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Teaching Tips 174

Working holiday
Video Uploads
The Oxford comma


This is more of a warmer idea this week. Have you ever wondered about the contradictions in terms like 'found missing', 'alone together', 'small crowd' & 'Microsoft Works'? Have your students? These terms are called 'oxymorons'.

As the Collins English Dictionary says, they are 'an epigrammatic effect, by which contradictory terms are used in conjunction: beautiful tyrant; found missing. (via New Latin from Greek, from oxus - sharp + moros - stupid)'

A way of looking at them in class: Choose which oxymorons you want to look at, the more obvious ones to make it all manageable, & write them on the board - but make sure the individual words are jumbled up. The students have to find pairs of words that make an oxymoron - & then discuss whether they agree that it is a valid oxymoron. For example, is 'rap music' an oxymoron?

As a follow up you could get the students to invent a story using a number of the oxymorons & then discuss how they are translated into their language(s).

A way to review some vocab, introduce some collocations & have some fun with the language.

For a list of oxymorons

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video upload

Video Uploads

We have looked at using video a few times, below is the past Tip 'Video Viewing', & they have all centred on the teacher using ready made videos in the classroom. With cameras & phones now having easy to use, good quality video recording & direct upload links to YouTube & other sites it is easy for you & your students to upload your own videos. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • in class, video dialogues & drama activities & students & you can view them after class & try to come up with ways of improving the language.

  • speaking homework - set up a task for the students to individually plan & video. This could be anything from ranking a series of items in order of importance to giving arguments to support a motion. You view the video & give feedback online or when you next see them.

  • interviews with other English speakers. Set up a survey, the students have to interview a couple of people, they prepare the questions together & then individually find & video them, upload for all to see & discuss the results in class.

  • set tasks & homework before the next class.

  • inter-class communications. Allow other classes to view & exploit activities & projects.

  • let the student rehearse & get feedback from you before a live performance eg. a business student giving a presentation.

Clearly not everyone will take to this so sound your students out & then if they are enthusiastic discuss the technical aspects so all know what they need to do.

And then there is live video conferencing, an ideal supplement for any class.

You can do all of the above in Moodle, with public & private spaces online. Developing provides teachers with Moodle all set up & very reasonable hosting. The excellent new Moodle 2.1 is out now. To find out more:

Video Viewing

It's becoming so much easier to use video in class these days with the multitude of downloadable videos available online, as well as laptops becoming cheaper by the month.

To download YouTube videos I use the web page VidiMonkey: All you need to do is copy the link for the YouTube page & paste it into the VidiMonkey page & click on 'Save'.
As you save, make sure you give it a name with '.flv' on the end. So then it is on your hard drive & to watch it in 'flv' format, download the very versatile VLC media player from
And away you go.

If you want to watch the videos in 'mpeg' or 'avi' you can download the 'Pazera Free FLV to AVI Converter' from

All very easy once you get the hang of it.

So then what do you do with the videos in class. We had a past Tip 'View the video' on classroom ideas. Here they are again with some more:

  • turn the sound down & predict moods, relationships & conversation from the visual clues. Listen with sound up to confirm.
  • give out one half of a written dialogue & students view the video a couple of times to fill in the other speaker's words. Listen to confirm.
  • commentate - play a news scene without the sound & students write the commentary. Listen to confirm.
  • speculation - cover half of the screen vertically - students view & speculate on the covered part. Uncover, view to confirm.
  • with films for language students, in English with English subtitles, cover the film & the students read the subtitles - speculate on what is on the film. Uncover, view to confirm.
  • play the video backwards & students then discuss what happened. Play forwards to confirm.
  • one half of the class view the section of video with the sound off & the other half with no picture but with the sound on. After, pair up one student from each group to explain what they heard & saw.
  • fast forward - show the video sequence, eg. news broadcast on fast forward. Students predict what sequence is to be about. Follow up with comprehension task & showing at normal speed.
  • prediction - freeze the picture just before something is going to happen and ask for prediction. Could be without sound for actions, with for predicting speech.
  • viewing for pleasure - you should be able to gauge their comprehension by their reactions, esp. if humorous.
  • interesting sounds - students listen to sounds on sequence with monitor turned round. Students invent the story for sounds & then watch the sequence to compare with own ideas.
  • half a dialogue - choose a sequence consisting of a dialogue between two people. Transcribe one person's part only, creating a gapped dialogue. Play the sequence with the sound off a couple of times. Students try and fill in the second person's part. Play sequence as much as necessary. Finally watch with sound on & students compare with their version.
  • act out - write out 10-20 lines of dialogue from a video sequence, omitting characters (who's speaking) and punctuation. Students punctuate dialogue and decide who are the characters, where they are, etc. students act out dialogue in groups. Compare with actual scene on video. Good for lower levels.

A lot of these ideas can be found in the following books:

'Using Authentic Video in the Language Classroom' by Jane Sherman (CUP)

'Video' by Cooper, Lavery and Rinvolucri (OUP)

'Film' by Susan Stempleski & Barry Tomalin (OUP)

There are lots more things you can do with video & the more you use it the more will occur to you. Happy viewing!

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The Oxford comma

The Oxford comma has been in the news lately. Have a look at these sentences:

1. I'll have some coffee, biscuits and cake.

2. He gave presents to his family, Ben and Josh.

3. He gave presents to his family, Ben, and Josh.

The first doesn't need the comma before the 'and' in the list. The second sentence could imply that Ben & Josh are his family, while the third, with the comma before the 'and', clearly states that he gave presents to all three parties.

The comma in the third sentence is known as the Oxford comma.
Try giving the above three sentences to your intermediate & above students. Ask them to discuss the difference of meaning between the second & third sentences & then the use of the comma in all three. After making sure all are good with the meaning & use, ask them to write their own examples.

Here's the article from the Guardian Online (1.7.11) about the recent worries about the Oxford comma being dropped:

Oxford cleared of serial comma killing

Twitter uproar over punctuation mark's disappearance proves unfounded

To Oxford comma, or not to Oxford comma? That is the question which has been taxing the internet over the past 24 hours, after it emerged – erroneously, as it later turned out – that the Oxford comma was being dropped by the University of Oxford style guide.

The punctuation-related hooha arose after US publishing site GalleyCat was alerted by @RantyEditor's tweet that "Oxford Style Guide ditches the Oxford comma. I have strong feelings about this, none of them good". "As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write 'a, b and c' not 'a, b, and c'," it advises, on the Oxford University website.

Cue widespread wailing and gnashing of teeth, and vows to carry on using the Oxford comma forever, regardless. "I am absolutely not a flawless user of any kind of punctuation," wrote Linda Holmes on NPR. "And yet, even the rumbling of a distant threat to the Oxford comma (or 'serial comma') turns me instantly into an NFL referee, blowing my whistle and improvising some sort of signal — perhaps my hands clasped to my own head as if in pain — to indicate that the loss of the serial comma would sadden me beyond words." "Are you people insane? The Oxford comma is what separates us from the animals," tweeted another punctuation obsessive, as the Twittersphere took off with collective punctuation woe.

Fortunately for fans, it has since emerged that 30 June was not the day the Oxford comma died. The Oxford University guidelines are only for staff writing press releases and internal communications, a spokesperson has said, and Oxford University Press has asserted that the Oxford comma lives on, just the same as it ever was.

While I'm not a particular fan of the Oxford comma (the Guardian style guide allows its use in potentially confusing circumstances), finding that it breaks up the flow of a sentence, I am strangely moved by the fact that so many people are. Happy days indeed, that punctuation can be such an emotive subject. Sorry, Vampire Weekend, but it turns out that we do give a **** about the Oxford comma.

I like the quote 'The Oxford comma is what separates us from the animals'. So we can all breathe easily once again!
The apostrophe is another aspect that comes in for a lot of discussion due to the inability of lots of people to use it accurately. Here are a couple of sites with hundreds of examples of misuse of the apostrophe:

.It is argued that we could get rid of the apostrophe all together as the context would highlight meaning & if many native speakers cannot use it correctly, why bother with it. Dumbing down, to say the least.
We have had a Past Tip about the apostrophe - here it is again:

Where to stick grocer's apostrophe

Have a go at this:

Look at the following sentences. Which are grammatically correct, which are incorrect & correct the wrong ones.

1. He took Sallys car to the garage.

2. The street seller was pedalling his goods.

3. If you don't tow the line your fired.

4. It's wheels need changing.

5. Their books are over there.

6. They couldn't diffuse the bomb in time. It exploded.

7. He had an exam so he spent his time pouring over his books.

8. They gave him free reign of the office. He could do what he liked.

9. The Jones's house is up the street.

10. She complemented him on his work.

I came across the following article on the Guardian website the other day. Take a look:

Where to stick grocer's apostrophe

John Ezard, arts correspondent
Thursday July 8, 2004 The Guardian

We have finally got the hang of the grocer's apostrophe. But we still have little clue how to defuse, or diffuse, our other hang-ups about the correct use of words - and computer spellcheckers only make our task harder.

This is today's (not todays) verdict from Oxford University Press. It reports evidence from its 300m-word database of "a new kind of problem" among otherwise relatively literate people.

One of the epidemic errors of the past 30 years - unnecessary, misplaced or omitted apostrophes in the words "its"and "it's" - has dwindled to only about 8% of people, possibly because the mistake has drawn so much ridicule. It was dubbed "the grocer's apostrophe" because of its unnecessary use in plural words on shop signs or placards (Price's Slashed).

But it has been replaced by misuse of "diffuse" or "defuse" (as in "A coach can diffuse the situation by praising the players").

Research for the new Concise Oxford English Dictionary, published today, found that this word crime was committed in some 50% of examples on the database. It is now rated as the commonest in the language.

Second commonest is uncertainty over when to use "rein" or "reign", found in 26% of examples, as in "A taxi driver had free reign to charge whatever he likes".

Third most frequent (21%) is "tow" instead of "toe", as in "Some pointed to his refusal to tow the line under Tony Blair". Fourth (12%) is "pouring" instead of "poring", as in
"He spent his evenings pouring over western art magazines".

Other common confusions include pedal and peddle, draw and drawer, compliment and complement and their, there and they're.

Angus Stevenson, of OUP dictionaries, said yesterday: "This seems to be something of a new situation. These errors are occurring in texts that are otherwise quite well spelt, possibly because of the increasing use of spellcheckers. Spellcheckers can tell you whether a word is correctly spelt - but not whether it is properly used.

"Also, we find that people are picking up words and phrases from the media and bolting them together into fully formed sentences."

The OUP database contains mainly written word usages. To measure speech, it used to include recordings from radio but now takes examples from the internet instead.

"People are increasingly writing on the internet as if it was a spoken rather than a written medium, with all the mistakes which arise through doing that," Mr Stevenson said.

Newly coined, or revived, words and phrases printed for the first time in the latest Concise dictionary include metrosexual (used about David Beckham and others), sex up, congestion charge, health tourism, pole dancing, speed dating and threequel (a second sequel).

Interesting, no? As well as showing the more advanced student that native speakers have problems, it also makes a good introduction on teacher training courses to error analysis.

Here is a procedure to use in class:

1. Give the error analysis task above out. You could easily change it do suit the level.

2. Feedback >> you could then go on to look at the items you highlighted in the task, teaching the differences, or getting the students to research the differences themselves with grammar books & dictionaries. They then teach each other. Or leave it until after the article reading.
For some apostrophe rules:

3. Reading - tell them they are in good company with these kinds of problems as native speakers find them difficult. Give out the article & ask students to quickly find any examples in the error task in the article. Give a time limit.

4. Students compare >> feedback.

5. Comprehension check - students write 5-8 questions about the text, in pairs >> hand on their questions for others to answer >> hand them back to original writers for correction.

For lower levels, you might simply tell them what is in the article. Interesting teacher talk.

6. Language focus - some possible focuses:
- the discourse structure - get the students to trace how the article develops. Ask them to give a descriptive heading to each paragraph eg. introduction, resolved problem, newer problem, reasons for the problem, expert backing, conclusion etc..
- lexis; got the hang of, make our task harder, It reports evidence from, has dwindled to only about 8%, has drawn so much ridicule, bolting them together into fully formed sentences, Newly coined, or revived, words.....
- tense usage.....

7. Discussion
- you could see if the students know of any areas in their languages that suffer the same fate.
- a discussion of the following & any more that you can think of; metrosexual, sex up, congestion charge, health tourism, pole dancing, speed dating and threequel. And any new words in their own languages.

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