Emily Bryson ELT

A visual template by Emily Bryson ELT. A visual tool for facilitators and teachers to use to support learners and pairticipants to set goals, consider challenges and how to overcome them. The template shows ahand drawn mountain, and a hot air balloon, each with space for people to add thoughts and ideas.

What’s a visual template and why are they so special anyway?

There’s much more to graphic facilitation than just simple doodles. It’s not just drawing in or with a class. There is a whole world of visual metaphors, storytelling, templates, visual vocabulary containers and all sorts of other magic!

One of the most important tools is the visual template. In this post, I’ll explore what a visual template is and why they are so much fun to use.

What is a visual template?

A visual template is a graphic facilitation tool. It creates a hand-drawn space for people to add ideas, thoughts, information or doodles. The aim is to use it to guide a task, project, meeting, class or to help solve a problem.

In many ways, visual templates are similar (or perhaps even are) graphic organisers. A graphic organiser provides a space for people to answer questions or focus their thoughts too. They tend to take the form of tables, diagrams, or a series boxes.

Since starting my graphic facilitation journey, and applying it to all things English Language Teaching, I’ve been pondering what the difference between a graphic organiser and a visual template is…

What’s the difference between a graphic organiser and a visual template?

I’ve spoken to quite a few other visual practitioners at length on this and have come to the conclusion that:

  • a graphic organiser uses simple boxes, circles, squares and diagrams to create a space for thinking. They can be quite plain, simple and functional. They usually have text to guide thinking because there are no other visual clues.

For example:


  • a visual template uses visual metaphors, storytelling and hand drawn icons to provide an inspiring space to add ideas. There’s an added magic to a visual template because, instead of a box, a visual template will use an icon such as a mountain, a hot air balloon or a lightbulb as a blank space to add ideas. They don’t need to use text to guide thinking, because the imagery allows the brain to connect with the story behind it.

In short, visual templates are snazzier, more fun and more visually engaging than graphic organisers, in my humble opinion.

Here’s an example from my book Pathways to Success: Visual Tools for Goal-Setting, Self-Evaluation and Progession.

In this visual template, there are a few visual metaphors. These help to de-sensitise tricky topics, inspire and add a fun visual story.

  • The mountain – is often used to signify difficulties, challenges or working towards a goal. The summit of the mountain could be an aspiration or objective.
  • The hot air balloon – can be used to represent a method of reaching goals. Adding hot air, positive thoughts or tasks can help the balloon rise and move upwards. Adding more weight, baggage or negative thoughts could have the opposite effect.

The beauty of visual templates is that they can be used in many ways for various purposes. I’ve used the mountain in class, in webinars and to plan my own business. It’s perfect for printing, drawing, interactive whiteboards and online use. And it can be adapted for personal goal-setting, business goal-setting, reflecting on wellbeing and a multitude of other topics, so it’s a winner in terms of minimising preparation time!

If you’d like more ideas like this, you can buy my Pathways to Success: Visual Tools for Goal-Setting, Self-Evaluation and Progession. It has sixteen visual templates which you can use, re-use, adapt and re-purpose in as many ways as you can possibly think. I’ve provided some usage notes to get you started, as well as a printer-friendly and a colour version of each template.

Front cover of teaching resource pack by Emily Bryson. Title: Pathways to Success: Visual Tools for Goal-Setting, Self-Evaluation & Porgession. The cover illustration shows a mountain with people finding different ways to get to the top (e.g. a hot air balloon, a cable car, a bike, etc).
Emily Bryson ELT – Resource pack for students, teachers, leaders and teams.

If you’d like to try before you buy, check out this webinar recording (start at 7.45 mins to skip the intro).

And, if you’d like to create your own visual tools like this, I have various courses which can help you. You might want to start with Dis(?)Organised Graphics and Graphic Organisers with the fabulous Clare Hayward, where we share some cool teaching tips on using canva, graphic organisers and visual templates!

What’s a visual template and why are they so special anyway? Read More »

Thumbnail of six sketchnotes by Emily Bryson. Created as visual summaries for the IATEFL Young Learners special interest group webconference in January 2024. The sketchnotes provide visual records of a variety of English language teaching topics.

Six Sketchnotes for Teaching Young Learners

I was absolutely honoured to be asked to visually record the IATEFL Young Learners’ Special Interest Group Webconference in January.

It was an incredible event, with a vast array of top ELT Professionals sharing their expertise.

I had the pleasure of visually recording the following sessions:

  • The power of self-regulation: a lesson from Captain Marvel by Andre Hedlund
  • Unlocking potential: exploring play based learning for young learners by Marie Davou
  • Making English language learning socially just by Dario Banegas
  • Empowering Education: nurturing hope and equity in underserved communities by Anju Moses and Dinesha Sinaratne
  • Understanding & embracing uniqueness: nurturing mental wellbeing in education by Nicky Francis & Candace Donovan
  • Extending the walls of the classroom: across the sky by Michael Lacey Freeman

Here’s a quick peek at what I created. If you’d like to know more about each session, sketchnoting or my design choices, check out the blog post I wrote for IATEFL YLTSIG. You can also see the sketchnotes in large size there too.

Thumbnail of six sketchnotes by Emily Bryson. Created as visual summaries for the IATEFL Young Learners special interest group webconference in January 2024. The sketchnotes provide visual records of a variety of English language teaching topics.

If you’d like me to create a sketchnote of one of your sessions, or an event you’re organising, just get in touch via socials or my contact form. I also take commissions for summarising complex reports and research OR making presentation slides snazzy!

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Emily Bryson ELT Blog posts: a collection of English Language Teaching topics

Emily Bryson ELT blog posts: a collection of English Language Teaching topics!

One of the things I love most about blogging is the opportunity to explore different ascpects of teaching English in more detail. It’s a great way to learn and share teaching ideas with the world.

Over the years, I’ve been writing blog posts less for my website and more as a professional blogger. I’ve now written for Ellii ( formerly ESL Library), British Council, Cambridge University Press and National Geographic Learning, not to mention all the magazine articles.

As I feel like I’ve been neglecting my own blog here, I thought I’d write a post collating some of the articles I’ve written for other organisations.

Resident blogging for Ellii (formerly ESL Library)

I’ll start with Ellii, because I’m thrilled to be writing fortnightly blog posts for them. I love their approach to language learning, and their engaging and accessible resources. Their blog is full of ELT related topics from teaching tips to wellbeing advice.

Here are a few of the posts I’ve written them:

Translanguaging: Embracing the Power of Multilingualism in Your Classroom

The Power of Differentiation: Effective Strategies to Support Learners with Mixed Abilities. 

A Quick Guide to Universal Design for Learning

Speaking at an ELT Conference: Top Tips for Successful Presentations

How to Simplify Complex Tasks with Visual Prompts

The What, Why and How of Sustainable Development Goals

Using Graphic Organisers for Language Skills Development

Graphic Facilitation 101: Teaching English through Visual Communication

What’s the Story? How One Image Can Develop Visual Literacy and Critical Thinking Skills

Six Ways to Support English Learners from Refugee Backgrounds

Sketchnoting 101: Supercharge Professional Development with Visual Notes

It was pretty tricky to decide which ones to share here! I think I might have got a bit carried away! I also wrote a series of posts on accessibility, which shares ways to support learners with dyslexia, ADHD, low vision and limited digital literacy.  And you’ll find a lovely hand drawn activity about banishing your inner troll and embracing growth mindset there too!

You can check out my other posts for Ellii by clicking the image below:

Screenshot of a selection of blog posts Emily Bryson has written for Ellii (formerly ESL Library). Posts include topics such as accessible learning, wellbeing. mental health, end of term activities, teaching learners from refugee backgrounds, digital literacy, using images as grammar prompts.
A screenshot from Ellii.com. Click to view posts.

National Geographic Learning Voices Blog

I am proud to be one of the authors of the Voices series for National Geographic Learning. I love its global and inclusive approach to language learning. It seeks to develop students’ voices in English through intercultural communication, engaging topics and impactful images.

It also follows a pronunciation syllabus which embraces accent diversity. As a language teaching professional with a Scottish accent, this is incredibly refreshing for me. For years, I felt my accent was ‘wrong’ but in reality the way I was taught to teach pronunciation was wrong! Every accent is beautiful and intelligibility is the key!

You can read more about the ethos of Voices in these blog posts:

  • Marek Kiczkowiak shares how to teach pronunciation for global communication.
  • Lewis Lansford discusses the importance of teaching authentic listening skills.
  • Chia Suan Chong gives advice on intercultural skills for the real world.
  • Alex Warren provides eight tips for best practice leasson planning.
  • And I share ways to make learning accessible.

Click the image to read the articles:

Images of the front covers of the Voices series of English Language Teaching Coursebooks for National Geographic Learning
Click to read the articles.

Cambridge University Press World of Better Learning Blog

The World of Better Learning site is absolutely full of English Language Teaching related content. It has fantastic posts from Jade Blue, Rachel Tsateri, Peter Fullager and Jo Szoke, to name but a few experts in the field.. So whether you’d like some teaching ideas for Pride Month or ideas for developing Digital Literacy, this is a treasure chest of info.

I was honoured to be asked to write about Graphic Facilitation for them. Here’s a link to my article:

Graphic Facilitation: Getting Creative with Hand-drawn Graphics

British Council Teaching English Blog

The British Council Teaching English site is an absolute staple of any TEFL or TESOL teacher. It has been a tried and trusted throughout my whole career. This site covers every imaginable ELT topic under the sun.

In this post, I share simple ways to use graphic novels, simple drawings, emojis, story graphs and the language experience approach to help students tell their stories.

You can read it here:

How can I celebrate diversity through storytelling? 

Love these posts? If you’d like to know more about graphic facilitation or adding a visual or hand-drawn twist to your lessons, check out my courses. Click the laptop image below.

Hand drawn image by Emily Bryson ELT. The visual shows a laptop screen. Inside the screen a teacher is teaching while students look on in amazement.

Emily Bryson ELT Blog posts: a collection of English Language Teaching topics Read More »

Emily Bryson ELT FREE Active Meditation download

Switching off the overactive mind: an active drawing meditation!

Do you have a brain that won’t be silenced? 

Have you tried (and failed) at guided meditation? 

I have! You’re not alone. 

For years I struggled to quieten my mind. I attended lunch time mindfulness sessions at my college. I downloaded numerous meditation apps. I tried sitting quietly in an empty room. 

Nothing worked. 

I even got into the habit of arriving fifteen minutes early for my yoga class. This just meant that I was usually asleep by the time the instructor arrived! 

An enlightened yoga instructor!

When I told my yoga teacher about my struggles she just looked at me knowingly. She knew me well, and she instinctively knew that meditation wasn’t for me. 

She said ‘You need to get out on your bike. You’re an active meditator.’

Something clicked that day. She was so right. And it was so refreshing to hear that meditation wasn’t for everyone. 

Another muse!

Then Robert Stroud contacted me. He’d seen my work on graphic facilitation for English language teaching and wanted me to write an article on wellbeing for the University Grapevine magazine. 


Emily Bryson, University Grapevine Article, active drawing meditation, doodling for mindfulness

He got me thinking. If I can’t quieten my mind through sitting still, why not doodle my way to tranquility? 

So I got my pens out!

Doodling a body scan meditation

I’d attempted enough mindfulness techniques to know the script. Start by focusing on how your body feels, then bring your attention to the sights, sounds and smells, then consider what you can taste and any emotions. 

I drew an ear, an eye, a nose, a hand, a mouth and a heart. I drew each one big enough that I could add notes and doodles inside it. Then I added what I could hear, see, smell, touch, taste and feel. I added more doodles as I went. 

The relaxing effects of drawing

Drawing is well known for being therapeutic and the aim of meditation has a similar effect. Once I’d spent ten minutes doodling and focusing my thoughts on the present moment, I felt much calmer. 

It was definitely a tool I needed to share with the world, so I tidied it up and sent it on the University Grapevine. 

The calm classroom

I teach learners from refugee backgrounds. When they arrive in class, they can be thinking about a multitude of worries; the safety of their families in other countries, their home office case, homeless, work, children, etc. Focusing on grammar and vocabulary aren’t always top of the list. 

When I did this with my learners, I demonstrated how to draw each icon on the whiteboard. They then took a minute or so to think, listen, feel and add their thoughts in the relevant place. It went down well, and many said that it was an enjoyable activity. 

If you’d like to try it, you can download it and other freebies here: 


You can read the original article in Issue 13 of the University Grapevine Magazine here: 


If you’d like more ideas like this or to develop your doodling skills for the classroom, check out my courses:


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Awesome Alumni!: Eve Sheppard!

Awesome Alumni: Eve Sheppard!

Need some inspiration? Keep scrolling!

Eve Sheppard is an ESOL and functional maths teacher at Oldham College. She’s also a graduate of my Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings course and a regular #DrawingELT (see Twitter) participant. 

I asked her a few questions about how she uses simple drawings in the classroom. Her response blew me away. 

What attracted you to my course?

I wanted to do something creative for myself and for my teaching. Earlier in the year I’d been to a workshop on using comics to teach and had some success using hand-drawn cartoons in Functional Maths classes. I wanted to improve my drawing skills so that I could use them more confidently in the ESOL classroom.

How has your professional practice changed since my course?

Drawing has permeated every part of my professional practice. It is an incredibly useful tool for so many aspects of my work. When I’m planning how to communicate with students and colleagues it’s become a habit to think ‘how can I draw this?’.  I’ve used drawing in student profiles, staff bulletins, templates for gathering action research reflections, event publicity and of course in my classroom.

What have you used your graphic facilitation skills for? 

In classes I often use it to support speaking and writing activities. For example, in one lesson, students were practising using present simple to discuss culture. They talked with a partner to find similarities and differences in their lifestyles. I displayed a slide with lots of simple icons to help generate ideas. As they spoke they made a visual record of their conversations using a Venn diagram. Note taking is a skill that many of my students struggle with, but the Venn diagram and simple drawings allowed them to record their discussions without getting bogged down with lots of writing. They were able to use their notes to report back to the group and complete a writing activity. It worked so much better than written notes as the images were quick to copy and students were able to focus on the spoken element of the task.

I’ve also used drawings as a prompt for writing and to provide a context for grammar points, as in the examples below:

Aside from teaching, graphic facilitation has been invaluable for organising my thoughts and gathering data for action research. When I did an OTLA Action Research project, this visual template gave participants a clear understanding of the kind of information I wanted to capture:

On a personal level, when I was writing my reflective journal for Advanced Teacher Status (ATS), this hastily scribbled visual template stopped my head spinning and helped me to write coherently. 

Eve Sheppard. Graphic Facilitation for ELT. Emily Bryson ELT Alumni. Action Plan.

How are the students responding to your simple drawings and graphic facilitation tools?

They understand me more easily and tell me that they enjoy seeing my drawings. The drawings often make us smile and I think they make grammar topics feel more approachable. Students have more opportunities to speak, because I can communicate ideas quickly without unnecessary teacher talk.  My students also appreciate opportunities to draw themselves and have said that it helps them to record and remember vocabulary.

Have you used graphic facilitation for any other aspects of your life?


Yes, it creeps into everything 😀. I created this visual to help my children tidy their bedroom and it actually worked! 

Eve Sheppard. Graphic Facilitation for ELT. Emily Bryson ELT Alumni. Encouraging children to tidy their rooms. Hand drawn checklist.

What would you say to anyone thinking about doing my course?

Go for it!  It’s so useful and doing something creative is great for well-being. It has enhanced my professional practice in so many ways and been a source of joy and pride in my work.

Anything else?

I think the feedback fairy says it all 😀

Eve Sheppard. Graphic Facilitation for ELT. Emily Bryson ELT Alumni. Feedback Fairy.

Isn’t Eve’s work just so incredibly inspiring? I absolutely LOVE all of it. 

If you’d like to learn to use graphic facilitation skills like these in the English language classroom, check out my courses! 



Awesome Alumni!: Eve Sheppard! Read More »

Self-portrait profile image of Catherine Lindsay, ESOL Lecturer at Clement James Centre

Awesome Alumni: Catherine Lindsay

Awesome Alumni: Catherine Lindsay

Self-portrait profile image of Catherine Lindsay, ESOL Lecturer at Clement James Centre

The more courses and webinars on Graphic Facilitation for ELT professionals that I run, the more awesome alumni I have. 

I’ve decided to start a series of blog posts featuring my AWESOME ALUMNI. 

First up is Catherine Lindsay. She is an ESOL Lecturer at the Clement James Centre. 

When I launched my first group programme, she was the very first person to sign up and make me feel it could be a winner!

Here are her reflections on the course and some great teaching ideas she’d like to share with you. 

How has your professional practice changed since my course?

I now have a new tool-kit of ‘ready-to-draw’ images, which enables me to foster spontaneity in my ESOL classes. I can also help my students to express themselves using drawings, and so encourage creativity in classes. 

How are the students responding to your simple drawings and graphic facilitation tools?

Students have remarked that they really enjoy my sketches and they bring joy into the classroom. When one student left at the end of a course just before Christmas 2021, she said she would miss my drawings!

Can you describe a couple of ways you’ve used your skills in class?

Emily taught us a variety of simple ways to draw people. I felt that each could show a different emotion, so I was inspired to draw them on the whiteboard at the beginning of class when I wanted to check in with how they felt. I left ‘C’ blank to allow students to add their own. This worked really well, as students were free to express themselves and could say more than they would with words alone. 

In one female class, the Muslim women responded by drawing their hairstyles! It was a lovely moment as the students connected with each other in a new way.

Catherine Lindsay Graphic Facilitation for ELT Emotions

Using simple drawings has also been helpful for clarifying language points and pronunciation. For example, students were confused between ‘quilt’ and ‘kilt’. It took me only a minute to quickly draw each on the whiteboard; they could then copy the drawing into their notes because it was easy to copy. The students enjoyed it because it was fun and spontaneous!

Catherine Lindsay Graphic Facilitation for ELT Kilt or Quilt

Isn’t Catherine awesome? I love all of her incredible work. 

If this post left you feeling inspired, why not join one of my courses? I always have something exciting on the go! Click the link to find out more! 



Awesome Alumni: Catherine Lindsay Read More »

Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote IATEFL 2022 John Hughes 7 steps to creativity in the classroom

Sketchnotes from IATEFL 2022

I think IATEFL 2022 may have been my favourite IATEFL so far! A bold statement, I know. But:

– I raised over £2000 for Amala Education by cycling from Glasgow.

– I saw Voices (the coursebook series I’ve been working on,) in all its finery on the National Geographic Learning stand.

– My session on Graphic Facilitation for ELT was well received, as was my Pecha Kucha.

– Doroth Zemach of Wayzgoose Press sold every copy of my 50 Ways to Teach Life Skills book at the Indie Authors stand.

– I caught up with long lost friends and met people I know from working online.

– I had the opportunity to create lots of sketchnotes.

Usually, when I create sketchnotes, I’ll use my touchscreen laptop or an A3 sheet of paper. This year, I cycled to IATEFL so I didn’t have such a luxury. Instead I had a black pen and a bendy A5 notepad. But, as I keep telling everyone, they’re not art, they’re communication. So here they are!

Meri Maroutian sketchnote by Emily Bryson ELT - The future for non-native speakers IATEFL 2022
Meri Maroutian – The future for non-native speakers.

Meri is a world changer. I wish she didn’t need to stand up at an International TEFL conference and talk about how so called ‘non-native teachers’ are being discriminated against for jobs. But the sad truth remains that they are. A lot. English is a global language yet still, so called ‘native speakers’ get preferential treatment. I hope that this changes in the very near future. After all, 80% of English language users are ‘non-native speakers’. The demographic of language teachers should reflect this reality. Meri, myself and all the Voices team are with you!

Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote - Paula Barrowcliffe - How diverse are ESOL departments?
Paula Barrowcliffe – How diverse are ESOL departments

The answer? Not very. This is something else that needs to change. The problem is, how do we change it?

Emily Bryson ELT Sketchnote Ola Kowalska IATEFL 2022
Ola Kowalska – How to successfully venture into online ELT-preneurship
Emily Bryson Sketchnote of IATEFL. Charlotte Ellis
Charlotte Ellis (featuring Kath Bilsborough) – ELT & the climate crisis – developing sustainable students.
Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote - Margarita Kosior - Tales of strays
Margarita Kosior – Pick a cause and fight for it. Introducing Tales of Strays.
Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote Harry Waters Macmillan Education How to develop a respect for sustainability that sticks
Harry Waters – How to develop a respect for sustainability that sticks
Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote Andy Cowle Brave New world IATEFL 2022
Andy Cowle – Brave New World – Ready for Planet English
Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote IATEFL 2022 John Hughes 7 steps to creativity in the classroom
John Hughes – 7 Steps to Creativity in the Classroom

Massive thanks to every single one of these speakers. I loved every second of your sessions. You are all amazing at what you do. Keep up the good work.

If you like these sketchnotes, why not join one of my courses and have a go yourself? Click the link to find out more! 


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A visual template by Emily Bryson ELT.A hand drawn sign post in the shape of an arrow facing right, to signify the future. Inside there is space for students or participants to add their ideas: a thought cloud with stars to add dreams and ambitions, a target to add goals and five arrows to add mini-goals or tasks to complete to achieve those goals. This is taken from Emily's resource pack Pathways to Success. Available on her website www.EmilyBrysonELT.com

A graphic for goal setting.

At the beginning of the year, I find it helpful to think about my goals and ambitions for the year ahead. There’s tons of research out there showing that if you write down clear goals, you’re more likely to achieve them. Even more so if you actually draw them.

I created this visual template to help this process. You can use it for you, or with your classes. Write on the .jpg provided or draw your own. I recommend the latter as it will be more fun!

In the section with the target, add one goal for each arrow. Consider different aspects of life, e.g. family & friends, personal development, work, health, money, etc. Be mindful that goals should be flexible and acheivable. I often find my goals change with time.

The thought bubble with stars represents dreams or aspirational goals. These can be things that you or your participants don’t have as much chance to influence. For example, one of my aspirational goals is to visit friends in Spain in the summer, but this is covid dependent.

In class, once students have completed or drawn their own goals, ask them to share their goals and discuss how they might achieve them. You could use language such as ‘I want to..’, ‘I’d like to…’, ‘I hope to…’, ‘It’s my dream to…’, ‘I’d love it if,…’, ‘I’m going to…’, ‘I plan to…’, ‘I will…’ etc, depending on their level. Draw attention to any emergent language.

If you like this, you’ll love Pathways to Success: Visual Tools for Goal-Setting, Self-Evaluation and Progression.  In it, you’ll find sixteen visual tools to use, re-use, adapt and repurpose with students, teams, individuals and even to help you plan your own big goals. 

To try before you buy, check out this webinar (start about 7 mins in to skip the intro! 


A graphic for goal setting. Read More »

It’s not a snowman! It’s not a Christmas tree either!

I got this idea from twitter. I was browsing and noticed the hashtag #NotAGingerBreadMan.

Students are given what looks like half a gingerbread man, and asked to colour it in and draw something else with it. If you search for this hashtag, you’ll see all sorts of cool creations – faces, dinosaurs, cats, football players.

This is a festive take on the original. You can go full Christmas spirit with the Santa, Christmas tree and stocking. Or you can opt for a more wintery vibe with the bell, candle, snowman and big cosy sock!

Ask students to turn the image around a few times and discuss ideas with a partner. Then give them time to draw or colour in their creations. Once they’ve finished, I’d display them around the room and ask students to explain what they drew and why.

For example, the Christmas tree might be a hedgehog if turned on its side.


The candle might a train coming out of a tunnel.

It’s a great way to get students using their imaginations and their language skills to share their ideas.

Click this link to download the PDF.

I’d love to see your work. If you do this with your class, or by yourself just for fun, share your work using #DrawingELT and tag @EmilyBrysonELT. It would make my day!

Love this idea? I have literally tons of super-simple ways to use hand drawn graphics in the ELT classroom. Why not do one of my courses? I always have something exciting on the go!

Click the laptop icon below to view my courses.

It’s not a snowman! It’s not a Christmas tree either! Read More »

Emily Bryson ELT using graphs to tell a story. THe story of my drawing skills over time - peaks at high school, dips for a while, then increase after doing a graphic facilitation course.

Lesson idea: using graphs to tell a story

Telling a story is a great way to get students communicating. But often when I student hears ‘tell a story’, they are at a loss for ideas or find it hard to remember all the key incidents. This lesson idea simplifies this process immensely. Stories can be told with just one line.

For example, here’s an example of a story of someone’s fitness levels. Draw it for the students and ask them what they think the person was doing at each point of the line. Here, they can use their critical thinking skills to figure out that perhaps the peaks were races the person had been training for while the troughs were periods when they were quite sedentary. In the early part of the graph, the person’s fitness yoyos while in the later part they have got a bit more routine about their fitness. Then, ask students to draw their own fitness over time. This could be over the past year or over their lifetime. Ask them to explain their graph to another student, then write about it.

Here’s another example of a story using just one line. In this example, students can discuss why this person’s drawing skills reduced after high school, and what made them increase their skills. They can then reflect on whether their story would be similar, and draw their own. Again, ask students to describe their ‘story in a line’ to another student, then write about it.

NB: This is my drawing journey over time. Dr Neil Cohn found that many people stop drawing after high school.

You can create stories using one line for all sorts of topics. For example:

  • My language learning journey.
  • My confidence with [speaking in English].
  • My interest in [cooking].
  • Time spent [shopping].
  • My [digital skills] over time.

You could, of course, use multiple lines and compare. For example, you could ask students to reflect on their progress so far with each skill in English, and have them represent each skill as a different colour. Give them a blank graph to get them started.

How would you use this idea in class? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Love this idea? Why not join one of my online courses? Click the image below to find out more:

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How graphic facilitation rejuvenated my teaching mojo!

Learning Graphic Facilitation skills rejuvenated my teaching mojo and has been the single best thing I’ve done for my personal and professional development.

In my 20 years as a teacher I think it’s pretty safe (and very natural) to say that there have been highs and lows. I suspect I’m not the only teacher to get bored at times. Overall, I love my job. The students are amazing. They have taught me a lot about the world, we’ve shared a lot of laughs, and they have fed me well! My colleagues are fantastic too. We’ve supported each other, learned from each other and enjoyed a fair few nights on the town. Plus, I teach English, so I essentially get paid to chat to learners, write conversational emails and play games. Yet somehow I do occasionally lose my mojo.

This concept of ‘teaching mojo’ came to me when reading a blog by Geraldine Ubeda. She wrote about how she had a bit of a teaching slump, but got her it back by getting involved with the TEFL Development Hub, reading and doing DELTA module 1. Essentially, CPD helped her find her ‘mojo, spark, zest’ as she puts it.

In many ways, it’s the same for me. Here’s a graph of how I’d visualise my teaching mojo over time:

You’ll notice that every time I was learning something shiny and new, my teaching mojo spiked, but when things got a bit too easy, my mojo waned.

Then I did my first course in graphic facilitation. My teaching mojo has been on fire ever since! Every day in class I get to trial a new technique or tool. Each week I learn to draw new icons and add them to my visual dictionary. I am continuously developing my visual vocabulary, my ability to communicate, my teaching skills and my own learners’ abilities to communicate. I now have an instantly accessible bank of visual tools which I can use at any time. I use my skills for making language points more understandable, telling stories, and adding fun to my lessons. I also use them to stand out from the crowd on social media and make my teacher training sessions more interactive and memorable. Plus it gets me away from a screen and lets me call playing with felt tips pens ‘work’!

As it turns out, I’m not the only who has experienced this. One of my previous course participants shared this testimonial:

I’d really love to share this superpower and help ELT professionals to find their lost mojos. If you’d like to know more, why not join one of my online courses? Click the laptop icon to find out more!

Click for information about my online course.

References: Here’s a link to Geraldine’s blog post (which has very cool visuals): https://geraldineubeda.wordpress.com/2021/09/19/lost-and-found-my-teaching-mojo/ 

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A Visual Template for Action Research

In a previous post, I summarised what action research is. In this post, I’d like to share a visual template that you can use to plan your own action research.

Action research is exploring your teaching in order to make improvements. This road map can (hopefully) guide you towards a world where the sun always shines in your classroom! Draw it, or print it, then scribble down some notes and ideas.

Start at the beginning of the road, with the topic you’d like to explore. This may be a problem, such as students not taking effective notes. Try to narrow this down. Note taking skills are broad, so keep it simple and focus on one area (e.g. taking vocabulary notes).

Now use the lightbulbs to consider possible solutions or techniques you’d like to trial. Perhaps you’d like to train students to create a vocabulary dictionary, use graphic organisers or use simple drawings beside new words.

When you have a few ideas, head over to the left side of the road. Note down some people you’d like to talk to and information you need. Have a look for podcasts, videos, blogs, books, or articles to help you. After you’ve spoken to people and done some reading or viewing, you may want to revise your lightbulbs. That’s OK. That’s part of the process.

Hopefully by this point one idea in your lightbulbs will be glowing brighter than the rest. Trial it and see if it works. Once you’ve trialled it, go ahead and try others things. Collect evidence and reflect as you do so. This could include notes, a reflective journal, discussions, interviews, lesson plans, students’ work, feedback, etc.

If this is part of a formal action research project, you’ll then need to write a reflective report summarising your findings and evidence. You can then share this with the wider world to improve practice around the world!

Visual templates are a key graphic facilitation technique. My own action research has found that they are very effective in the ELT context.

If you’d like to know more, why not join one of my online courses? Click the laptop to find out more.

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Free lesson plan. Recycling and climate change. Emily Bryson ELT. Subscribe to my mailling list to download.

3 Free lessons plans! Because #ELTCanDoEco!

COP26 has been in my city, Glasgow, and I’ve got totally swept away by green theming my lessons.

My classes this year are starter and beginner level. The starter class are literacy level learners. They’ve got a strong grasp of the alphabet and can write simple words, but they’re working on their sentences and short texts.

Before COP26, I scoured all the usual places for environmental lesson plans, hoping I could find something suitable or accessible and adaptable.

Alas, my search proved fruitless, so I donned my materials writing and graphic facilitation hat and got to work.

I created the following:

  • a hand-drawn infographic of environmental problems and things people can do to help (Grammar: Do you + verb?)
  • a set of worksheets using icons for common household waste (Grammar: It is a/an…  They are… s/es/ies)
  • an activity where students identify how to recycle each item of waste and discuss whether it can be recycled (Can you recycle…+noun?)

The lessons went down well with learners and really got them thinking green. I was surprised at how few actually recycled, but I think I planted the seed for them to explore their local recycling opportunities.

I don’t usually spend so much time using drawings to prepare my lessons, but I knew I’d use these again and again. I also wanted to create something unique for this week’s #DrawingELT (see twitter) challenge:

#ELTCanDoEco was created by ELT Footprint. They want to create a bank of ‘Can do’ statements, much like the CEFR statements but specifically for EcoLiteracy. They are calling on ELT professionals to use these when creating lessons with a green theme.

My lessons refer to the following eco-competencies:

  • I can understand and explain climate change.
  • I can communicate different ways to help the environment.
  • I can identify common household waste.
  • I can decide what household waste can and can’t be recycled.
  • I can consider different things to do with waste that can’t be recycled.

I’d like to share these lesson plans here with you. Although I wrote them for A0/A1, they are highly visual, and as such, I feel they can easily be adapted to all levels of learner. That’s why I’m sharing these as a powerpoint. You can download it and adapt the visuals for your own class. I’ve made some notes on each powerpoint slide of how to do this.

You can download them by clicking the image below.

Free lesson plan. Recycling and climate change. Emily Bryson ELT. Subscribe to my mailling list to download.
Click here to download my green lesson plans.

You can read more about #ELTCanDoEco on the ELT Footprint page: https://eltfootprint.org/eltcandoeco/

If you’d like to learn how to draw visuals similar to those in my lesson plan, good news! I have an online course for that!

You can find information by clicking the laptop icon.


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Emily Bryson ELT hand drawn pen on a whiteboard

The satisfying sounds of an engaged classroom (and how to hear them)!

I recently had the satisfaction of hearing my students make noises such as:

‘Aaaaah’ (I understand)

‘Ooooh’ (How cool!)

‘Haha’ (How funny! This class is great!)

Hearing students make those sounds is what I live for as a teacher. It’s those moments that make you think there can’t possibly be a better job in the world.

So what was I doing? A simple listening activity using basic shapes with my beginner class. We were revising common objects (e.g. a watch, a camera) with the form ‘It is a/an’.

You may have noticed that my drawings are as simple as I can make them. They are often made of basic shapes such as squares, circles, triangles, rectangles, lines and squiggles. If you can form these shapes, and write the alphabet, then you can draw. It is especially easy to draw common objects with these shapes.

First, I drew basic shapes on the board. Then we revised prepositions of place and phrases like ‘bottom left’ and ‘top right’ (which I find particularly useful for navigating the screen in online lessons).

Then I gave them all a sheet of A4 printer paper and dictated the following:

Object 1: Draw a rectangle. In the centre of the rectangle, draw a big circle. In the top right corner, draw a small square. On top of the rectangle, in the top right, draw a small rectangle.

Object 1: This is what they drew. One student put the square on the left, so I added another square to mine. Left or right wasn’t really important. It still looked like a camera.

Object 2: Draw a circle. On top of the circle, draw a square. Under the circle, draw a square. In the middle of the circle, draw a line. Start in the middle and go right. Draw one more line. Start in the middle and go up. 

Object 2: This is what they (mostly) drew.

Object 3: Draw a long rectangle. On the top right, draw a small rectangle. Draw lines in the small rectangle from the top to the bottom.

Object 3

Object 4: Draw a long rectangle. On the left of the triangle, draw a triangle. On the right, draw a small square. 

Object 4: Ok, I may have added the handle at the end.

By now, students were getting it. Drawings are just a collection of shapes. I did this with two different classes and in the second class, students got quite excited and started creating their own. Here’s what they described, with much hilarity:

Then they wanted to know how to draw a rocket. Which uses curves as well as the other shapes.

I did this with my beginner classes. One group has slightly stronger listening skills and they drew as I spoke, the other needed a little more support. For them, I dictated, then I demonstrated on the whiteboard if they needed it.

Each group made the same noises! I’d be really keen to hear if your students have the same reactions! I’d also be interested to hear how higher levels get on with this activity. I think it would still challenge them. You could read it faster, or make the objects more intricate.

If you’d like to brush up on your drawing skills and learn lots of ways to use drawing and graphic facilitation techniques for ELT, why not join one of my online courses? You can find information by clicking the laptop icon above. 

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Action research sketchnote by Emily Bryson ELT a summary of action research

Action Research: a sketchnote

This year, I am delighted to have the opportunity to become a mentor for Outstanding Learning Teaching and Assessment (OTLA) Action Research projects. I am currently working with Oldham College on a project aiming to ease the transition from ESOL to Vocational FE courses and Lancaster and Morecambe college on a project investigating emotional support strategies for ESOL learners. So far, I have been blown away by the knowledge and enthusiasm the lecturers have.

It’s been wonderful working with such inspiring individuals, but also hearing about previous OTLA projects. It has struck me that Action Research can often be misunderstood. I think many practitioners (my less experienced self included) hear the words ‘Research’ and instantly think of trawling journal articles, reading (and re-reading) big academic words and hours analysing data. But in fact, action research is none of those things. It is much simpler.

Every teacher can be a researcher. And it’s highly likely that most practitioners informally do action research without even knowing it. Action research is essentially trialling new teaching techniques and working practices to make improvements. Now find me a teacher who hasn’t done that! In a more formal sense, action research projects involve reflection, keeping a journal, collecting evidence (such as students’ work, feedback, lesson plans, etc), a final report, ethics agreements and sharing the learning with other professionals.

Here’s a sketchnote I drew to summarise Action Research:

For more detailed information, the Education and Training Foundation Action Research guide is very informative.

If you’d like this sketchnote and would like to brush up on your drawing skills, why not join one of my online courses?

Click the laptop icon to find out more!

Action Research: a sketchnote Read More »

DIY support box. Pile of books with two chopsticks. A phone is placed on top of the chopsticks to enable video recording of a hand drawing

How to draw ELT icons: a video

I’ve been running courses in graphic facilitatiion for English language teaching professionals for a while now. The courses teach simple ways to use drawings to make lessons more understandable, engaging and memorable. 

My drawings are not art, they are communication! They are simply a visual vocabulary that I have taught myself and developed over time. Everyone can do it. 

The beauty is that they are easy to draw and they take just seconds to clearly communicate a point. They are simple icons which are unintimidating and accessible for all. 

I often find that my students copy them, unprompted to their notebooks, which instantly supports their learning and language recall. 

In this video I demonstrate how to draw some useful icons for the ELT classroom. You can use these icons for your whiteboards, resources, sketchnotes and graphic organisers. You could also show your learners how to use them in their notebooks. I particularly like to add them to rubrics in homework tasks to ensure my beginners understand what to do.

How would you use them?

Loved this? This is the first video in my Build your Visual Vocabulary module. To find out more and browse my other courses, click the laptop. 

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Feedback comes in many forms. But the best is a fairy!

Feedback is crucial for developing high quality learning experiences. As a materials writer, I value the editorial process because it helps me develop my content from first to final draft. As a teacher, I encourage my students to tell me how they feel about the content of my lessons, and what I can do to support their learning. As a teacher trainer, I am always keen to hear what participants thought of my session so I can make changes the next time I deliver it.

Feedback comes in many forms. Pun intended. It’s true, often feedback comes in the form of a form. Survey Monkey and Google Forms are the ‘go to’.

As a graphic facilitator, I can tell you that there are much more creative (and fun) ways of receiving feedback. In this post, I’d like to share with you to one of those methods.

Let me introduce the Feedback Fairy.

Visual capture sheet inspired by Martha Harding at Scottish Refugee Council.

I was first introduced to the Feedback Fairy by Martha Harding while I was on secondment at the Scottish Refugee Council. Martha had lots of cool ideas for facilitating sessions, and I added this one to my toolkit. I drew this version for the Sharing Lives Sharing Languages project that I was managing at the time.

The feedback fairy is best used as a flipchart, and participants add post-it comments in the various sections. You can do this online using the annotation tools in Zoom or using post-its in Jamboard. If you want individual feedback, you could photocopy one per participant.

Participants are guided to consider:

Heart – things they loved

Toolkit – tools, resources or activities they’d take away

Speech bubble – things they’d tell others

Brain – things they thought or learned

Wand – things they wished had been included

Bin – things they didn’t like

For my first cohort of Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings participants, it was a no-brainer to use the feedback fairy. But since the course focus was on drawings, I did something a little different.

I asked them to draw their own feedback fairies.

I’d like to share some of them here with you. I was blown away by the creativity, skill and imagination. And how much they all loved the course!

Credit: Annette Flavel
Credit: Eve Sheppard
Credit: Nergiz Kern
Credit: Cheryl Palin

Loved this? Want to learn more Graphic Facilitation techniques specifically for ELT professionals? Join one of my Online Courses! Follow this link to find out more: www.emilybrysonelt.com/all-courses/

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#DrawingELT seasons

Feel the fear, and draw anyway! Launching #drawingELT!

It is with great excitement that Clare Catchpole (of Express Yourself in English fame) and I launch the hashtag #drawingELT.

We are both firm believers in the power of drawing. It’s creative. It’s relaxing. It’s engaging. It’s supportive. It’s fun. It’s also great for checking understanding, aiding memory, supporting students to take notes and activating life skills such as critical thinking.

#DrawingELT seasons


We know that there are many teachers out there who agree and who would like to develop their drawing skills. So we’d like to create a community of like-minded ELT professionals. All you need to do is use #drawingELT on Twitter or LinkedIn to share your lesson ideas, blogs, doodles, sketches and flashcards.

To inspire your drawings, we’ll post challenges. These will vary from ELT related topics, to vocabulary items to more complex concepts like grammar, metaphor or puzzlers such as how to draw inclusive pronouns or the difference between need and want. 

And before you say it, everyone CAN DRAW. Some of us are maybe just a bit rusty or haven’t had much practice. Drawing is a visual language, and as language teaching professionals we all know the best way to improve is regular practice. I have two mottos:

Feel the fear, and draw anyway!

It’s not art, it’s communication. 

As such, with #drawingELT, anything goes. You can share the most rudimentary stick person scribbled on the back of a napkin or a detailed illustration capable of making Da Vinci jealous. Mine will be closer to the former!

Here’s a fantastic little .gif that Clare made to get you in the mood!


Clare Catchpole Drawing ELT

I look forward to seeing your creations!

If you’d like to brush up on your drawing skills, why not join one of my online courses? Find out more by clicking the laptop. 

Feel the fear, and draw anyway! Launching #drawingELT! Read More »

Emily Bryson sketchnote from Innovate online conference 2021 Tyson Seburn plenary session

Sketchnotes from Innovate ’21 (day 2)

I’ll start this post by saying what a well organised and inspiring conference Innovate is! I’ve wanted to go for many years, but have never been able to travel during term time to Barcelona. So when I saw that it was online this year, I got my session proposal in straight away.

One of the best things about the conference is that it’s just the right size. There were four sessions to choose from with each timeslot, which offered choice without overwhelming and it was easy to network in the Zoom garden.

On Saturday morning, I woke pondering the run scheduled in my marathon training plan or Fiona Mauchline’s session. The memory of how great Fiona’s previous sessions have been aided my choice. That, plus it was all about the senses. It sounded brilliant. And it was. Here’s my sketchnote:

Fiona Mauchline Innovate 2021 session. Sketchnote by Emily Bryson ELT

I took a few hours off in the afternoon to feel guilty about my run (but not actually do it) and add a few drawings to my own session on Engaging Learners Online with Simple Drawings. Sandy Millin did me the wonderful service of taking these wonderfully detailed notes, if you’d like a summary. Thanks, Sandy!

After my session, I couldn’t miss Tyson Seburn’s plenary. It’s amazing how much equality and diversity advice he squeezed into 15 mins! Using the metaphor of a dirty river, he explored the journey ELT has taken. Our metaphorical river is flowing in a cleaner direction now than before but we still have a lot of work to do before ELT Footprinters would deem it ecologically safe! I especially loved his reference to the ELT ‘coursebook closet’. A term coined by Scott Thornbury. Here’s my sketchnotes:

Emily Bryson sketchnote from Innovate online conference 2021 Tyson Seburn plenary session

If you’d like to learn how to sketchnote or use simple doodles to communicate, why not join one of my online courses? You can find information by clicking the laptop or join my mailing list to hear about the next dates.

Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.

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#ELTCanDoEco Innovate 2021 session by Katherine Bilsborough and Ceri Jones. Sketcnoted by Emily Bryson ELT

Sketchnotes from Innovate 21 (Day 1)

Today I’ve had the good fortune to attend some amazing sessions at Innovate Online 2021. Four hours on Zoom can take its toll but sketchnoting helped me stay focused and avoid the many distractions that my computer has on offer.

As these are a visual record and summary of the talks, I’ll leave this as a visual post.


#ELTCanDoEco Innovate 2021 session by Katherine Bilsborough and Ceri Jones. Sketcnoted by Emily Bryson ELT

Katherine Bilsborough and Ceri Jones discussed all things Ecoliteracy.

Emily Bryson ELT sketchnote of Harry Waters at Innovate 2021

Harry Waters gives advice on Becoming a Lean Green Teaching Machine!

Nergiz Kern Virtual Reality in ELT. Sketchnote by Emily Bryson ELT.

Nergiz Kern brought Environmental Topics to Life with Virtual Reality.

Tetiana Myronova Reflective Practice Toolkit Emily Bryson ELT sketchnotes

Tetiana Myronova introduced her super useful, super positive Reflective Practice Toolkit.

Do you ever use sketchnoting? I’d love to see your examples.

If you’d like to learn how to sketchnote or use simple doodles to communicate, why not join one of my online courses? You can find information by clicking the laptop or join my mailing list to hear about the next dates.

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5 essentials for teaching life skills


English language learners often want to learn English to improve their life chances. We can help them do so by incorporating life skills into our practice. In fact, it is my firm belief that teaching English and teaching life skills are the perfect match; each supports the other.

Here are five essentials for supporting learners with life skills.

Create a positive classroom atmosphere

It is not only our approach to teaching that makes ELT the perfect environment for incorporating life skills, it is the environment itself. As trainee teachers, one of the first things we learn is the importance of a welcoming, supportive, and encouraging class atmosphere. Students need to feel comfortable in the classroom and positive about their learning experiences.

Our classrooms must therefore be a safe space to learn from mistakes. We can create this by framing failures as learning opportunities and praising learners for their achievements. Giving students time to think before they respond, opportunities to reflect on their learning, and the chance to practise their skills in a supportive environment are invaluable for encouraging life skills acquisition.

Be patient

In creating a safe space to learn, we must also provide sufficient time for the adoption of life skills. Think about how you first learned to organise your time.  When you were in your early teenage years, it’s unlikely that you were as good at time management as you are now. You probably learned through a combination of advice from peers, teachers, parents, and other role models as well as simple trial and error. It’s possible that you may still feel that you still haven’t yet perfected this life skill. That’s because life skills take time and practice, and everyone is different.  Find out what your students’ aspirations are, give them the confidence to grow, and reassure them that their goals are achievable with a little hard work.

Be a role model

Students naturally look to their teachers for how to behave and succeed. We are role models. By presenting a professional, organised and well-prepared persona, we can inspire our learners to do the same.

Invite questions

Student questions can be tricky, but when they ask difficult questions, that’s when you know their critical thinking skills are developing. Actively encourage your learners to ask questions. Then support them to find the answers for themselves and to help their peers.

critical thinking

Identify goals

In many ways, developing life skills is aspirational. They are not something that anyone can truly say they have mastered and couldn’t improve on in some way. Although I’m regarded as an efficient spinner of many plates and master of deadlines, I may still get caught out with a last-minute photocopier malfunction making me late for class; there’s always room for improvement.  As such, we need to help our students to identify realistic goals based on each individual’s current abilities and give sufficient time to process the information, respond, and incorporate it into their lives.

Identifying individual students’ abilities and goals is a great starting point for incorporating life skills into your classes. Every teaching context is different as are the needs of every learner. Some students will already have a strong grasp of life skills, while others have a longer road to travel. Working with your learners and identifying which life skills are most appropriate to them is a crucial first step.

There are some ideas of how to do this in my previous post: Simple drawings to support life skills.

Available now: https://wayzgoosepress.com/emily-bryson/

Want to know more?

My book, 50 Ways to Teach Life Skills is a collection of practical tips and activities to enhance students’ social, academic, critical thinking, digital, and work skills to help students become their best selves.

This guide is simple, supports all levels of learners, and many of the activities require little or no preparation or special materials. Each activity assists students to improve their speaking, reading, writing, listening, grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation skills while also practising their broader skills for life.

It is available now in print and digital from Wayzgoose Press from just £1.99.

For more info about me, my online courses and books you can sign up to my mailing list.

Check out my online courses here:

Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.


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A zero prep ice breaker.

The first days in class are a time for students to get to know each other and make connections. As teachers, we need to equip ourselves with a toolkit of ice breakers. Here’s one that you might like to try. You can use it at any level.

  1. Elicit some questions from students which people often ask when they meet them for the first time.
  2. Write the questions on the board, or type them into an online display (e.g. Jamboard, Zoom whiteboard, Powerpoint). Draw simple icons to engage learners and support understanding. Online, your can do this using a visualiser or drawing tablet. You could also use stock images or free icons from The Noun Project).
  3. Ask learners to work in pairs or small groups to answer the questions, then report back to the whole class on their partners’ answers.

As an extension, you could:

  1. Ask them to write about themselves, using the questions as prompts.
  2. Display the written answers around the room for others to read, or ask learners to share their work online using Google Docs, Padlet, Wakelet or similar. Feedback as a whole class.
I elicit getting to know you questions from my beginners.

One caveat for this activity is inclusion. I don’t know about you, but my learners often want to know about age, marital status, work and whether their peers have children. These are natural things to be curious about but can be sensitive subjects. Make sure learners know they don’t have to answer any questions if they don’t want to and teach them techniques for avoiding sensitive topics. For example, expressions like ‘That’s a secret’ or responding to the age question with ‘I’m 21.’ Which, of course, I am!

What activities do you use to help learners get to know each other? Share your ideas in the comments.

If you’d like more ideas on how to use simple drawings in the classroom, check out my online courses. Click the laptop icon above for more info!

For more information: https://www.emilybrysonelt.com/all-courses/

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Welcoming whiteboards!

I can’t tell you how excited I was to be back in the classroom this week. I got to teach real live students! It was wonderful.

I also got to use a whiteboard. And a whiteboard marker! What a treat!

The beginning of term is a time for welcoming learners, getting to know them and double checking they know exactly where they are going and when.

This year, I’m teaching a beginner and a starter class. I tend to find that writing times, dates and room numbers on the board can lead to confusion. Drawing some simple icons can help make this information clearer.

I’d like to share the simple icons I use with you. You’ll notice that these are not works of art, that my whiteboard is a little smudged and that I probably wrote these in a hurry. That’s because I did. I’m a teacher. That’s how we roll!

Welcoming learners with simple drawings helps communicate information more clearly.
Keeping break time simple.

How do you welcome your learners? How do you make sure they understand their induction information? I’d love to hear your ideas, or to see your whiteboards!

If you like these ideas, and want to learn more zero prep activities for the English language classroom, check out my online courses!

You can find more information about my online courses here. Or click the laptop icon.

Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.

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The refuge of redwoods

I’d like to share my obsession with tall trees with you. Beware! I caught this from a friend at college and have since passed it on to others. Most of my adventures don’t feel complete unless I’ve hugged one. There are over 4000 recorded around Scotland and stumbling upon one adds a hint of magic to my outdoors escapades. I have ran, walked, cycled and paddleboarded just to marvel at them.

Running to a Redwood in Rouken Glen Park.

People often ask ‘Why Redwoods?’ And I’ve thought long and hard. I love all trees. They are each diverse and unique. Scots Pines can be delightfully buckled or juxtaposed by their straight and serious neighbours. Beech tree foliage is so impenetrable that they dominate and create fairy forests wherever they grow. Acer Griseum and Silver Birch have the most delicate, intriguing bark. Yews have an eery mysticism. But there’s still something about redwoods.

It could be that Redwoods are superlative trees. Some are over 3000 years old, making them the oldest on the planet. They are the tallest and biggest. They can grow to 100m in height, and some are so wide you can drive through them. They are the best trees in the world for carbon offsetting because they soak up so much C02. They are also the cuddliest and safest trees, with their super spongy, fire-proof, bark. And, of course, they provide excellent refuge from the rain.

A Giant Redwood at Nethy Bridge.

But, I think perhaps what I love most about them is that, like my students, they are New Scots. Giant and Coast Redwoods are originally from the west coast of America while Dawn redwoods hail from China. They are endangered in their home countries, but have found sanctuary here in Scotland.

The ex-situ trees found in arboretums, country parks and gardens across Scotland help protect the worldwide population. If a catastrophe happened in the Sierra Nevada, for example, there would still be trees flourishing here in Scotland.

Paddleboarding to the Redwoods at Inchmaholme Priory, Lake of Menteith.

Of course, some redwoods are in danger in Scotland too. Much like people from refugee backgrounds, ex-situ trees aren’t always offered the protection they deserve. When a Quarry application went through at Gillies hill, the Tree Protection Order was refused due to their ‘non-native’ status. This, despite the trees having root systems dating back to 1860.

Much like humans, there is an eternal debate as to when ‘ex-situ’ becomes ‘native’. The oldest Scottish redwoods settled here 170 years ago so arguably they are Scots rather than New Scots. Though personally I prefer to think of everyone and everything as citizens of the world.

So, what I’ve come to realise, is that part of my fascination with redwoods stems from my advocacy for New Scots. Everyone and every tree is welcome and enriching. And I’ll stand by them just as I’ll stand up for refugee rights.

If you’d like to know more about redwoods in Scotland, here are some of my blog posts:



My Glasgow Running Routes Redwood Running Route

Have you tried? Spotting redwoods in Scotland

Are there any redwoods near you? Do you have a favourite tree? What causes do you advocate for?

Don’t miss any of my posts! Follow my blog, twitter or join my mailing list.

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ESOL for Employability: support organisations every practitioner should know about

I recently delivered a webinar for National Geographic Learning on Embedding Employability and Life Skills into the ESOL Curriculum. Along with all the engaging ways the Voices coursebook series embeds employability (watch this space for another post), I shared some of the wonderful projects from across Europe that support ESOL learners’ employability and life skills. Here they are:

Bridges Programmes

This organisation is near to my heart as I have worked so closely with them over the years. The ESOL for Vocational Purposes courses which I developed for City of Glasgow College have mostly been in collaboration with Bridges. This well-oiled machine supports anyone living in Glasgow whose first language is not English by delivering training and arranging volunteer or work placements. This image is of my learners on a construction site visit. https://www.bridgesprogrammes.org.uk/

Heart and Parcel

Two friends in Manchester set up this organisation because they believed food brings people together. ESOL learners can sign up to their free online English classes and learn to cook at the same time. They also run cookalong classes to teach people how to cook dishes from around the world. https://heartandparcel.org/

Bread and Roses

I found out about this organisation while hillwalking in the Cairngorms with a friend. Their friend was up from London and told me about the amazing subscription floristry project she ran. Bread and Roses run floristy training programmes for women from refugee backgrounds to help them improve their language and work skills. Genius. https://www.wearebreadandroses.com/


East London Advanced Technology Training (ELATT) run pretty much every vocational skills course you can name. They want to make learning new skills accessible to all and offer full, part-time and evening courses. https://www.elatt.org.uk/

City of Glasgow College ESOL Job Club

One of the Modern Apprentice students at Arnold Clark.

I can’t write a post without mentioning my fabulous co-worker Pam Turnbull and the incredible things she has done for the learners at my college. Pam tirelessly networks with the local community to create work, volunteer and apprenticeship opportunities for ESOL students at City of Glasgow College. She also supports them with job searches and applications. She’s a true shero. The image is one of our CoGC students on a Modern Apprenticeship with Arnold Clark.

Laget Quo Vadis

I had the good fortune of visiting this organisation on an Erasmus+ funded trip to Oslo a few years ago and their innovative work has stuck with me. This organisation provides Norwegian classes and trains learners in textiles, ceramics and cooking. Graduates leave with strong transferrable skills and the confidence to succeed. https://www.laget.oslo.no/about


The Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation is a London based organisation who provide training, advocacy and support for women from Kurdish, Middle Eastern and North African communities in the UK. They offer training in digital skills, employability, ESOL, parenting and exercise classes. https://www.kmewo.com/

Code your Future

CyF are a coding school for people from refugee backgrounds and disadvantaged people. They are a non-profit organisation that trains marginalised groups to be web developers and find employment in the tech industry. CyF training is delivered by volunteers and graduates have progressed to prestigious organisations such as BBC, Financial Times and Ticketmaster. https://codeyourfuture.io/


These are just a few of the inspiring organisations and projects that I’ve heard of over the years. Do you know any others? Please share anything I could in the comments or via my twitter.

Enjoying the simple drawings on my blog and social media posts? Why not join one of my online courses? Find out more by clicking the laptop or sign up to my mailing list.

Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.

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What is Graphic Facilitation (and why is it perfect for ELT)?

So you may have seen my previous blog posts, social media messages or attended one of my training sessions. You might have heard me say ‘I’m a Graphic Facilitator’ or ‘Graphic Facilitation is great for the English Language Classroom.’…. you then might have thought…

Well, Graphic Facilitation is the use of simple, hand-drawn, graphics to
support groups or individuals towards their goals. Traditionally, Graphic
Facilitators use large sheets of paper, flipcharts or whiteboards and markers
to engage participants. Online, Graphic Facilitators can do this using pre-drawn
visuals, a graphics tablet, drawing software or a visualiser.

Some examples of Graphic Facilitation techniques involve using very simple hand-drawn
icons, visual templates, graphic organisers, infographics, mindmaps and
sketchnotes. Having used Graphic Facilitation techniques for a few years now, I
can safely say that they work very well indeed in the language classroom.

Why? Here’s why…

It’s multisensory and aids critical thinking.

Learners can observe the visual, listen and understand its explanation or instructions, analyse
it, apply it, share their interpretations, write about it, or create their own.

It makes things memorable.

In my previous blog posts I’ve written about the drawing effect, which found
that drawing aids vocabulary retention. It also makes pages of notes, resources
and materials more distinct, which in turn makes them more memorable.

Here’s a quick sketchnote I made of Joan Kang Shin’s IATEFL 2021 talk on Visual Literacy.               Wouldn’t you agree it’s more memorable than a page of text?

WhatsApp Image 2021-06-19 at 17.26.30

It aids understanding.

Adding a quick drawing, asking your learners to draw or using a visual as a concept check is an excellent way to find out if they have understood. 

It’s versatile.

It can be used to teach grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, speaking,
listening and pronunciation. You can use it to plan out lessons, curriculums or
meeting agendas. I even used it to capture my students’ reflections at the end of term.  This template can be used in in various ways: 

  1. Photocopy it and use a pen or pencil.
  2. Online – share your screen and use annotation tools.
  3. Send them a copy and ask them to use digital drawing tools to complete it. 
  4. Ask them to draw their own. You could ask them to add their own sections (e.g. a cline for digital skills). 

WhatsApp Image 2021-06-08 at 09.36.55

It’s quick and copyright free.

The visual capture sheet above took about ten minutes to draw. The same
document would probably have taken me about an hour fiddling about with tables in a word document or canva and searching for copyright free stock photos. Granted, it took me a while to learn to draw those icons quickly, but it’s a bit like learning the alphabet; it takes a bit of time but once you know it, you wonder how you ever lived without it.

It is my firm belief that Graphic Facilitation enhances and supports the language learning experience. I’d love ELT practitioners to gain confidence using it!

If you’d like to learn more, check out my courses. Click the laptop for info!

Emily Bryson - click the link to access my online courses

To find out more, or to read previous blog posts about how I’ve used Graphic Facilitation in my own classroom and training sessions, follow this link: https://www.emilybrysonelt.com/all-courses/

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How to teach digital skills online

I’ve written a few blog posts now on online learning, especially with adults who have limited educational background or digital skills. My last one focused on what digital skills learners need for online learning. This post focusses on how to teach those digital skills from behind a computer or mobile screen, where the luxury of demonstrating face to face is not possible. It is based on reading I did whilst completing my MEd Technology Enhanced Language Learning module at University of West of Scotland last autumn. Highly recommended. And there’s funding available if you live in Scotland.

Use a platform they know

The number one aim of the online language class is for our learners to learn English. Teaching digital skills online can distract from the language objectives of the lesson, so it can be wise to start with a platform they already know (e.g. Whatsapp) and check-in frequently with learners individually to encourage them ask any questions or raise any concerns.

Drip feed the digital

So you’ve started on familiar territory. Students feel calm and confident about their learning, but ideally, you want to add variety to their learning experience and develop their digital skills.  In a wonderful webinar for MN ABE Professional Development in 2020, Amy Van Steenwyk advised teachers to keep online tasks simple and allow students to master one online activity at a time.

This is very much my recommendation too.  Think about a skill and break it into smaller sub-skills. These would be my steps in Zoom:

Start with downloading Zoom > logging in > click link to login > turn on/off sound > turn on/off video > use chatroom > use annotation tools > use breakout rooms > share screen in break out rooms > conquer the Zoom world.

Conquering the world of Zoom, one digital skill at a time.

Use familiar language

One of the first things a trainee English language teacher learns is to modify their language so that students understand their instructions. This should also be the case when teaching digital skills. Consider using the colour of the button or its location on the screen rather than the jargon. For example, Amy Van Steenwyk advises telling students to ‘click blue’ rather than ‘join’ when using breakout rooms, a word which they may not know. The need for this can, of course, be avoided if you automatically assign students to breakout rooms, but the principle applies for giving instructions.

Teach unknown language

The digital world is full of jargon: breakout room, sign-in, register, join, annotate, comment. Teaching these terms is often the first step in teaching digital skills. Before asking learners to perform a task online, think about what language they might need for it. I like to keep a Google Slides doc full of helpful icons and vocabulary that I can quickly refer to during class. I drew this visual to teach the term ‘Breakout room’. You may recognise it is from my previous post on Tips for Online Teaching. Feel free to use it with your own learners, or better, copy the simple drawing yourself.

Visuals help learners to understand digital jargon.

Use instructional videos and screenshots

Instructional videos can be super handy when training learners with technology. When making these, I find it helps to focus on one thing (e.g. annotating) as it’s easier to find and share the one you need at the time you need it. If a learner just needs a refresher on accessing the annotation tool, there’s no need to send them a 40 minute epic on how to do EVERYTHING on Zoom – a screenshot with a comment or a short video will do. One skill at a time. Even better if it’s in their first language. In general, videos should be less than ten minutes. Think TED Talks. There’s a reason they are short and sweet.

Encourage first language & peer support

If you wanted to learn digital skills, would you do it in your L1 or a language you are learning? I’d certainly do it in my L1! Allowing learners to access devices and instructional videos in their L1 can be immensely helpful. Encourage learners to support each other in their first language when and if necessary.  This could be in class, or asking students with strong digital skills to support their peers. I’ve also found family members living with students to be incredibly helpful.

Refer to digital skills courses

The world of digital skills training is not just in English. There are plenty of courses available for learners to access in their first language. My previous blog post has a list. If you know of any more, I’d be happy to add them!

Love my drawings? They’re a really quick and simple way to engage learners and followers. Want to know how? I am now running online courses: https://www.emilybrysonelt.com/all-courses/

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2 myths and 1 lesson plan: proof that drawing online is quick and simple.

I recently sent out a survey on how English Language Teachers use drawings in the classroom. I was a little surprised to discover a belief that drawings work best in live classes. I would like to lay this myth to rest.

There are a few ways you can draw online.

  1. Draw before class. Scan the image with your phone (I use Camscanner). Send to your students.
  2. Stick some A3 paper on your wall (I make paper tape less sticky by sticking it to my clothes first). Point your webcam at it.
  3. Pin a flipchart to your wall (I used two panel pins). Point your webcam at the flipchart.
  4. Buy a visualiser and display a video stream of you drawing on a notebook at your desk. Mine is an Ipevo.
A visualiser is basically what we’d once have called an overhead projector. It displays a live image on to a whiteboard, interactive whiteboard or on a shared screen in a video conferencing platform.

Another myth is that using drawings in an online class takes time. I’d argue it actually saves time by reducing preparation time.

To prove it, here’s a quick lesson I did recently. It took zero prep (well, a tiny bit of thinking time before class). It was the first week back after holidays and we were revising past tense word order in questions. The aim was to get students talking about their holidays to prepare them for writing about it at home.

Step 1: Draw some simple icons to represent each question you want them to discuss. Display the simple visual prompts. Students can later use these icons as prompts for writing.

Step 1: draw simple visual prompts

Step 2: Discuss with students what each prompt might mean. Ask students to match where, when, what and who to each icon. Once they’ve matched the more obvious icons, support them to add ‘Did’ and ‘How’.

Step 2: elicit/give vocabulary prompts

Step 3: Ask students to write a question for each icon, starting with the question words. You could ask them to write their answers in the chatroom, collaborate in a Google Doc or to work together in breakout rooms. Feedback and write up the questions as a whole class. Discuss grammatical features of past tense word order in questions.

Step 3: elicit questions

Step 4: Ask students to discuss the questions in breakout rooms. Feedback as a whole class. Discuss new vocabulary.

Step 5: Show students a model text about what someone did in their holidays (e.g. an email or social media post), or collaboratively create one using the language experience approach. Ask students to write about their holidays for homework.

This is just one of many quick and simple techniques I use to engage my learners online and build their visual vocabulary.

It’s basically four steps: visual prompts, written prompts, elicit questions, discuss questions.

You can use this technique for various topics and grammatical points simply by changing the icons. It’s a great way to stimulate learners, give visual clues and get them talking. It can be used face to face or online. I’d love to know if you use it or have ideas of other ways to use it.

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Loved this? Want to learn more Graphic Facilitation techniques for your classroom? Join one of my Online Courses! Follow this link to find out more: www.emilybrysonelt.com/all-courses/

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Why everyone can and should draw in their ELT Classroom

Recently I’ve become a bit obsessed with using drawings in the classroom. In this high-tech era, drawing is a back to basics approach and the perfect excuse to get away from a screen.  My drawings are quick and simple.  They are not attempting to be Takashi Murakami or Christine Clark.  They have at times drawn funny looks (pun totally intended) or initiated laughter, but that’s OK.  Students get the message and we have fun doing so. Plus, imperfect drawings teach students that it’s ok to be imperfect – and encourages them to confidently create their own imperfect drawings.

Using drawings in class is a brilliant multisensory way of adding some fun to your lessons, concept checking, get students thinking critically and as a tool for mediation. It’s also great for memory. The drawing effect refers to a 2016 study by Wammes, Meade and Fernandes which found that drawing can aid vocabulary retention. The study gave participants a list of simple words and asked them to either write the word repeatedly or draw it. The results showed that participants recalled twice as many drawn words as written.

The best bit is that drawing works well online and face to face. Hand-drawn visuals engage participants as they bring a piece of analogue into the digital world. You can prepare the visuals before class. In a live class you can point your webcam at a notebook or flipchart, treat yourself to a visualiser or use the annotate tools. Obviously your drawings won’t be as pretty using a mouse but isn’t that part of the fun? Again, it’s not about artistic magnificence, it’s about communication.

Using annotation tools with a visual template to navigate the digital swamp in a recent webinar.

There are lots of ways to use drawings and visuals in the classroom. You can check out my other blogs posts

Neil Cohn has some wonderful research into the use of drawings as a visual language. One of his papers discusses how most people lose their drawing ability in their teens, and with it their visual communication skills. He has found the use of drawings to be beneficial to interaction, motor skills, feedback, culture, motivation and emotions.

This research resonates with me. When I was about 12 or 13, I had to choose which courses to study at school. I swithered a lot between PE or Art but finally chose PE because at the time I wanted to be a personal trainer. When I broke the news to my art teacher, he looked genuinely dejected. I wish someone had told me that learning to draw is a communication skill for life while fitness comes and goes.

A quick diagram to compare my fitness and drawing skills since I was a teenager.

Many people believe that they can’t draw, and I have to admit that until I got into graphic facilitation I had started to believe this myth about myself. I now draw most days and have made it my mission to inspire more drawing in the ELT world. 

I’d love to support the ELT community to grow their visual vocabulary and add ‘visual’ to their list of lingua francas. I’m now running Online Courses to help you do this!

Click the laptop to find out more.

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Visual templates for engaging environmental discussions

I recently read Dan Barber’s ELT Footprint blog about giving your lessons a sustainability twist. It inspired me to create some visual templates to stimulate environmental discussions in the classroom.

A visual template is a tool commonly used by graphic facilitators to inspire workshop participants. It is essentially a technique which turns a plain flipchart or whiteboard into a visual prompt to guide and focus students’ attention. It uses simple iconography to represent topics and bold text to catch their eyes and imaginations. Put simply, it is far more exciting and inspiring than a boring old blank white space.

Take these templates on saving electricity or reducing plastic, for example. Students add their ideas using post-it notes, writing directly or by adding their own drawings. Prior to this activity, you could ask them to read or listen to some information on either topic.

In a face-to-face classroom, these templates can be pre-drawn on flipcbart paper and displayed around the room or passed between tables, carousel style. Students can then walk around or simply add their ideas when they have that template. The teacher can then facilitate discussions using the students’ ideas or students could use the ideas to produce some written work. The templates can be stored and re-used, or students could add their own drawings to them and the final piece be displayed on the wall.

In a digital classroom, the templates work well on a platform such as Jamboard, where students can add their own digital post-its, then discuss their ideas in a breakout room. If your learners have strong digital skills, you could give each a copy in a word document and they can add answers in a transparent text box.

When using this visual template about Energy Sources, as a dynamic receptive skills comprehension task, you could ask learners to read or listen to some information, then ask them to put notes of what they learned in the relevant section. You could later ask them to add their views on the advantages and disavantages of each energy source using two different colours of post-it notes. Then have a discussion about the topic and/or write about it.

Visual templates are fabulous as they can be used (and re-used) for many topics.

If you’d like more ideas for embedding environmental topics into your lessons, I’m giving away 3 free lesson plans! Click this link to find out more. 

Join one of my online courses!

Would you like to learn to create hand-drawn visuals to stimulate student creativity and communication? Why not join one of my Online Courses? Follow this link to find out more: www.emilybrysonelt.com/all-courses/

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Digital skills courses for ESOL learners

Even prior to the online teaching boom, I noticed that my ESOL Learners often had limited digital skills. In the good old days, I’d refer students to community libraries and educational organisations offering courses such as ‘Getting started with computers‘ or the ‘European Computer Driving Licence‘. These were popular with students, but have ceased during the pandemic. Now that learners need digital skills more than ever, I wanted to find free (or affordable) online digital skills courses in a variety of languages.

Through various online searches, and utilising my online network, I found these courses. Thanks to everyone who contributed (you know who you are and you are all wonderful). I’d love to hear from you if you know of any more or if you can find translated links to these in other languages:

Microsoft (available in multiple languages):



Microsoft web apps training:




English: https://applieddigitalskills.withgoogle.com/s/en-uk/learn

Spanish: https://applieddigitalskills.withgoogle.com/c/es-419/curriculum.html

French: https://learndigital.withgoogle.com/ateliersnumeriques


Open Doors Plymouth:

Some wonderful instructional videos in various languages:



Sarah Queen’s fabulous blog post about ICT in ESOL has some great links:



Typing and mouse control skills:




The Department for Education’s Essential Digital Skills:

This programme offers courses in using devices and handling information, creating and editing, communicating, transacting, and being safe and responsible online. Suitable for A2+ learners living in the UK. 

Essential Digital Skills


Learn my way/Make it click:

Lessons such as ‘Introduction to email’ and ‘How to create a document.’. Suitable for B1+ learners.


Learn My Way – Internet Skills


Computer coding/Code your Future:

I love everything these guys do! I even cycled to IATEFL in Liverpool to raise money for them a couple of years ago! They offer free computer coding classes for refugees and disadvantaged people: https://codeyourfuture.io/

Khaled, a graduate of Code your Future created videos in Arabic about computer coding: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbQpxSFueTnQz5peofVo4yg?app=desktop  

Accenture, Digital Skills: digital skills for work and life

This is probably better suited to Intermediate+ learners who are already relatively confident with computers. It covers digital skills for work, staying safe online and growth mindset. https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/digital-skills-for-work-and-life   

MOOC list

Massive Open Online Courses are free and varied. Here is the link to search all of them. The courses are likely to change over time. https://www.mooc-list.com/ 


Do you know any more free online digital skills courses suitable for English language learners? Or (even better) in another language? Please share them via comments or tweet me.

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What digital skills do learners need for online learning?

Last year, Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital Index found that 17% of the UK population did not have full basic digital skills, while 9% had no basic digital skills. This effectively means that at least 1 or 2 learners in every adult class needs support in order to participate successfully in an online learning programme. In reality, depending on the demographic of your learners, this could be much higher. You’ll see from my previous blog posts that this is the case with my learners.

So, what skills do students need in order to learn online? Scotland’s Adult Literacies Curriculum Framework advises that students should be supported to participate in online communications such as writing text messages, emails and social media posts, or using online chats and any other technology required for their educational programme.

The UK’s Essential Digital Skills Framework Foundation skills include:

  • using available controls in a device (e.g. touchscreen to use annotate function in video conferencing)
  • using assistive technology (e.g. translation or text-to-speech tools)
  • opening and accessing an application (e.g. web 2.0 tools such as padlet)
  • connecting to the internet
  • setting up an email account
  • communicating using email or messaging apps
  • sending photos via messaging apps or email
  • using and sharing word processing documents
  • using search engines

In my experience, learners also benefit from knowing how to use translation tools, use shift to change case, click to select, open new windows, copy links, save files and use the return key to start a new line and send messages in Zoom chats.

An all important basic digital skill.

Nicky Hockly highlights the importance of ‘new literacies’ such as texting literacy, mobile literacy, search literacy and hypertext literacy. When our learning programme first moved online, it became clear that hypertext literacy was crucial. Learners needed to be able to identify and select the relevant links in order to enter their Zoom lesson or access their asynchronous learning activities. Moreover, I have found it crucial to share links as hyperlinks, because students don’t always have the skills to copy and paste link addresses in order to access them.

This week I had the joy of discovering that the college had treated all our students to e-books! Hurrah! Happy days!

But then, the sinking feeling came.

The realisation that I had to get students to do three seemingly simple things: register, sign in and add their book to their library using a 12 digit code. When your learners have limited English and limited digital skills, you’ll know that this is anything but simple.

Passwords can be a barrier to learning.

Digital skills learners need in order to sign in:

1. Knowing their email address.

2. Typing their email address correctly.

3. Using ‘shift’ to input @.

4. Using caps lock/shift to enter a capital letter or symbol in a password.

5. Typing/spelling a password correctly (twice if they need to ‘confirm password’).

5. Knowing the difference between ‘Register’ and ‘Sign in’.

I can fully understand why this is difficult. Imagine having to access a website in Vietnamese, Arabic or Kurdish Sorani, then type your login details using an unfamiliar keyboard. I’d struggle too. In fact, every time I visit my friend in Spain and borrow her laptop, I have to ask her to show me how to input @. Likewise whenever I use an Apple computer.

Just as beginner learners need to learn classroom language such as ‘open your books’, ‘use a pen’ and ‘match’ or ‘circle’, online learners also need vocabulary and skills such as how to navigate their screen (e.g. top right, middle, bottom left), submit their work (e.g. take a photo, send an email), use a video conferencing tool (e.g. mute, turn on your video, click the pen icon, use the chat) and understand the difference between ‘register’ and ‘sign in’. Some learners also may need training on confirming a password or using ReCaptcha.

ReCaptcha is great to check you’re a human. But what if your students don’t know what a ‘truck’ is?

Essentially, in order to succeed online, learners need support to gain basic digital skills. This is a process which takes time, and patience on the part of the teacher and the learner. I’ve found that drip-feeding digital skills into my online lessons really helps; introduce one skill, allow time for them to master it, then move on to the next. That, and always being prepared to take ten steps back to start at the very beginning.

What skills have your learners needed to participate online? How do you support them to acquire them? Leave your comments here, or tweet me.

Check out my online courses! Click the laptop for more info!

Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.

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Simple drawings to support life skills.

Working visually is a great way to promote life skills, and drawings don’t need to be masterpieces – their purpose is simply to convey a message.

One fun activity is to create a five-year plan with students. Making plans for the future is a common tool for professionals wishing to enhance their careers, and clarify their goals and plans. In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest that you’re more likely to succeed if you set goals. 

To support learners in this way, ask them to draw a simple road map or steps (see illustrations) in their notebooks, then add visual representations of their current situation and end goals at the beginning and end points. 

Using simple graphics with students is a great way to enhance their creativity and self-expression.  The icons don’t need to be works of art, but simply to communicate visually. When I’m stuck for ideas of how to draw something, I find that looking at images of ‘icons’ online can aid inspiration.

Once students have each drawn their road map or stairs and added their start and end points, they can then discuss how to achieve their goals in pairs or small groups. This can be done in a chatroom or breakout room online. Then ask them to add stages for working towards their goal on their map (attend university, take a course, etc.). Some students may need more than five years to achieve their goal ( e.g. if they want to study medicine or architecture). Allow these students to add additional years.

Display each student’s road map around the room, or ask them to share it using a collaborative tool such as padlet or whatsapp. Ask students to comment on each others’ plans. Encourage them to focus on how realistic each goal and stage is within the time frame, and to give motivational feedback and suggestions on other ways it may be achieved. This is a great way for them to practice giving and receiving constructive feedback.

While the aim of this activity may be to identify goals and current abilities, it also allows students to practise numerous life skills, such as communication, organisation, self-awareness, planning, giving and receiving feedback and making suggestions.

It’s a great way to review mixed tenses and different ways of expressing future. (E.g. Right now I’m a delivery driver but in the future, I want to own my own business. OR I’m planning to go to university next year.). It’s also perfect for feedback expressions, such as giving advice or making suggestions (e.g. You could also do an evening class. OR You should speak to my brother, he did something similar.).

If you liked this activity and would like more ideas for how to incorporate life skills into your curriculum, you will love my book. I wrote 50 Ways to Teach Life Skills as I realised just how important it was to incorporate life skills into any comprehensive curriculum.  It is a collection of practical tips and activities to enhance students’ social, academic, critical thinking, digital, and work skills to help students become their best selves.

This guide is simple, supports all levels of learners, and many of the activities require little or no preparation or special materials. Each activity assists students to improve their speaking, reading, writing, listening, grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation skills while also practising their broader skills for life. It is available in print and digital from Wayzgoose Press.

Loved this? Want to learn more Graphic Facilitation techniques for your classroom? Join one of my Online Courses! Follow this link or click the laptop to find out more: www.emilybrysonelt.com/all-courses/


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My top recommendations: books and films about refugees

I watched an inspiring TED Talk by Ann Morgan, who read one book from every country in the world. She did it because she wanted to expand her understanding of the world. It made me think of all the books and films I’ve read over the years for very similar reasons.

Since I started teaching people seeking refuge back in 2007, I’ve always looked for books and films that teach me about their countries, culture, stories and history. I’m not the kind of person who can read fact-heavy history books to relax so I need mine in easy-reading or graphic novel.

So here are some that anyone with an interest in other cultures or refugee matters might be interested in:

Film: His House

His House is about a couple seeking refuge who move to the UK and have to navigate the UK asylum system. It is a psychological thriller in which the couple are haunted by past traumas. This film really struck a chord with me as so many of my learners have mental health problems such as PTSD, depression and insomnia. When teaching daily routine, many have intimated anxiety towards bedtime, as that’s when the bad dreams come.

Film: Glasgow Girls

This film makes me proud to be Glaswegian. It’s the true story of a group of schoolchildren who campaigned to stop dawn raids and the detention of asylum seeking minors in Scottish detention centres. These girls are an inspiration.

Pick your own adventure: Have your Passport Ready

Have your passport ready is an online video story commissioned by Knaive theatre. It follows two Syrian brothers who travel to the UK for safety. Viewers watch short video clips and make choices on how to navigate the UK asylum system, or leave their decisions to dice rolls. I got deported within two moves, see if you can make it to getting leave to remain!

Graphic novel: Meet the Somalis

Meet the Somalis is a collection of 14 illustrated stories sharing the lives of first, second and third generation Somali families in different European cities. The stories are each unique and include themes such as fleeing warzones, refugee camps, family life, making friends, work and settling in a new city. You should know by now that I love visual communication and these illustrations are stunning.

Book: The Jungle by Pooja Puri

Set in the infamous ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, this story follows Mico, an ‘unaccompanied minor’ and the people he meets in the camp. It makes you consider the impact of the refugee crises on the local area as well as displaced people themselves.

Book: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

I’ll be honest with you. I stayed in bed ALL DAY one day reading this book. I literally could not put it down. My husband came in to check on me because he thought I was ill! The story follows Nuri, a Syrian refugee, and his wife on their journey from their life in Syria tending bees to resettling in the UK. The journey tracks from warzone, to people smuggling, to refugee camp, to homeless hostel accommodation in the UK. The characters are so vivid and it really touched me as so many of my students have shared similar stories with me.

Books: Anything written by Asne Seierstad

Asne Seierstand is a Norwegian writer who has written many books about her experiences of living in war zones. It’s been a while since I read these, so my memory is a bit hazy, but they each opened my eyes to life in those countries at that particular point in time. Her books include: Book seller of Kabul (Afghanistan), With their backs to the world (Serbia) and 101 days (Iraq).

Book: In order to live by YeonMi Park

Human rights activist, YeonMi Park, shares her experience of growing up in North Korea, being sold into a slave marriage then arriving and resettling in South Korea. A remarkable story and an informative read. If you don’t have time to read her book, I recommend her TED Talk.

Book: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

No list of books about refugees would be complete without Malala, the youngest ever Nobel Peace prize laureate. In her book, Malala recounts the story of being shot by the Taliban for attending school to becoming a reknowned activist for female education.

Children’s book (age 7-11): The boy at the back of the class by Onjali Q. Rauf

I bought this for my nephew’s birthday, but was so intrigued that I had to read it myself. It’s a story of a boy called Ahmet who is a Syrian refugee. Ahmet is the new boy in class and this book tells the story of settling into a new life and making friends in an unfamiliar country.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin (illustrations by Giovanni Rigano)

I was searching online for the graphic novel, Sapiens, when Amazon recommended this to me. It was a moment when I was thankful that computers stalk my buying behaviour. It shares the story of one boy’s journey from Africa, across the mediterranean to the refuge of the UK. The illustrations are fantastic and the storyline is realistic.

Welcome to the New World by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan

This graphic novel follows a Syrian family who move to the USA to claim asylum. My knowledge of the asylum system is very much based on the UK. It was eye-opening to me to discover how different it is in the USA.

The Swimmers

When the Mardini sisters were forced to leave their home in Syria, they couldn’t have predicted that swimming would save their lives, nor those of others! When their small, overcrowded, boat from Turkiye to Greece started taking in water, they both leapt into the water and towed the boat to shore. This film tells their incredible story and shares many of the challenges faced by migrants seeking safety in Europe.


This is a Disney Pixar animation which cleverly covers the topic of diversity through metaphor. The elements of earth, wind, fire and water live together in a city. The story shares how each of the elements came to live there, their life challenges and how they ultimately overcome cultural misunderstandings. It’s a wonderful example of intercultural dynamics.

Have you read any good books or seen any good films about displaced people or people seeking refuge? Please share them as I’d love more ideas… or perhaps for one day to say I’ve read a book from every country in the world!  

If you want to know more about teaching people from refugee backgrounds, there’s some amazing videos and free resources on the National Geographic Learning Teaching through Crisis site: https://www.ngl-emea.com/teaching-through-crisis

My top recommendations: books and films about refugees Read More »

Creating Accessible Learning Materials

Every student is different and as teachers and writers we embrace their diversity and support their learning.  The UK Equality Act 2010 has nine protected characteristics; age, race, gender, disability, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, sexual orientation and gender reassignment. I feel privileged to live in a country that legislates to ensure these characteristics are protected under law.  In this blog post, I will outline how to create print and digital materials which are accessible to all.

Protected charactersistics of the UK Equality Act 2010. Quick visuals by Emily Bryson.

I will start with disability, as the needs of students with Specific Learning Differences such as dyslexia or colour blindness can be met by making simple changes in regards to layout and font. 

Font choice

In terms of font choice, serif fonts, for example Times New Roman, Baskerville and Bookman, are considered less accessible as some people find them difficult to read. This is because serif fonts have little ‘flicks’ or ‘tails’ which can be distracting to readers. I apologise that this post is in a serif font! WordPress only seems to offer one option.

Sans serif fonts are more accessible.

Sans serif fonts (e.g. Arial, Calibri and Trebuchet) are generally considered the most accessible choice but you could also download dyslexia friendly fontsThe British Dyslexia Association recommends Comic Sans or Arial. If you teach adult literacy learners, you may also wish to use Comic Sans or Century Gothic as these are most similar to handwritten text, and don’t include ‘a’ and ‘g’, which can confuse learners. Sassoon font is also great for literacy learners, but you need a licence.

Choose fonts similar to handwriting when teaching literacy learners.

Font size

As an observer for teacher training courses, I often see trainees using fonts which are too small in their presentation slides.  This is also often the case with books and published worksheets. When creating your own print materials aim for font size 12 as minimum.  For presentations, 24 point font is the minimum with 36 or 44 being the recommended size. This also helps to keep the number of words on a slide to a minimum.  No one likes a busy presentation slide – less is more!

For online learning, bear in mind that students may be accessing content on their mobiles, and they can’t always zoom in. If you present online using the editing view in powerpoint, aim to use font size 50 or above. If you make videos using powerpoint, aim for font size 40 or above.

Make sure your font size is large enough for mobile learning.

Adding emphasis

Drawing attention to certain language points, content or rubrics in an accessible way should be considered carefully. Underlining can make things harder to read, while the slope of italics can also make reading large blocks of text problematic.  BLOCK CAPITALS CAN ALSO PROVE CHALLENGING AS ALL THE LETTERS ARE THE SAME SIZE. 

Bold is by far the most accessible method of adding emphasis.  That’s not to say NEVER use block capitals, italics or underlines. These are all perfectly fine to add emphasis in short sentences, questions, headings or rubrics but should be avoided as the main body of a text. I tend to avoid using capitals for emphasis with literacy learners too, as this can confuse their understanding of capitalisation rules.

Using colour

The number one rule of using colour is never to rely solely on colour to convey meaning.  Colour blind learners may not be able to see any difference in the colours or shades that you chose.  Instead, circle, use arrows, bold or texture – and keep it simple.

Some colour combinations are difficult to read (avoid green and red/pink). Use a light, off-white, single colour background and dark, contrasting lettering.  I tend to play safe and use minimal colours and good old dark grey or black letters.

Other protected characteristics

When it comes to being inclusive to other protected characteristics, image selection plays a huge role.  Select images which show people with protected characteristics in a positive light and represent each frequently within your materials so that they are normalised rather than sensationalised. For example, use a text about a female engineer who is a wheelchair user, a male midwife or a young boy whose parental guardians are his grandparents. Focus on the person and the story surrounding the person rather than their protected characteristic.  Their protected characteristic is not their story, nor their reason for being ‘inspiring’ . This way they are represented and included without being highlighted as different or unique.

In many countries, it can be challenging to include people who identify as LGBT+ within materials, but there are ways to do so subtly.  For example, you could have a dialogue about two men living together and leave their reason for doing so open to interpretation. In the same way, a text message conversation between two women regarding childcare arrangements could be between friends, sisters or partners. You could also consider using gender neutral names – for example Sam and Alex being in a relationship.

One important characteristic in ELT, that isn’t in the Equality Act 2010, is first language. I guess it could fit in the race characteristic but in terms of ELT I think it’s important to protect ‘non-native English speakers’ from native speakerism. Try to include opportunities within your materials to explore global English, reflect on when, where and how learners use their English and the nuances of accent choice.

Use graphic facilitation techniques

One of the best ways to make learning accessible is by drawing! A simple drawing can help make rubrics clearer, check understanding and ensure classroom communication is clear. A whiteboard full of text could be overwhelming, but add some simple drawings and it becomes an engaging, supportive memory aid.

Creating graphic organisers and sketchnotes for your classes (or helping them create their own) can reduce processing load and help learners to focus and reflect. Find out more by taking one of my courses!

Further reading

This blog post only touches the surface of accessibility.  For more information, I recommend the following:

What do you do to make sure your classes and learning materials are accessible? Do you have any favourite resources or sites? I’d love to hear from you.

If you’d like to find out more about using graphic facilitation to make learning accessible. Check out my courses! Click the laptop icon for more info!

Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.

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Sharing Lives, Sharing Languages: Peer Education for Language Acquisition

So I was tidying up my blog and found this post that I wrote shortly after I completed my secondment as Peer Education Project Manager at the Scottish Refugee Council way back in 2017. I guess I lined it up for posting then somehow forgot all about it. I’d like to share it with you now, as the project had a positive impact and I’m still stunned at all the amazing things we did in such a short space of time. Plus, social connections are so hard right now, it’s nice to reminisce on more sociable times.

Those of you that have read my previous posts will know how strongly I feel about getting students out and about and using their English.  Students that use their English outside the classroom at work or volunteering or socialising pick up the language more quickly than those that are socially isolated or don’t have such opportunities.  This was the inspiration for the Scottish Refugee Council‘s Sharing Lives Sharing Languages Peer Education project.

The project, was designed as a complement to ESOL provision for refugees resettling in Scotland under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons’ Resettlement Scheme.  The pilot project was funded by the Scottish Government and the advisory board included COSLA, Education Scotland, University of Glasgow and Queen Margaret University.

Peer Education is an activity based method of learning in which two equals share information and knowledge with each other. Peer educators facilitate activities which support peers to share their ideas in a group setting.  It is based on the idea that peers respond better to advice from their equals than from their superiors.  In this case, Peer Educators were English speakers who knew the local area well and wanted to help New Scots to settle.

Our peer educators came from a range of backgrounds, for example – an RE teacher, an Arabic speaking nursery worker and a Kurdish asylum seeker.   Our peers were mostly Syrian VPR refugees who wanted to improve their language skills, meet local people and increase their social connections.  Peers and peer educators shared their lives and their languages with each other.

Firstly, four organisations were identified to participate in the pilot.  These were Aberdeenshire WEA, Dundee International Women’s Centre, Midlothian Council and Renfrew YMCA.  These were chosen as a range of rural and urban communities and a range of ESOL and Community Development backgrounds.  I delivered training to a peer education coordinator from each organisation who then recruited peer educators.  The Peer Education Coordinators then trained their Peer Educators in the aims of the project, peer education, supporting refugees, communicating with English language learners and facilitation skills.

The peer education sessions focused on what peers knew about the local area and how they wanted to participate in the local community.  Group activities facilitated discussions on peers’ hobbies and interests as well as sharing their local knowledge, sharing their cultures and sharing their languages.

At the end of the programme, peer educators and peers carried out a collective action.  These involved groups doing something to engage with the local community.  These had to involve everyone, be peer-led and establish social connections and opportunities for language acquisition.

In Aberdeenshire they chose to collaborate with a local women’s group to share Syrian and Scottish recipes.  Pre-COVID, this group were still meeting for day-trips, walks and coffee although the funding for the project ended in 2017.

Cooking Collective Action
Aberdeenshire Collective Action: Syrian and Scottish women sharing their delicious recipes.

Renfrew YMCA were the only organisation involved that were not ESOL trained.  Their focus was on youth and they started a community garden.  Peers and peer educators still went to the garden, which is now run by the local council, after funding stopped.

Renfrew Collective Action: working together to turn a piece of waste ground into a community garden.

Dundee International Women’s Centre had two groups; one mixed and one women-only. The Coordinator was an ESOL Tutor.  Their collective actions involved joining up with local walking groups and visiting a community garden.  One year on, some peers were still attending courses run at the centre.

The Midlothian Council project was coordinated by one ESOL tutor.  The focus here was on mothers and children. Sessions took place at a local school with peer education sessions in one room while the children played in another.  Their collective action was a trip to the beach.

As this was a pilot project, evaluation was integrated throughout.  Lavinia Hirsu of Glasgow University was the external evaluator and she developed a range of imaginative data collection and evaluation tools that could be used as peer education activities.  The diagram below is an example of one such activity.  Peers noted their social connections at the beginning and end of the project by placing those closest to them at the centre and acquaintances towards the outer ring.

WhatsApp Image 2020-11-18 at 19.24.21
mapping social connections

The outcomes for the project were positive, with all involved increasing their social connections, local knowledge, cultural knowledge and language confidence.

Now times have changed. I can’t teach my students face to face, let alone signpost them to volunteering or local social opportunities. Since March, one of my real concerns is that social isolation amongst already marginalised groups is even worse than ever. I miss the people in my life and I can only imagine how it feels to live in an unfamiliar country with a limited number of social connections.

I’ve started to do what I can with my students; opening the zoom room early and leaving it open after class to allow them to chat to each other, encouraging discussions in our Whatsapp group and giving them ideas for local daytrips that might be marginally more exciting than their local park.

How you are supporting your learners to use their language outside the classroom or to increase their social connections in these strange times?

Loved this post? Why not check out my online courses? Click the laptop icon to find out more!

Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.

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Is ELF still on the shelf?

In today’s world, 80% of communication in English occurs between speakers whose first language is not English. I live in Glasgow, Scotland, an English-speaking country and this is apparent even here. Sometimes I meet my friend at the local skate park where her kid likes to whizz around after school, and I’m always interested to hear the chatter between local mums. They speak in English, though they are from all over the world. Likewise, with the staff in most of the shops, restaurants and cafes in the area. While I was at university for the first time, I worked in a Mexican restaurant and communicated in English with people from Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Libya, France and Poland. And in class, my students communicate and make social connections with learners from Syria, Iran, China, Poland, Eritrea, El Salvador, et al.  

TEFL, or Teaching English as a Foreign Language, essentially refers to teaching English in a country where English is not the first language. It focuses on teaching English as a means to communicate with ‘native speakers’ of English and therefore uses ‘native speaker’ models in pronunciation and listening activities. It also may teach little tidbits of ‘culture’ from English speaking countries, like how everyone in Scotland eats deep fried Mars bars every day. Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but you get my point.  

TELF, or Teaching English as a Lingua Franca, is much more inclusive. Its focus is on being understood in international contexts. Rather than attempting to have students pronounce English words in a standard English or American accent, TELF embraces global English and focuses on being intelligible. It gives communication strategies for mutual understanding and considers cultures to be dynamic. The Accentricity podcast has a great episode on actors learning accents. Think of how many bad accents you’ve heard in films over the years. Learning a new accent is hard. Plus, I don’t have a standard English accent, and nor do I want one, so why should my students work so hard for something unnecessary and in many cases unattainable? TELF provides a range of model accents from around the world, supports students to explore their own pronunciation goals and aims for speakers to communicate successfully in international contexts.  

Help us get ELF off the shelf!

You may have noticed my use of quotation marks in ‘culture’ and ‘native speaker’ above. My reason for doing so is to consider what is ‘culture’ and who is a ‘native speaker’? Let’s look at culture first. When people think of culture, they may think of how a group of people do things – their beliefs, religion, music, art, food, social norms, etc. But the danger there is getting mixed up in stereotypes.  Every group, and sub-group is different and unique. For example, I am Scottish, but I don’t wear tartan, listen to bagpipes or eat haggis every day (though I do enjoy each on occasion). Culture is not merely related to nationality but also related to organisations, cities, groups of friends and families, etc.  People act differently in different situations. For example, do you behave the same way around close friends as you do colleagues? Communicating effectively with someone from another ‘culture’ is therefore a negotiation. It takes understanding, patience and adaptability from everyone involved and can’t be learned as sets of rules.

Now, let’s look at ‘native speakers’. Alan Davies defined ‘native speaker’ proficiency as early childhood acquisition, grammatical intuition, fluency, creativity in writing, ability to translate into L1 and creative communication. My Polish friend moved to Ireland when she was 16, speaks with an Irish twang, uses better grammar than her Irish other half, is fluent, creative, can translate, has completed a Master’s Degree at Belfast University and can use slang Scots, Irish and English words as she’s lived all over the UK. So, by Davies’ definition, and through her proficiency in English, she’s a native speaker. Though because she was born in Poland, many people may consider her to be a ‘non-native speaker’. 

There are five times as many ‘non-native English Speakers’ in the world as ‘native’ English speakers. By teaching ELF, we can teach our students how to communicate with all English users intelligibly. It is an inclusive way to teach as all accents and cultures are embraced.  

I speak English with a Scottish accent, and I have always felt that my accent just wasn’t ‘correct’ when it came to teaching pronunciation. Whilst doing my DipTESOL, I’d look at transcriptions of words whilst thinking ‘This isn’t how I say it.’, but Adrian Underhill’s table is focused on RP, so doesn’t use some of the sounds I use. When I’d notice the pronunciation focus in a coursebook lesson was /u:/ or /ʊ/ my heart would sink and I’d think ‘Great – boot and bull. But they’re the same sound?!’ Then I’d dutifully play the audio, use my accent as a comparison, and have a class full of very confused students wondering how they’ll ever learn English ‘properly’ in Scotland.  

But since I’ve discovered the wonderful world of TELF, this is no longer the case. I feel liberated!

In TELF, vowel quality is not so important, as long as students get the vowel length right. So students should aim to say blue or shoe with a long vowel as close to /u/ as they can, and sugar and woman with a shorter vowel similar to /u/. If they say it intelligibly, that’s all that matters. Robin Walker’s book ‘Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca’ is an unbelievably helpful guide. It lays out the Lingua Franca Core, or key features of pronunciation necessary to be intelligible as focusing on consonants (except /ð/and /θ/), consonant clusters, vowel length and nuclear stress.

Overall, ELFpron coaches students to communicate successfully with others, so focuses not only on speaking clearly, but also on strategies for being understood such as rephrasing, enunciating, using explanations and non-verbal communication. It also differentiates between what students should be able to understand and what they should be able to say. For example, teaching students to produce connected speech actually hinders intelligibility, as squishing all your words together essentially makes you difficult to understand. But it can be beneficial for them in a receptive sense.

In a nutshell, ELF is gloriously global and embraces the diverse world that we live in.

So, my question is this. Should TEFL be rebranded to TELF?

TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, when perhaps Teaching English as a Lingua Franca is much more inclusive and reflects the reality of language usage more. Does the mere use of the term ‘foreign’ portray an idea of ‘otherness’? Likewise with TESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Isn’t our focus as language teachers to teach global communication skills in the form of a lingua franca?

There is certainly a rising wave of ELT Professionals embracing TELF, global Englishes and accent diversity. The Voices series that I co-authored for National Geographic Learning follows an ELFpron syllabus and includes diverse language models, such as NatGeo Explorers from all over the world. I suspect (and hope) there will be other resources following suit.

The Chartered Institure of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), which many ELT editors are affiliated with, no long use the terms ‘native’ and ‘non-native‘.

The terms are increasingly becoming (or have become?) sweary words. I frequently see language schools, podcasts and youtubers who use the term ‘native speaker teachers’ or flags from countries traditionally considered ‘native’ to sell their products, being called out on social media.

Yet we still see discriminatory adverts for ‘native’ teachers, when what the world really needs are qualified teachers who speak proficient English.

What do you think? Would rebranding to TELF create a more inclusive industry? Would it speed the move towards TEFL equity from its current glacial pace? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Further reading:


TEFL Equity advocates 

ELFpron blog

ETProfressional – Teaching English? Or teaching English culture?

Teaching English as a Lingua Franca, Marek Kiczkowiak

Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca, Robin Walker

Successful International Communication, Chia Suan Chong 


Check out my online courses! Click the laptop to find out more!

Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.

Is ELF still on the shelf? Read More »

Tips for teaching online – lessons from teaching learners with limited digital skills

Teaching online can be highly satisfying and relatively simple if your learners are self-directed and confident with technology, or if they already have some English language skills. If that is not the case, then things can be more challenging. Since March, this has been my teaching context, so I’ve shared ideas with colleagues, listened to podcasts and webinars, read blogs, done short online courses and signed up for an MEd Module in TELL.

Here’s some hints and tips for teaching digital skills to students who need extra support with technology and autonomous learning. As always, I’d love to hear yours.

1. Expect the unexpected

This could be said for all online teaching, or, indeed, all teaching in general. Students with limited digital literacy can surprise in many ways. For example, since starting Zoom classes with my new cohort, I was contacted on three separate occasions by three different students to ask why Zoom wasn’t working. It transpired that they were trying to login to class, not at the scheduled time, but at completely random times.

This should give you some context to how limited my students digital skills were. While I was still teaching them face to face, we were practising using the return, space and caps lock keys to type, and before March many didn’t have email addresses. But we’ve come a long way since then.

2. Preparing students is essential

If students are unfamiliar with the technology, we need to support them to use it. Teaching key vocabulary and how to use certain features is a great starting point, and will make everything easier in the long run. For video conferencing platforms, teach words like ‘mute’, ‘unmute’, or simply ‘I can’t hear you.’ I also found teaching prepositional phrases like ‘on the top right of the screen’ or ‘on the bottom left’ helpful.

Before the lessons, I created walkthrough videos of how to use the most common functions, and for low level learners who needed more support, I found videos in their L1 – like this one in Arabic or this guide for Polish learners on Sandy Millin‘s blog site: If you know of any more, please share them with me and I’ll add them here.

New additions (thanks Kamalika):

Zoom – Bengali walkthrough

Zoom – Urdu/Hindi

3. Be creative

My colleague, Rosie Quin, gets creative with tech.

We don’t always have the right tools to do what we need to do, but there’s probably a way of doing it with what you have. This is my imaginative colleague, Rosie Quin’s, innovative way to teach letter formation to her students without a visualiser. I think this sums up just how far teachers go to make their lessons accessible and engaging.

4. Slow and steady wins the race

At the moment, I feel like I’m mastering a new piece of tech just about every day, but I’d consider myself to be pretty tech savvy. For students who are not such digital whizzes, getting to grips with a new tool can take time and can often be frustrating or even overwhelming. Allow students time to master one new tool or function before adding another one. For example, try using the chat room function in one lesson (or even two or three), then move on to using the remote control or breakout rooms once you’ve built their confidence and digital skills.

5. Use visuals

As you’ll know from my previous posts, I’m a great believer in using visuals. Students understand international icons more than words they don’t know (who knew?). I’ve found that having a document to hand with various icons students might need to click (e.g. video on/off, share screen, etc) has helped me immensely. I can show them the icon, and they can find it on their phone or laptop.

I’ve also used quick sketches to explain online learning vocabulary:

A quick sketch for explaining ‘breakout room’ to beginners. Save yourself a thousand words!

6. Find ways to break out

Students who take time getting to grips with tech may feel out of their depth in breakout rooms. Breakout rooms are great if students can screenshot or photograph the activity before being split into groups, or if one student has the ability and know-how to share their screen. Or, indeed, if students are very fast at copying down the task. This year, my students are A0 and mostly access their zoom session via their mobile. Some haven’t learned to read or write in roman script yet, so giving them text prompts isn’t viable. I’ve found that screenshotting the activity (which could just be an image based task, like ‘What vegetables can you see in this picture?), and whatsapping it to them before breakout rooms works a treat. As long as they can easily switch between apps!

On that note, help me out… Wouldn’t it be great if students could see your shared screen in break out rooms, without having to rely on students’ tech skills? Email them to suggest: info@zoom.us

7. Keep it simple

I have mentioned in previous posts that students with limited digital literacy may find it hard to login, especially if they are also learning the English script for the first time. Could you login to a computer in Arabic, Korean or Chinese? I know, I’d probably be asking my teacher to reset my password at least once.

Tools like YouTube, EdPuzzle, Google Quizzes, Quizlet, Wordwall and Padlet remove the password hoop and take ‘one click’ to access. I particularly love using the Google Suite as I can quickly flit between tabs (showing slides, docs, images, email, websites), rather than having to re-share my screen. And I’ve recently discovered that Google Jamboard is a wonderful blend of powerpoint and interactive whiteboard. You can search for and add images quickly, highlight phrases, resize text and have students use it to draw or write collaboratively.

8. Have a plan B (and C and D)

In my first zoom session with my new students, we played around with the chatroom function, but, despite demonstrating on my screen using images, some still couldn’t access it on their phones. So I logged in on my own mobile and showed them by holding it up to my webcam. Then, the majority of students could use chat, but one still didn’t manage. I asked them to send me messages via whatsapp instead. I’m now in the habit of logging into my Zoom sessions via my phone. It means that I can see what the students see (or don’t see), check that the font size of materials is accessible on a phone, and screenshot tasks for breakout rooms.

Don’t forget to include others in your plan A, B, C, D or Z. Encouraging support from peers or family members will save a lot of time. Learning new tech in L1 is always going to be simpler than in a new language.

9. Teach each lesson head on

Sometimes it feels like everything is backwards.

I quickly learned that Zoom automatically ‘mirrors’ videos streaming on webcams, so when I held up a beautifully crafted example of a notebook for students in my literacy class, they looked utterly confused. No wonder, as the letters were all back to front. Not great when your learning objective is to teach them to write from left to right. I have since found and deselected the ‘mirror my video’ box in video settings. It’s next to the ‘touch up my appearance’ and ‘adjust for low light’ settings, which are equally (if not more) important.

10. Never say never

When I first started teaching students with limited digital literacy online, many didn’t even have email addresses, but slowly we’ve built up to using various different tools and self-study techniques. Like all life skills, teaching students to be autonomous digital learners involves support, patience and perseverance, but it is possible. Hang in there!

What tips do you have for teaching student digital skills for a digital world? I’d love to hear them.

If you’d like to learn more about Teaching a Virtual Classroom, Teaching ESOL or ESOL Literacy, why not check out these courses from ELT Training Library?

Teaching a Virtual Classroom

Getting Started with Adult ESOL

Teaching Adult ESOL Literacy: What is it, and What is Involved?

Practical Activities for Teaching Basic Literacy to Adult ESOL Learners



Check out my online courses! Click the laptop to find out more!

Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.

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My favourite ELT podcasts

Ok, I’ll be honest. My all-time favourite, laugh out loud, podcast has to be the Adam Buxton podcast, but sometimes I just feel a bit swotty and want to professionally develop whilst chopping vegetables or heading home from my latest adventure. Here are some entertaining and enlightening English language teaching and materials writing themed listens:

1. Accentricity. The Accentricity podcast wholeheartedly embraces and promotes the wonderfully inclusive world of English as a Lingua Franca. Sadie Ryan, a PhD Linguistics graduate from Glasgow University bridges the gap between academia and how people really use the language. Her engaging interviews with experts and language users explore a world of accents, prejudice, language acquisition and multilingualism.

2. The Editing Podcast. As a Materials Writer, this podcast has been endlessly helpful and inspiring. Denise Cowle and Louise Harnby simplify all there is to know about editing. Each episode is about 15 minutes long and feels like you’re just eavesdropping on Denise and Louise having an enthusiastic chat about editing over a coffee (and maybe a spoonful of Nutella). It’s a fun, friendly way to learn about formatting, grammar, punctuation and all the technical terms and jargon used in editing and writing.

3. The TEFL Training Institute podcast. These podcasts are also only 15 minutes long, and manage to squeeze a lot of learning into every precious second. Ross Thorburn interviews experts on just about every TEFL topic you can think of – Marek Kiczkowiak about Native Speakerism, David Crystal about the History of English, Russell Stannard about online teaching and my very own Diploma tutor, the fabulous Anne Carmichael about using Literature to teach Language.

4. The Actual Fluency Podcast. As I write this, there are close to 200 of these podcasts available to download. Each is aimed at anyone wanting to learn a language (not just English). Kris interviews guests on topics such as language learning techniques, theories and research. One episode that stuck in my mind was his interview with Anthony Metivier talking about Memory Palaces. Now there’s something I won’t forget!

These are just 4 of my favourites. Each an easy and entertaining way to stay informed. I’d love to hear recommendations for more. Which ones do you love? Which episodes have made themselves at home in your mind?

Since writing this post, I’ve been introduced to LOADS of other awesome podcasts. I’ve even appeared on episodes of Teachers Talk Radio, Sponge Chat and ESL Breakroom! Here are some additional recommendations for you to check out:

Sponge ELT – Interviews from ELT professionals sharing their inspiring ELT career journeys. 

Teachers Talk Radio – Harry Waters, Graham Stanley and Jane Ritter all have TEFL/TESOL/ELT related podcasts. They’re all brilliant.

TESOLpop – These bitesized podcasts cover all sorts of useful topics.

ESL Breakroom by Business Class Learning Solutions – the podcast for business English professionals.

The LearnJam podcast – Adventures in Learning Design

The Pearson English podcast

The TEFL Commute podcast


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Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.

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Teaching ESOL Literacy Online

Although my materials writing hat is well versed in zoom calls and delivering webinars, my ESOL lecturer hat still took some getting used to teaching online when COVID hit. Teaching online is great, when your learners are self-directed, tech savvy and have all the devices and connections required to attend classes.

Teaching online is somewhat more challenging when your students have little or no educational history, limited IT skills, devices whose best feature is a game called ‘snake’ or who need to save the meagre 3G they can afford to stay in touch with their loved ones overseas. That’s before considering their housing provider may think it’s a good idea to take their weekly allowance from them and house them in a hotel during lockdown. Learning ESOL during a pandemic may not be top priority.

But, us ESOL Literacy Lecturers don’t let impossible situations stop us. We plough on through and do what we can with what we have. And what we had was Whatsapp. Not ideal in terms of giving out personal numbers, but this was crisis and I trusted my students and was well aware that anything involving having to correctly type login details would result in multiple students being locked out of their learning.

Teaching phonics ‘oa’ with Whatsapp.

Whatsapp is actually quite an undervalued teaching platform. You can share and find links, videos and photos easily, provide audio support to all texts, correct students work using the draw function and use the emojis to illustrate vocabulary. You can also upload documents, have audio recorded conversations and even video call to up to eight people. Plus, when your aim is to get students to read and write in English, Whatsapp encourages them to type messages to each other and respond.

The very first lesson was simply handwriting a few sentences, illustrating them with simple graphics and recording a video of me reading the text whilst pointing to each word. Students then had to record themselves reading the text, answer some comprehension questions, then personalise it. Over the weeks these lessons got more sophisticated and included things like YouTube videosPadletsQuizletsEdPuzzles and quizzes on Google Forms, yet what I always got the best response from was a simple handwritten text with audio support.  

Then I figured it was time to move on to the big scary world of email. When we started teaching online, probably around 50% of the class didn’t have an email address. So I created a walk-through video of how to set up an email address and shared it with the group. I started to get a trickle of emails but I wanted 100% of students to be emailing by the end of term, so I asked a friend to send the link to set up a gmail account in Arabic and forwarded that to the students. Genius. Every student now had an email address. But I knew I had to keep them using it. I didn’t want them to email me once and forget how to do it, or forget their passwords. So every single email that I got, I replied with a simple question, then students had to email me back. I had a lovely conversation about yellow flowers with one student and about Glasgow parks with another.

One of the main challenges of teaching ESOL Literacy is that it’s extremely hard to find suitable materials to teach reading, writing and phonics to adults. Most are aimed at children and have delightfully childish pictures of apples, books and cats to accompany the alphabet. This made teaching online more challenging. While my peers had the luxury of coursebook e-packs, I had to create most things myself. Here are some sites which I am eternally grateful for:

Bow Valley College – Graded Readers for ESL Literacy learners

LanguageGuide.org – Very basic supported vocabulary learning

British Council ESOL Nexus

English My Way

Lisa Karlsen ESOL Literacy resource pack – worth every penny


Liverpool College ESOL Online


I AM YOU Humanitarian Aid – Facebook page with lots of ESOL Literacy videos


Excellence Gateway ESOL

ABC English

English Hub for Refugees

Education and Training Foundation – New to ESOL Literacy pack – tips and activities.

Diglin – phonics and skills activities

Citizen Literacy app – City of Glasgow College app to teach phonics to adults. Still in Beta, but you can trial. Watch this space!

LESLLA – Literacy Education and Second Language Learning for Adults website and webinar video.

Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) ESOL Literacy resources

Excellence Gateway Hub – UK resources

NATECLA Scotland – resource list for ESOL Literacies

If you know any more, please share them with me. I’d love to add them to this post.

Overall, my main tip of teaching any students with basic ICT skills is never give up. The more students use tech, the more confident they’ll be, even if your learners can barely type their passwords into the computer.  

In many ways, I think COVID has had some positive impacts on ESOL. I’m sure it catapulted some learners with low levels of study skills into being more self-directed learners. Students who previously needed (or had) their hand held have been effectively forced into taking ownership of their learning and getting to grips with tricky ICT.  Plus, we now have a whole load of lovely interactive materials which future learners will be able to use in their own time.

If you’d like more information on how to teach ESOL Literacy, check out my courses on Language Fuel ELT Training Library. Each course takes less than twenty minutes and is full of practical hints and tips:

Teaching Adult ESOL Literacy: What is it and what’s involved?

Practical activities for teaching basic literacy to adult ESOL Learners.

Getting Started with Adult ESOL

Graphic Facilitation is a great way to support learners with literacy needs. Simple drawings can help learners who don’t have L1 script to take vocabulary notes. It also makes whiteboards, rubrics and worksheets more accessible.

Check out my online courses to find out more!

Emily Bryson ELT. Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings. Graphic Facilitation for English Language Teaching Professionals. Online Course. Group Programme. Simple drawing of a laptop with the text 'online course'.

Teaching ESOL Literacy Online Read More »