'Q & A from Anthony Gaughan’s webinar on 40 things to do with a text'

28th May 2017

On 6th May 2017, Anthony Gaughan presented the following IATEFL webinar:

40 things to do with a text

In this session I will share 40 quick and dirty things to do with texts in our classes.  Many of these ideas will be low – or no-preparation, will work with a range of texts and levels, encourage learner co-construction of lesson content, and will provide opportunities for work on reading, speaking, writing, lexical and grammatical development.   We are all hard-working teachers and I promise you that if you give your time to come to this webinar, you will leave with a month’s worth of activities.  Add your own ideas, and maybe we can hit 50 things, or even 100!

Thank you to the 200+ people who attended, and those who asked questions and offered suggestions. If you would like to watch the recording, you need to be a member of IATEFL (find out how to join), but even if you’re not a member, you can read Anthony’s answers to some of the questions below, as well as extra suggestions from the webinar participants.

What was it like to give a webinar?

This wasn’t the first time that I have taken part in a webinar as a presenter; I chaired an interactive panel discussion on teacher identity for the IATEFL/TESOL Joint Web Conference recently, and have also been “beamed-in” to present at events like the Innovate ELT conference in 2016. So basically I should have known what I was doing. This just makes the fact that I managed to delete my presentation slides – not once, but twice within a minute – all the more, how shall I say? – memorable…

But apart from such minor technical issues, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed presenting my thoughts on how to exploit texts in class. I was also genuinely blown away by the number of people who spent their Saturday attending, and was inspired by the amount of participation and conversation between everyone in the room.

Unanswered questions from the webinar

Q: What did I mean when I suggested “expanding a text”?

A text is a partial thing. It is partial in the sense that it is biased in some sense, and it is partial in that it is a selection of content – no text contains absolutely everything that could possibly be said on any given topic. The writer’s job involves deciding what content to include and what content to leave out. Often, these decisions are driven by what the writer assumes the reader will already know. Writers assume shared knowledge with their readership – but second-language readers often lack this information.

As this is the case, we can ask our students to expand any given text by adding information that the original writer left out. This might be small lexical details, such as the age, job and other identifying information for a person mentioned in the text (which works on noun phrase modification, relative clauses etc.), whole sentences or paragraphs of germane information (such as a more thorough description of a place or document mentioned in the text for the benefit of someone lacking the background knowledge assumed by the writer.)

Q: Which of the activities presented would work well with large (70+) classes of elementary learners?

This is a tricky question to answer without knowing a bit more about what technological resources there are available. However, here are some of the ideas I think could work, with some notes on how they could be made to work. Your mileage, as they say, may vary:

Answer or create comprehension questions

Both of these can also be conducted in the students’ first language, as long as the reading or listening text is in the target language. One set of questions and one text can be shared effectively by up to 7 students as the texts will be short and so the print can be large, which means 10 handouts for 70 students.


These can be planned, scripted, rehearsed and performed by groups working together, so the teacher has fewer points to monitor than 70 individuals. If circumstances allow, the students could video record themselves performing their role-plays to make post-task feedback on language easier and more time-effective for the teacher.

Convert information into a diagram/visual

This is good because it does not require much productive language from the students but proves their comprehension. Visuals are also quick and easy to monitor (students could just hold them up for the teacher to view from the front.)

Read it aloud

With proper support, as described in the webinar, helping learners to plan to read a short text aloud can be very confidence-building. Again, if students can record themselves, this makes giving feedback easier.

Summarise/Translate it

If the teacher shares the learners’ L1, then asking students to read a short passage in the target language and then summarise it in their L1 is a straightforward comprehension check.

A note on Tagxedo

As part of my webinar, I suggested using Tagxedo to create a word cloud. However, it is unfortunately no longer viable in most browsers because support for Silverlight (a program on which Tagxedo is based) is being abandoned (including by Microsoft, the creator of Silverlight, themselves!)

This means that Tagxedo does not have much of a future – at least as a browser-based option. The developer is working on creating iOS and Android app versions, and has stuck the browser version on the back-burner.

I am slightly embarrassed to say that I only noticed this was the case myself a few days after the webinar when I got a new computer!  I can still use Tagxedo on my old MacBook because it is still running an older version of Firefox (48.0.2 – as I write this, the current version is 52.0.x) but not on my new Thinkpad, which is running up-to-date software.

There are, however, ways around the problem.  Depending on how determined you are to get access, you could install an older version of your web browser – these are generally still available but you are discouraged from installing them because they pose a security risk.  For example, you could download Firefox 48.0.2 from https://ftp.mozilla.org/pub/firefox/releases/48.0.2/ and install from the zip file matching your OS.  This should work with Silverlight after you install this, and then Tagxedo should work for you.

Alternatively, a few people in the chat suggested using www.wordclouds.com, which has many similar functions. You could also try other options from this list of word cloud generators.

A word of thanks in closing

Once again, can I please thank everyone – over 200 of you – who attended, and also if you view this webinar online. It was a pleasure and a privilege.

Anthony Gaughan is a freelance teacher-trainer based in Germany.  He is a Cambridge English-approved Assessor as well as Tutor for the CELTA award and is also a Delta Module 2 tutor; he also works as an online tutor for the Trinity College London Licentiate Diploma in TESOL. He is a state-qualified secondary school teacher in the UK, is an approved Speaking Examiner for Cambridge English exams, and has worked in English Language Teaching for over twenty years in the UK, Germany and Poland. He is a former coordinator for the Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG) within the international ELT professional association IATEFL, and he writes about minimalist approaches to teaching and teacher training at http://teachertrainingunplugged.com