myths is a bit of a Linguistics FAQ or “Mythbusters: Linguistics Edition!” in book form, with articles on different topics by different linguists. This is really great for addressing those long-held, “commonsense” beliefs that most people have about language, and can really clear the way for meaningful conversations with your friends and family. Essays in it include “Double Negatives Are Illogical,” “TV Makes People Sound the Same,” “Black Children are Verbally Deprived,” “America is Ruining the English Language,” “Some Languages are Spoken More Quickly Than Others,” and lots more. It’s meant for intelligent laypeople. Most of the topics will be familiar to you; my TESOL coursework covered most of the topics (but not every point). I don’t totally agree with everything that every author writes, and the readability/interestingness varies, but that’s the nature of an anthology like this. I wish they’d publish a sequel, but at any rate, highly recommended.

The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left, by the outstanding linguist David Crystal. This book uses both history and analysis to show why people who are truly educated about linguistics are rarely the same people frothing in the opinion pages about the decline of English. He has a distinctly British viewpoint (Strunk and White barely make an appearance) and makes a couple of errors regarding American usage, but nearly all of his points apply to American English-language punditry as well as British. Without resorting to Language Log (which I love, but is a little too in-depth for casual readers), this book can explain to your friends and family why you may not be a fan of the English “experts,” like the late William Safire, whose cranky and usually wrong-headed pronouncements they probably expect you to endorse. If you read it, you’ll probably learn a lot too–I didn’t realize how many centuries these specific patterns of nitpicking and name-calling had been going on, or how broadminded Shakespeare was about regional dialects of English compared to other writers!

For people with more specific interests:

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English is an extremely interesting history of how English wound up in its rather odd condition. It’s sometimes a bit rambling and repetitive (it seems to be based on lectures), but still fascinating. Of course, speculation about the origins of English are open for debate, but McWhorter’s theories make a lot of sense. He has an interesting perspective because of his academic background, specializing in the study of creole formation, which I think may help him approach the apparent conflicts and paradoxes in the early history of English in a more fruitful way. And, of course, he has the necessary academic/linguistic chops that popular writers like Bill Bryson are lacking, so he doesn’t repeat unfounded nonsense about other languages in order to prove English’s uniqueness. (I don’t recommend giving anyone The Mother Tongue, because it’s full of things that are not just academic speculation, but outright falsehoods and inaccuracies.) Highly recommended, but not for readers without an interest in the history of English.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage is one of the only usage guides recommended by the folks over at Language Log. It’s descriptive, not prescriptive; it tells you what the rule is and what people actually usually do and why. It has plenty of real examples, not made-up sentences, and discusses controversial usages and discrepancies between US and British tendencies. (Note the 5-star review by Geoff Pullum if you click through to the Amazon page–that’s the linguist Geoff Pullum.) Handy for teachers and non-teachers alike. Note: this is mostly for looking up words that tend to cause grammar, spelling, or other usage problems; it’s not a general grammar or writing guide.

All of the above good books for ESL and EFL teachers too, of course–you’ll just be more familiar with the background info, and maybe a little impatient when some of the authors use simplified vocabulary to avoid using technical jargon.

I’ll add all of these to the Bookstore link on the right so that you can find them later.

(Sorry for the lateness of this post–I had my own holiday gift-giving time crunch!)

Low Pay, High Qualifications

I’m working on a post about English-related books you can give as gifts. However, I just had to post this cranky message first.

I just took a look at the current issue of Ohayo Sensei (a new one should be out in a couple of days). OS is probably the best source for non-university teaching jobs in Japan.

Recently, there have been multiple job postings in which schools are proposing to offer salaries of Â¥220000-240000/month for positions requiring experience, TESOL certification/CELTA, and/or a MATESOL/DELTA. (I’m pretty sure I saw a rate of Â¥180000 in an earlier issue.) In recent years, the standard rate for eikaiwa (conversation school work) has been Â¥250000 with no qualifications besides being a native English speaker. (We won’t get into that practice at the moment, or the thorny issue of the pay differences between local and foreign teachers.) And Â¥250000 was considered low by the people who’d taught in Japan during the bubble economy glory days of the 80s. But okay, the yen is very strong against most currencies and the demand for classes in Japan is dropping…and maybe employers are aware of the awful teaching job situation in places like the USA…

No, I still don’t think it’s OK. I don’t think professional teachers with experience and certifications/degrees should be earning the same thing as completely new, untrained nonprofessionals, period, let alone less.

And keep in mind that in Japan, employers very rarely pay for housing. They may arrange it so you don’t have to pay the “key money” (nonrefundable gift) and deposit, or they may subsidize your rent, but the above positions do not have low pay because they also have free rent. I checked.

Please don’t apply for these jobs.

Just as it’s important for language students around the world to get the message that they should demand professional teachers with language-teaching training … employers need to get the message that they cannot expect to hire professional teachers and pay them as though they are not professionals.

There are other jobs out there; if you have a certification, apply to them. If you have a master’s, explore JREC.

Seek out a reasonable salary level, and even if you are in a situation where you don’t really need a decent salary, don’t aid in lowering the bar for everyone else.