ELI Computer Lab Class: Week 10 – Organization and Motivation


Hello! At this late point in the semester, we all have a lot of work to do in a very short period of time. This week, I would like to share a couple of tools that might help you organize your work and motivate yourself to be more productive: Trello and Habitica.


Trello (https://trello.com/) is a website that helps you create and organize to-do lists. It is especially designed for teams working together on a project, but people use it for personal to-do lists as well.

There are many ways to organize and prioritize your tasks on Trello. Here are two simple examples:

Using Trello to keep track of what you're doing now, what you need to do later, and what you have already finished
Using Trello to keep track of what you’re doing now, what you need to do later, and what you have already finished
Using Trello to plan when you will do each task.
Using Trello to plan when you will do each task.



Habitica  (https://habitica.com/), also called HabitRPG, is a website that helps you turn your goals into games. As you study and complete assignments in real life, you earn rewards in the game. This is designed to help you keep your motivation high. Check out the video below to see how Habitica works:

I hope one or both of these resources helps you to achieve your goals for the end of the semester. Good luck!


ELI Computer Lab Class: Week 9 – Spaced Repetition Rehearsal



This week’s post will highlight the importance of testing yourself when studying. It also contains useful resources.

To remember things, test yourself!

Using flashcards is a good way to test yourself. Photo: k4dordy, CC BY 2.0
Using flashcards is a good way to test yourself. Photo: k4dordy, CC BY 2.0

Vocabulary can be very difficult to learn and remember. The problem is that there is just so much vocabulary! To become a fluent speaker of academic or professional English, you need to know several thousand words. How can anyone remember that many words?

Scientists who study memory have found that the best way to remember information for a long time is to practice recalling or retrieving it. In other words, when studying, you should test yourself and prove that you can remember the information you need. You should not simply look at a vocabulary list or re-read a book chapter; you need to test yourself for effective studying.

Take a look at this experimental result from Karpicke and Roediger (2008), The Critical Importance of Retrieval for Learning:


In the experiment above, four groups of college students learned 40 vocabulary words from a foreign language. In two of the groups, the students studied the vocabulary by testing themselves over and over. In the other two groups, the students did not study by testing themselves. After one week, the groups who tested themselves remembered about 32/40 words, while the other groups remembered only about 14/40 words. Pretty impressive!

How can you test yourself when studying a language like English? If you need to learn and remember thousands of words, how can you find enough time to study? Well, living in an English-speaking country is a great way to accomplish this goal! All day, you need to speak to people in English and read signs in English. This constantly tests your English and forces you to remember the vocabulary you know.

Not everyone can go to an English speaking country, though. In addition, you will probably return home someday to a non-English speaking country. So what else can people do to practice lots of vocabulary?

Spaced Repetition Rehearsal Software

There are several computer programs designed to help you study vocabulary by testing yourself. A typical program uses digital flashcards. The program will analyze your correct and incorrect answers to determine which words you know well and which words you don’t know well. The program will test you often on words you don’t know well, and it will only rarely test you on words it thinks you know well.

The chart below demonstrates how this works. When you first learn a word, you are likely to forget it quickly unless you practice it soon (light blue line), so the program will test you on that word one or two days later (FIRST REMINDER). If you remember it successfully, your memory becomes stronger, so you will remember the word longer (red line). The program will now wait about a week before testing you again (THIRD REMINDER)… And then a month or two… And eventually, years! This is called spaced repetition, because the space becomes longer between each repetition of the vocabulary word.


By using software like this to study, you can confidently remember thousands of vocabulary words!


These programs are perfect for studying and memorizing lots of vocabulary. However, flashcards typically do not help you to improve your pronunciation, grammar, fluency, organization, or other important speaking and writing skills. Vocabulary is important, but it is not the only thing you should focus on! Practicing speaking and writing in English is always important, too.

Spaced Repetition Rehearsal software

  • Anki is probably the most popular SRS flashcard program right now. You can use it on your computer, a smartphone, or a web browser. The iPhone app costs money, but other features are free.
  • Mnemosyne is the program that I used to use when I was a university student. It is also free.
  • SuperMemo is a non-free program that was first developed in 1987 and is still updated today. Its creator, Piotr Wozniak, invented the idea of spaced repetition rehearsal software.
  • Quizlet.com is a free website which helps you practice vocabulary in many ways. It did not use to have a spaced repetition feature. However, as of 2015, they are testing this feature, calling it “Long Term Learning.” I have tried it myself, and hopefully, it will soon be available to everyone.

Three Rivers TESOL 2015 – Collaborative Projects the Easy Way Using Google Drive


This is a companion post for my presentation at Three Rivers TESOL on 11/7/2015. In the live workshop, we will do hands-on activities with Google Drive. This post contains some introductory prose and a link to a “how-to” document for setting up Google Drive projects for your own students.

Students collaborating using Google Drive. Photo: Charlotta Wasteson, CC BY 2.0
Students collaborating using Google Drive. Photo: Charlotta Wasteson, CC BY 2.0

Have you ever assigned a group project such as a panel speech or a group presentation? If you have, you know that the logistics tend to get messy. In my experience, students in a group often each create their own PowerPoint files and then try to paste them all together into one group file. This requires a lot of emailing and effort, and the final product usually looks inconsistent and shabby due to varying slide designs, fonts sizes, and so on. Plus, if one or two students aren’t pulling their weight, their poor or missing work may come as a surprise to their fellow group members on presentation day.

But what if all the members of a group could work on the same file at the same time?

Google Drive is a free online office suite created and maintained by Google, Inc. The program is accessed via a web browser (on PCs/Macs) or via mobile apps (iOS/Android). Where Google Drive differs most substantially from Microsoft Office is that it makes collaboration very easy: everyone working on a project can edit the same document at the same time, and built-in commenting and chatting features enable the collaborators to coordinate their efforts. The online nature of Google Drive also means that teachers do not need to “collect” work. Rather, teachers have permanent, ongoing access to the document and can monitor student work live as it happens.

See here for instructions:

Using Google Drive for Collaborative Student Projects

The above document contains all the instructions you need to get a project up and running. It’s certainly a bit simpler to set projects up if your institution uses Google Apps for Education (GAFE), but this is not a prerequisite. As long as the teacher has a Google account, the teacher can create the projects and enable students to work on those documents without needing to log into a Google account.

Give it a try!


ELI Computer Lab Class: Week 8 – Vocabulary Profilers


Hello! This week, my suggested resource is a vocabulary profiler.

In your ELI classes, your textbooks and your teachers help you to preview vocabulary before you read a new text. But outside of the classroom, how can you preview vocabulary in the real world!?

A vocabulary profiler can analyze a text and show you which words you probably need to focus on and preview. The profiler finds all of the interesting or unusual vocabulary the text has. You can use this information to help you prepare to read (or listen to) a new text!

Click the link below to begin:


Here is a profile for a TED talk titled “How we can make the world a better place by 2030”:

A of How we can make the world a better place by 2030
A vocabulary profile of How we can make the world a better place by 2030

On the left is the original text which I copied and pasted into the website. On the right is a colored text showing how common each word is. The most common and simple words are blue and green, while the least common words are colors like orange and people.

Here’s the important part:

In the middle is a list of uncommon English words that are used often in this text. For example, this text uses the word “capita” four times, “economy” 14 times, “forecast” four times, and “poverty” six times. If you don’t understand what those words mean, you will probably have difficulty understanding the speech! So you should review that list carefully and preview the vocabulary before reading or listening to the speech.

Give it a try: paste text from a newspaper article, magazine article, or TED.com into the vocabulary profiler and see what you discover!