Category Archives: For teachers

Does anyone know how to do extensive listening?

Recently, my colleague asked me for my collated list of Extensive Listening (EL) links, which prompted a short discussion on EL, and how to do it. This quickly highlighted the fact that we had two different ways to think about how to do EL. Unlike Extensive Reading (ER) we are all on the same page (pun intended), but the opposite is true for EL.

The problem with EL is that nobody ever figured out an elegant way to do it. I’ve written about EL before, after someone asked me how to do it (Blyth, 2015), which followed on from my ELT Journal article (Blyth, 2012), but I could only give generic advice. The big problem that listening teachers have, ever since the audio-lingual era, is that we’ve been too busy to do anything but borrow ideas from reading pedagogy (Field, 2008). EL is probably no different. We just uncritically adopted ER principles.

With ER, I provide my students with the following information, which is based on Day & Bamford (2002):

Rules: Extensive reading must be 1. Fun or interesting; 2. Easy; 3. You choose your own book, magazine, blog, anything; 4. Read lots; 5. Talk about it. Research suggests that you should know about 98% of words to have effective comprehension of the text. Choosing: for every 100 words, you should know 98 so it’s ok if you don’t know 2 words, but if more than three or four unknown words you should choose a different book…

So which of the above criteria can be applied to EL?

  1. Fun or interesting
  2. Easy
  3. Choose your own
  4. Listen lots
  5. Talk about it

But not “6. How to choose an EL text your level”. Listening texts are also invisible. With an ER book, you can look at it briefly and decide if the book is worth further investigation or not. Vision provides information up to 1000 times faster than any other sense. In contrast, students cannot know if the EL text is at, above, or below their level until they had already committed to putting on the headphones, pushing the play button, and waited to get a handle on the contents. With a book students can quickly see the level information, the number of headwords, the word count, size of font, number of lines per page, the thickness of the book, the type of pictures, and the usage of images too, among many other cues. In contrast, a listening text is a mystery bag, or like a box of chocolates, “you never know what you’re going to get”, until you start listening. This mystery element is the part that has always troubled me, and perhaps my students.

So far, there are a number of assumptions to get out of the way before we can get to the final question, “Is there a better way to do EL?”.

  1. Is extensive listening even needed?
  2. Is it effective?
  3. What is the current system of EL?
  4. Is the current system working?
  5. Is there a better way to do it?

The above questions deserve far more attention than what I can afford here, but brief answers are attempted just the same. Firstly, EL is indeed needed. For instance, Field (2008) argued that students on study abroad and similar programmes often struggle. They might be tested on their grammar, and placed into a class level based on their test-taking competency and grammar knowledge, but not their listening skills. Consequently, these students, especially those from the Far East, tend to do badly in class because they cannot access their grammar teacher’s verbal instruction, and so they blame themselves rather than the level placement apparatus. Another way to answer the first question is from a Vygotskian perspective: practice makes perfect. Research in brain science, suggests the more a certain set of neural pathways are used, the more connections are made, which results information being able to flow more efficiently  (Burton, 2013). That is, the more practice students get in listening, the better they will become.

Secondly, is EL effective? Masters and PhD students of Renandya & Farrell (2011) clearly demonstrate this. Students who did extensive listening outperformed students who received only listening strategy instruction. I argued in support of this point that strategy instruction is merely teaching students to compensate for a lack of skill, rather than teaching the skill to plug the gap (Blyth, 2012). Chang and Millett (2014) provided additional evidence that practising EL results in improved listening performance than no EL practice (or at least ER alone).

Thirdly, what is the current system of EL? On this point, I cannot give a clear answer, to which Chang & Millett say, “The practice of EL in L2 teaching is a relatively novel idea and its theoretical framework is undeveloped, so not many language teachers have the knowledge to carry it out” (2016, p351). Everyone seems to have their own idea on what and how to define EL, and how to implement it. So, to define what “4. Listen lots” means, as in, how much is “a lot”, cannot be done. What texts can be used? For Chang and Millett (2016) EL is listening to graded reader audio CDs. For Rob Warring (What is EL?), it is listening to a variety of (ungraded) web based texts like those listed on my Listening page.

Fourthly, despite the lack of clarity for the third question, EL is still more effective than teaching listening strategies. It still seems that any kind of practice is better than no practice.

Fifth and finally, is there a better way to do EL? I would like to begin discussion on this point. To me, the mystery bag element has to be dealt with. To begin with, how can we define the “mystery bag”? Firstly, grading; how can a student know if a particular or group of similar listening texts are level appropriate for him or herself. Secondly, what does level appropriate mean? What are the key features that make a listening text appropriate, whilst others inappropriate? Secondly, how much listening is needed on a weekly basis; assuming that a week is an appropriate increment of time to manage listening practice. On this point, my boss had his idea of the minimum time for students to listen, whilst I had mine. Mine demanded that students do at least thirty minutes a week, but they could choose a five minute text, and listen to it six times; or a fifteen minute text, and listen to it twice; or two or three different texts, but still total listening experience must be at least thirty minutes. Obviously, the number of times of practice matters, as argued earlier. However, what is the optimal length and number of times to listen?

Establishing standardised metadata

Publishers of graded readers have, in their various ways, admitted that certain metadata are needed. As mentioned earlier, information about the number of headwords, word count, CEF level, genre, and more all help the student decide if the book might be level appropriate for them. At the moment, most EL texts lack such information, except where it might be listed as “easy”, “medium”, or “difficult”, based on the curator’s judgement. Consequently, in the interests of making things easy for students, I would propose a similar system. I would hope that these criteria I’m suggesting not be the new standard, but be discussed, tested, and modified based on an informed position. Then, after rigorous testing, will the most appropriate ones be used. The metadata to consider are:

  1. CEF level
  2. Genre & topic
  3. Nature of text: authentic, genuine, or contrived.
  4. Length of text
  5. Words per minute
  6. Number of speakers
  7. Number of words outside of the 2,000 most common word range
  8. Number of academic and technical words from the AWL
  9. Number of idioms used
  10. Script availability: Yes / No
  11. What native-like phonological features are present?


It is hoped that future research on EL can begin to address a number of key issues. Firstly, what is an optimum length of listening time per week, and optimum number of times to listen to each text. Secondly, what is the best practice for doing EL, specially for an education environment where accountability (and grades) are concerned? Thirdly, what metadata are most useful for students to help them decide if a text is appropriate for their current listening level. Which also implies another question, what is a “listening level”?


Blyth, A. (2012) Extensive listening vs. listening strategies: Response to Seigel. ELT Journal, 66 (2), pp. 236-239.

Burton, R. (2013) A Skeptics Guide to the Mind. St Martin’s Press.

Chang, A. and Millett, S. (2014) The effect of extensive listening on developing L2 listening fluency+ some hard evidence. ELT Journal, 68 (1), pp 31-40.

Chang, A., and Millett, S. (2016) Developing L2 listening fluency through extended listening-focused activities in an extensive listening programme. RELC Journal, 47 (3), pp. 349-362.

Day, R., and Bamford, J. (2002) Top Ten Principles for Teaching Extensive Reading. Reading in a Foreign Language. 14 (2), pp. 136-141.

Field, J. (2008) Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Renandya, W., and Farrell, T. (2011). ‘Teacher, the tape is too fast!’ Extensive listening in ELT. ELT Journal, 65(1), 52-59.

Introduction to Qualitative Data Analysis

For Nagoya based teachers, researchers, and JALT members, please tell us when the best time for you to attend Nagoya JALT meetings at this survey:

This abstract was originally posted at the Nagoya JALT website. This page contains the workshop blurb and support materials. Thanks to all those who came, and QSR International Japan for sponsoring the main workshop by Prof. Yuzo Kimura.

How to do simple qualitative data analysis for small research projects on paper

  • Andrew Blyth
  • B.Sc, CELTA, MA.ELT, PhD (Ed; candidate)
  • University of Canberra, and Nanzan University

This is a simple introduction to qualitative data analysis for professional development for novice researchers, and for those wanting a better understanding of the research process. This workshop teaches and practices basic concepts of data analysis, coding (categorising), and basic concepts of theory making. The workshop is ideal for very small projects. Also, acquiring the fundamentals for larger projects including interview based research, classroom observations, discourse analysis, ethnography, and more. Furthermore, it provides the basic principles for understanding the next workshop which focuses on using Nvivo for qualitative research. Participants are not required to bring any particular materials or equipment for this workshop.

Support materials


  • Creswell, J (2009) Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. California, USA: Sage Publications.
  • Dörnyei, Z. (2007) Research Methods in Applied Linguistics (Oxford Applied Linguistics). Oxford University Press.
  • Henrich, N. & Holmes, B. (2013). Web news readers’ comments: Towards developing a methodology for using on-line comments in social inquiry. Journal of Media and Communication Studies, 5(1).
  • Miles, M., and Huberman, A. (1994) An Expanded Sourcebook: Qualitative Data Analysis (2nd Edition). Thousand Oaks, USA: Sage Publications.
  • ›Mitchell, C. (2011) Doing Visual Researching. Sage Publications.

Introduction to qualitative research analysis for teachers 13th May

This weekend I’ll be doing a presentation / workshop for beginning researchers on qualitative research analysis. The aim is to provide a very simple, interesting introduction on what and how qualitative research analysis is done. Basic details are below, and full details are on the Nagoya JALT website. This event is sponsored by Nagoya JALT and QSR International.

Professional development: Qualitative research, data analysis methodology, and introduction to QSR Nvivo
At Nanzan University, R building, room: R52.
***Car parking is available in the new west carpark, close to R building.***


  • 2:00 PM – Room opens, and Nvivo computer help available.
  • 2:30-3:30 – How to do simple qualitative data analysis for small projects on paper; Andrew Blyth, Nanzan University and University of Canberra.
  • 3:30-4:00 – Break + Nvivo computer help available.
  • 4:00-6:00 – Exploring qualitative data with NVivo: Creating, importing, coding and querying, Yuzo Kimura, University of Toyama.
  • 6:00-6:30 – Informal discussions and clean up.

The aim of these two workshops is for novice researchers to further develop and enhance their skills. There are two parts; first is a review of basic skills and an introduction to qualitative data analysis methodology; and the second introduces industry standard software commonly used in research projects.

People meeting, by Eric Bailey 2014, CC
People meeting, by Eric Bailey 2014, CC

Participants are not required to bring a laptop nor do they need to have Nvivo software, but can watch the demonstration. If they wish, participants can install QSR Nvivo on their laptops for the second workshop; however, it must be installed before attending, and the 14 day trial license newly activated. Detailed instructions are provided below. Any issues or problems with Nvivo installation should be resolved before the workshops, as the presenter cannot assist during his presentation time.

Finally, this is the first co-hosted workshop between Nagoya JALT and LEARN. A special thanks to Robert Croker of LEARN for the room booking, and for obtaining guest wifi access for this special event. Nagoya JALT looks forward to meeting and working with LEARN members at this and future events. Prof. Kimura’s workshop is co-sponsored with QSR International.

First Day activity with Kit Kats

For the first day of classes in April (the Japanese academic year starts then), teachers need a nice idea to relax the students, break the ice, and help everyone get to know each other. From talking with a colleague about how Kit Kat has taken to community service; giving people inspirational messages; how you can write your own or put your name on them; a new teaching idea evolved. If you have a stationary/research budget, you can do this.

First day activity using Kit Kats.
First day activity using Kit Kats.
  1. Before class get bags of Kit Kats
  2. Write the names of each student in your class on each Kit Kat wrapper as shown.
  3. First, practice a typical small talk or get to know you activity.
  4. Tell your class you’ll hand out Kit Kats, but do not eat them, do not open them, do not give them to anyone else. Just wait.
  5. Then in class, randomly distribute the Kit Kats so there’s one per student, but not their own.
  6. Demonstrate how to find the owner, what to say, and how to transition to small talk, and a short small talk demo.
  7. Then say, find the owner of the Kit Kat, and say “Here’s a little present for you”, and then they are to get to know each other a little. Then change, so that they have another chance to receive their own Kit Kat. Otherwise, find a new partner and get to know them, too.

End of course activity: Final messages

I first heard about this idea in the early 2000’s when I was still teaching in Taiwan. It sounded meaningful, helpful, and potentially the most important thing to come from a class; or rather, classmates. I have since lost the original text; I found it somewhere on the internet, either via email or some website. The original story went something like this:

A teacher in the 1960’s asked his class in their final week of high school to write a one-line message to each classmate. The teacher cut these into strips and reorganised them so that each student would receive all the messages intended for themselves. This was done anonymously, and with one rule: it had to be true. On the last day of classes, each student got a piece of paper with all of these anonymous messages for them. One of these students was a boy, who put his into his wallet and forgot about it. He joined the army and was sent to the Vietnam war. In amongst the horrors of war, at his lowest point in his life, when all hope seemed lost, when death could happen at any moment, with bombs, rockets, grenades, and bullets were a daily threat. He remembered his messages paper. In a lull in the fighting, he took out his paper and began to read it. He began to cry uncontrollably. All of the messages were sincere, nice, thoughtful, and full of admiration for him. He never knew how his classmates felt about him. This changed him. He gained new courage and need for life.

Today, I do something similar to this with my classes with the hope that at the student’s lowest point in their life, this paper could help them out of whatever hole he or she might find themselves in. Let’s face it, everyone will have sunny days, and dark dark nights; we all need a light in times that seem darkest.

A4 paper prepared for the Messages activity. A.Blyth 2017.
A4 paper prepared for the Messages activity. A.Blyth 2017.


Final day of class/course.


It takes about seven minutes to set up, and allow about two minutes per student in your class, but you don’t have to complete this (read below for more on this). A class of fifteen students would need about 37 minutes.


  • One quarter of an A4 paper per student.
  • A timer


Of course there are many ways to conduct these activity; this is just one possible way.

  1. Cut up clean A4 paper into quarters, so you have enough sheets for each student.
  2. Have them write their name, date, and class name on it.
  3. Pass it on. Go around to each individual student, and tell them to pass the paper onto the next person. Specify who to give it to. Organise this so that each paper will travel around the whole room to every student in turn. Clearly tell them that it is really super important that:
    • Papers never get mixed up and out of order
    • When the timer goes off they pass the paper on as soon as possible
    • Don’t have any papers pile up on one person (thereby depriving the next few people from being able to write a message)
  4. Concept check: Ask, “Talk with your partner, what do you need to do?”

Point out the rules:

Messages activity: Rules and how. A.Blyth, 2017.
Messages activity: Rules and how written on the whiteboard. A.Blyth, 2017.

The rules are:

  1. Should write something nice.
  2. It must be true.
  3. Must be anonymous.

Concept check: Anonymous.

Funnily enough, I have never had to specify that it should be in English, but students automatically write in English. This might be because in the previous lesson we do a short activity on describing their personal gains in terms of personality, achievements, and any funny or nice memories through the year. That way, they have some ideas and vocabulary to use.

First give three minutes to write something (without the owner of the paper seeing). After the timer goes off, pass the paper and write for two minutes. Then each turn thereafter is about one and half minutes. It takes a few iterations for students to get into the swing of things. They only need to write one or two sentences anyway.

After the first turn on this. Point out that most people probably wrote in the “first person” place. The second person shouldn’t write in the “second person” place, but somewhere different. Otherwise, the paper owner can count around and match the comment with the author. Instead, they should write in various places on the paper, and write on both sides.

As they are doing this, don’t read their messages, and don’t add your own. Keep an eye on how close the paper is to the owner near the end of the activity.

If you have time for each paper to go around the whole class, then you’ve done well. Ideally, it should stop at the final person before the owner. Then you say, “don’t pass it on to the owner just yet. Wait!”. It’s ok if you run out of time and finish early, as long as there’s quite a few messages to act as a sample of the class consensus.

Messages Activity: Putting the paper away. A.Blyth, 2017.
Messages Activity: Putting the paper away. A.Blyth, 2017.

Tell them they need to do four things:

  1. Take out their wallets (or smartphone with pockets in the case, like pictured).
  2. Fold the paper three times.
  3. When they receive their own paper, put it straight into their wallet, and look at it tonight. Not now; there may be tears of joy.
  4. When they pass the paper to the owner, they should say something like, “Good luck with your future. I hope this will help you.”

Before returning the papers, tell them the original story above, and the reason / motivation / purpose for this. Then let them give the paper back to the owner. The class has finished, and wish them luck with their exams and futures and to stay safe during their holidays.

World Teachers Day

It’s World Teacher’s Day every year on the 5th October (Wikipedia, World Teacher’s Day.Org). The day in which we don’t necessarily celebrate teachers, but instead, promote education. Fight ignorance and superstition with facts, knowledge, and rational thought. Teach and learn how to sense, analyse, think, and communicate.

We will ensure that teachers and educators are empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems. ... Incheon Declaration, World Education Forum, 2015 (UNESCO).

World Teachers Day, Nelson Mandela quote.
World Teachers Day, Nelson Mandela quote. Image from,

Workshop: Using Bottom-Up Approaches to Teach Listening


Due to sudden family emergency, I had to return home, and cannot give this presentation. However, I am eager to give this workshop to your group, office, chapter, etc if requested.

I will be presenting a workshop titled “Using Bottom-Up Approaches to Teach Listening” at the annual Japan Association of Language Teachers (JALT) conference in November this year. I encourage you to come along, or ask questions online (via Twitter is best). Official details:

Conference: Japan Association of Langauge Teachers (JALT) 2016 conference,

  • Event: 42nd Annual International Conference on Language Teaching and Learning & Educational Materials Exhibition
  • Where: Aichi Industry & Labor Center – WINC Aichi, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan
  • When: 25 – 28 November 2016
  • Theme: Transformation in Language Education

Day: Sunday, November 27th. CANCELLED (see above)
Time: 1:05 PM – 1:30 PM  (25 minutes).
Room: 904.

Presentation ID #: 619
Presentation Title: Using Bottom-Up Approaches to Teach Listening
Format: Practice-Oriented Short Workshop
Content Area: Listening (LIS)
Context: College & University Education

Handouts / resources:

(to be added later)


Long abstract:

Often teachers teach listening by playing a CD and providing students with comprehension questions; though this is not teaching listening but testing it (Sheerin, 1987). Also, recent academic discussion has criticised the inadequacy of listening strategies (see Blyth, 2012; and Chang and Millet, 2014). Consequently, new methodologies were developed by the presenter to actually teach listening using bottom-up approaches based on cognitive science theory by Cutler (2012) and Field (2008). This practice oriented workshop introduces these new teaching methodologies which are the outcomes of a large scale mixed methods research project. This project worked with teachers in central Japan to develop and trial methodologies for bottom-up listening approaches that are suitable for their context (considering teaching preferences, class types, and students). Data collection included pre and post listening tests, as well as interviews with teachers and students. A key result is that bottom-up listening approaches, or teaching pronunciation, is an effective means to improve student listening abilities. This workshop will provide only a brief introduction to pertinent listening theory followed by demonstrations of simple activities that teachers can use from Monday morning. The workshop will include demonstrations, audience participation, and a short Q&A. Handouts will include web links to class handouts, audio samples, demonstration videos, and other related materials.

Managing Stress

Stress is a normal part of life. Having too much and too little is damaging. We need to have a work-life balance to live normally. This means we need about a third (⅓) of the day work, ⅓ play (family & friends), and ⅓ sleep. If this balance is different, then you will have problems managing stress. This presentation is a brief introduction to stress and how to manage it. This presentation was given at the annual meeting of Aichi Gogaku Volunteers on the 18th June 2016.

Presentation slides & notes: Stress Managing in everyday life.pdf.

CC0 Startup Stock Photos 2014, from
CC0 Startup Stock Photos 2014, from

What is stress? Selye was a famous psychologist who studied stress. He said:

“Nowadays, everyone seems to be talking about stress. You hear it not only in daily conversation, but also through television, radio, the newspapers and the constantly increasing number of conferences, stress centres, and university courses that are devoted to the topic… The businessman thinks of it as frustration or emotional tension, the air traffic controller as a problem in concentration, the biochemist and endocrinologist as a purely chemical event, the athlete as muscular tension. This list could be extended to almost every human experience or activity, and somewhat surprisingly, most people… think of their own occupation as being the most stressful. Similarly, most of us believe that ours is “the age of stress”, forgetting that the caveman’s fear of being attacked by wild animals while he slept, or dying from hunger, cold, or exhaustion, must have been just as stressful as our fear of a world war, the crash of the stock exchange, overpopulation or the unpredictability of the future.”

– Hans Selye (1907 – 1983, cited in Walker, Burnham, & Borland, 1994, p704).

Walker, M., Burnham, D., & Borland, R. (1994) Psychology, 2nd Edition. John Wiley & Sons.

Teaching doesn’t equal learning: Global experts urge end of Japans rote learning culture

Japan has long been criticised for its poor education system, where there is an emphasis not on learning, but on passing tests. The purpose of education is to give knowledge and skills to people for their future. A British educator here in Nagoya notes that his university students lack general knowledge about the world. They might have passed tests, but still lack intellectual abilities required for academic success (McLellan, Japan Times, 2016). Education does not mean the sole ability to pass tests; it means the ability to think, learn, and adapt to a future we cannot imagine (Robinson, TED, 2006). Consequently, the Global Teacher Prize, the Nobel Prize equivalent in education, has criticised Japan for its rote learning culture (Japan Times, 2016). A quick search on the Japan Times website reveals years of criticism, but with no change in sight (Japan Times, Search).

People coffee team meeting. CC, 2014.
People coffee team meeting. CC, 2014.

I would bet that most Japanese people would wonder why this photo above was included in this post. It would seem irrelevant, but I assure you it is exactly the right photo to include.

Ultimately, students themselves are responsible for their learning, however, they still need guidance on what is appropriate and what is not. Here the responsibility of the teacher is to provide appropriate means for students to learn. In a sense, the job title, “teacher”, is antiquated. Perhaps titles like “learning facilitator” or “mentor”, or anything similar is more appropriate. The term “teacher” implies that one person stands at the front of the room talking, and students do nothing but listen; however, this does mean that students learn. This manner of instruction is called lecturing, and it is one of the worst or most ineffective forms of learning for students. Instead, students should be active, involved, and collaborating, hence the term “learning facilitator”. The concept of facilitating student learning is not new, and I did not invent it. The idea traces its origins to Lev Vygotsky, probably the father of education psychology, who realised that near-peer and collaborative learning is the most effective form of learning.

People meeting, by Eric Bailey 2014, CC
People meeting, by Eric Bailey 2014, CC

What do I do in my classes? I give students reading materials that act as knowledge input. Students are given thinking and communication skills, and then they discuss the articles they read. That is to say, students do the reading, thinking, discussing, and learning. I provide the input and impetus. If students want to learn, they will. If students do not want to, they wont. However, the social environment in my classes makes it impossible for students to avoid participating and learning. It is a system that seems to work well, especially as students learn more about the world, and their communicative abilities improve a lot.