TEFL on the Net
I started my blog just over five years ago, and in the first couple of years of that time time the internet went from a place for EFL teachers to go for a few additional ideas or to kill time to something that many teachers can’t live without. The quality of published materials in magazines and books is still generally higher, but nowadays many of the major TEFL magazines and journals are anyway available online with additional features such as being easily searchable and with access to back issues. You can also read and easily search through at least extracts of many books through Google Books and there are even a few freely downloadable books. There are also free online sites for teachers that have similar kinds of content to magazines and journals such as HLTmag and TESL-EJ. Many of these, e.g. DevelopingTeachers, offer newsletters straight to your email inbox.
Looking at my own blog stats it is obvious that the main reason teachers go on the internet nowadays is to find photocopiable worksheets, with flashcards and ideas for warmers and other language games close behind. The easiest way to find a worksheet, flashcard or teaching idea is simply to google the name of the grammar point, topic, area of vocabulary or function that you are looking for with additional terms like “photocopiable worksheet”, “handout”, “discussion questions” or “grammar games”. Much of the material that you will find is easily and freely printable straight from the internet, but ESLprintables (perhaps the most popular site) asks you to submit some of your own materials before gaining access to other people’s. Some other sites ask you to register for free, with often a payment for access to extra content on sites from mainstream publishers like Macmillan’s Onestopenglish. Onestop is an example of a site that doesn’t come up very often on searches and so are worth some time spent getting to know, as of course are the specific sites of the textbooks you are using.
Nowadays typing something into Google can be quicker and easier than searching through the bookshelves of your teachers’ room, but the main appeal of the internet has to be things that simply don’t exist on paper. Perhaps the most obvious is video, with plenty of lesson plans on how to use videos on Youtube on sites like TEFLclips and also videos on how to teach more generally. Another obvious thing which exploits the internet well is online games. Google is again probably your best resource for finding these, but there are sites that are always worth a look at like LearnEnglishKids. There is also an endless list of non-TEFL sites that can easily be used with classes such as Xtranormal.
Another unique online TEFL form is TEFL blogs. These include campaigning ones like TEFLblacklist, rather racy and shocking ones like EnglishTeacherX, ones with practical teaching ideas like DiscussEnglish, ones that are mainly about life in the country they are teaching in like Notes from the TEFL Graveyard, and just about every other type, including Marxist ones! The world of TEFL blogs has really changed since I started mine, including well known published authors like Scott Thornbury getting in on the act. You can follow most of these blogs through blog aggregators like the one on this site and RSS feeds, or you can spend many a happy hour following links from one blog to another. Once you’ve thought up a name, you can also set up your own TEFL blog on sites such as WordPress in about ten minutes.
A similarly informal and often controversial form of online TEFL writing is forums. ESLCafe is still the most inhabited, but with continuing complaints about censorship of posts about organisations that have advertising on the site and the arbitrary banning of long term posters, many have decamped for places like ELTWorld and the seemingly completely unregulated ESLteachersboard.
Perhaps another reason for the decline of some TEFL forums is the popularity of Twitter. I’m afraid I can’t bear even the idea of texts from people I have never met and so haven’t even joined but it seems that there are TEFLers with thousands of followers and some real controversy. There are also groups on Facebook, LinkedIn and Yahoo Groups for those of a more social bent.
A much earlier version of this article was written for the ABAX newsletter. This version published here with the permission of ABAX and the author.