You have met Veronika Palovska on my blog before. She is an online teacher with a unique niche: she teaches writing to online creative entrepreneurs and teachers at DoYouSpeakFreedom.Com. Writing is essential when it comes to communication, and it takes up a part of our time as teacherpreneurs. 

Today I wanted to introduce a slightly different angle for my posts. I asked Veronika to share with us how you can use blogs in your online teaching to enhance your students’ language immersion and boost their fluency. So welcome Veronika with her truly epic post. I hope it will be as helpful to you as it was to me! ~ Elena

I was born in a non-English speaking country.

When I was learning English in school, textbooks were the only medium we had access to. English movies and magazines were hard to come by and needless to say, the Internet wasn’t even a thing at that point.

When the teachers wanted to pepper our lessons with some “real-life” English, they brought in a Beatles song, a British newspaper clipping, or a Mr. Bean videotape (don’t ask me why). The activities never got further than filling in gaps, reading and translating, or passive watching.

Now, if you’ve ever learned a language in a traditional way, with a limited exposure to the unfiltered, natural language, I think you can imagine how I felt when I finally faced the real real-life English: enchanted, but also shocked, betrayed, and frustrated. Like Buddha when he, after twenty-nine years of being locked in his father’s palace, saw what was behind its gates for the first time.

Remembering this feeling, as a teacher, I don’t let my students get used to the luxury of English textbooks and EFL learning material. I let them experience what’s behind the gates, outside the study rooms, and beyond the textbooks, no matter where they live.

Nowadays, the possibilities are endless.

Authentic texts, audios, and videos can do more than just embellish your lessons as icebreakers or “fun” activities at the end of the lessons. They can be the bricks you use to build a strong base of your students’ fluency.

If you would like to try it with your students and aren’t sure where to start, this post is for you.

What is authentic material?

To make it clear, authentic material or resource is anything that wasn’t originally intended for language learners.

Business English Pod isn’t an authentic resource. Entrepreneur on Fire Podcast is.

Jack Askew’s YouTube channel isn’t an authentic resource. Gary Vaynerchuk’s is.

English with a Twist isn’t an authentic resource. Copyblogger is. And so on.

(Just for the record, I love and use all of the above mentioned resources. I mentioned the non-authentic ones only to illustrate the distinction.)

In this post, I talk about how to use one specific kind of authentic resources: blogs. They’re perfect for my teaching approach, which is task-based and student-centered, meaning that I build personalized syllabi based on student’s needs and goals, and make my students do things most of the time, as opposed to consuming the content passively.

Why blogs?

Here are some of many reasons why I love using blogs:

  • Blogs are written in contemporary, natural English, very similar to the language people use in everyday conversation.
  • People tend to resonate with things written by their peers, not by experts.
  • It’s possible to find a well-written blog about almost any topic your students may be interested in.
  • Many bloggers use more channels than just text: videos, audios, slides, infographics, and more. This provides you an opportunity to come up with many different activities.
  • Reading blogs is a natural and fun thing to do. Your students probably already read some blogs in English, and taking advantage of something they enjoy doing is a win-win.
  • You probably like reading blogs, too. That’s why you’re here, right? Another win-win.

 

Now, the drawbacks of using blogs (or any other kind of authentic material):

  • They aren’t suitable for beginners.
  • It takes more preparation time than using traditional textbooks and one-size-fits-all lesson plans.
  • From student’s perspective, it’s more difficult to see the structure, keep track of their progress, and experience the feeling of accomplishment that’s so important for them to stay motivated. You can overcome this obstacle by providing personalized syllabi, ideally with checklists or other tracking tools, and regular assessments to help students see the results.

The one advantage that overweighs all the disadvantages is that the students will get results.

How to find, save and organize blogs.

Having a well-defined niche makes it easier for you to keep a running list of high-quality, well-written, and relevant blogs your students will fall in love with. My niche is creative female entrepreneurs with intermediate to advanced levels of English.

I follow female entrepreneurs on Twitter and Pinterest to see what kind of content they like, and I also follow influencers in this field. I use Feedly and Pinterest to save high-quality blogs, so I always know where to look when I’m putting together a personalized syllabus.

If you have no idea where to start, here’s what you can do: Take the topic your student is interested in (be specific), and search for it on:

This should help you to come up with at least a small list of blogs to choose from. Use a bookmarking management tool like Pinterest, Pocket, or Feedly to organize your lists.

What makes a blog post worth using as a learning material - a checklist

Required:

  • Is the post well-written? (No awkward grammar, no jargon, no typos, etc.)
  • Is it written in natural, contemporary English?
  • Is the topic relevant to your student?
  • Is the post fun to read?

 

Bonus points:

  • Is it a story?

-> Among other things, stories are generally easier to remember, more fun to read, and contain more useful language than informational posts or tutorials.

Optional:

  • Does it come in at least one more form other than text? (Audio, video, SlideShare, infographic, etc.)
  • Does it come with a highly relevant content upgrade?

-> Who doesn’t like a nice worksheet or a mini-workbook? There’s no reason not to take advantage of the work that has already been done and have the student complete the worksheet as homework or during the lesson.

Examples of blogs my students love to read and learn from

For inspiration, here are some of the blogs that my dream clients (and I) love and why:

Regina Anaejionu’s blog because of the way Regina blends her personality into her writing; also because of her conversational style, unique voice, humor, and the exceptional quality of her content. She often offers free content upgrades, videos, podcasts, infographics and much more.

Alexandra Franzen’s blog because Alexandra is one of the best storytellers and writers you can find in the blogging world.

Seth Godin’s blog because of Seth’s minimalist style. His short posts are well-written, spot-on, entertaining, and contain a surprising amount of useful phrases and idioms.

Erika Madden’s blog is an example of actionable content written in a conversational style and full of great expressions for online entrepreneurs. Erika also makes use of infographics, worksheets, and other things that make her blog even more attractive.

Paul Jarvis’s blog because Paul’s writing is everything but boring. His articles are original, smart, amusing, and Paul isn’t afraid to write like he talks. He also uses stories and metaphors to explain his ideas, which makes his articles a perfect learning resource.

Want to see a real example? Alexandra Franzen gave us her kind permission to use her work to illustrate how to use authentic blogs as learning material. You can download a set of worksheets and printables based on one of her posts, together with a printable version of the checklist (above) and the infographic (below) on this page.

How to use a blog post as a learning resource

  1. Adjust the text

Depending on your student’s level, you may need to shorten and/or simplify the text. If this is the case, copy-paste the text in the writing software you use and make the changes.

You can use the Hemingway app to help you simplify the text.

It goes without saying that you should by no means modify and publish someone else’s content without their written permission and without linking back to their site. Most bloggers will agree that you can use their content for educational purposes.

With advanced students, you can just give them the link to the post and work with it as it is. You don’t need anyone’s permission to link to their site, of course.

  1. Put on your teacher’s hat

Think about the learning objectives and brainstorm a list of exercises to do in lessons and as homework (see the next section – Example activities).

  1. Prepare the worksheets

Choose the activities and prepare the worksheets. The kinds of worksheets will depend on what you want to do with the text, but here are some ideas:

  • Printable for you with space for notes
  • Printable for the student with highlighted phrases you want them to pay attention to (useful phrases and grammar, linking words, phrasal verbs, idioms, etc.) and space for notes
  • Gap-fill exercise (multiple versions)
  • Vocabulary list
  • Must-use phrases you want them to remember and use when talking/writing about the post
  • Questions for discussion/writing prompts

 

Click here to download worksheets based on one of Alexandra Franzen’s blog posts + a sample time plan to show you exactly how to use the post over the course of three months.

  1. Plan what’s next

Schedule the exercises for the following month and beyond. If you want your student to get the most of the authentic text, you have to come back to it again and again. It’s better to deal with the same text several times than with many texts once. You can see a sample plan below.

One blog post can be a resource for many kinds of exercises. And no, you don’t have to be afraid of making your students hate the post, as long as you don’t approach it the same way every time.

Example activities for online one-on-one classes

Classwork activities:

  • Explaining grammar, vocabulary, and phrases
  • Grammar exercises
  • Discussion

 

Homework activities:

  • Speaking activities – students record themselves or prepare a short talk
  • Grammar exercises
  • Reading and writing assignments

What you can do with 1 blog post

Blogs can serve as the main resource you build the learning plan on, or you can use them as an additional resource. My programs are focused on business writing, so for me, blogs are crucial.

Apart from them, I make use of podcasts, YouTube videos, websites, social media posts, and many other online resources, both authentic and non-authentic. As for traditional non-authentic learning material, the only resources I use on a regular basis are grammar exercise books.

Now, here are some of my ideas on what to do with an authentic blog post. I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with even more activities suitable for your students.

 

Sample Plan of Using 1 blog post over the course of 3 months

I always prepare a detailed syllabus for one month (= four lessons) in advance, and I have a rough plan for the next three months or so, depending on the student’s long-term goals and needs. I set reminders for resources I want to come back to.

If you’re familiar with the spaced repetition system, you know that bringing in an older resource the student has almost forgotten about is very effective.

Here’s a sample plan for an upper-intermediate student, aiming at activating passive knowledge and overcoming the intermediate plateau (to keep it simple, I don’t include activities that aren’t directly related to the blog post).

Lesson 1: The teacher introduces the post and explains vocabulary

Homework: Read the post and learn the vocabulary

Lesson 2: Discussion based on the post + the teacher explains some of the grammar points

Homework: Grammar exercise + prepare a three-minute talk about the post (using the must-use phrases)

Lesson 3: The student talks about the post and the teacher provides feedback and asks additional questions

Homework: gap-fill exercise (version A)

Lesson 7: Gap-fill exercise (version B)

Lesson 11 – homework: Writing assignment – rewrite the post (e.g. write the same story from someone else’s perspective)

Lesson 20: Writing assignment – write your own article based on one of the questions discussed in lesson 2

 

Click here to download worksheets based on one of Alexandra Franzen’s blog posts + a sample time plan to show you exactly how to use the post over the course of three months.

Things to keep in mind

To sum up, here are the key points that will help you to use blogs to help your students achieve fluency:

  • Use only high quality, well-written blogs.
  • Use blogs written in contemporary, natural language.
  • Use blogs that are super relevant to your student’s goals, interests, and needs.
  • Use one text multiple times, with different kinds of activities.
  • Don’t have students just read the blogs, but make them actively use the language (write/speak).

 

What do you think? Did something inspire you to use blogs in your lessons? Do you have more ideas how to do it? Let us know in the comments.

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