Burning questionnaires

Mosaics from Burning Questionnaires by Ian James, Anne Robinson, Ceri Jones and Dale Coulter


I consider myself a Dogme teacher, it’s what interests me, or, more than that, it’s what motivates me, and, even when not in ‘full Dogme mode’, the principles behind Dogme underly my teaching philosophy and practice. I firmly believe in the student’s right to choose, to learn in their own way, to be respected by their teacher(s) and not simply treated like ‘just one more’, but of course most of us work within the constraints of an institution, with a syllabus, a coursebook, tests to be passed, a Director of Studies (and parents) to be kept happy, boxes to tick. In my ‘institutional’ work, I have a coursebook, but also a very open-minded, ‘tuned-in’ DoS who is happy to allow me to be as learner-orientated as I wish / they need, but my classes are generally of 20+ students, so true personalisation is on a student-by-student-per-class basis, or by applying a type of democracy. Not so in my one-to-one classes. Pure Dogme (or Dogme 2.0, as I always have my laptop to hand and my students usually arrive armed with smartphones and/or iPads) is par for the course (with a Plan B, just in case), and the ELTpics suite of resources is a big ingredient in some of the more successful lessons.

The other day I was talking to a student, a journalist by profession, about the interview blog, the Burning Questionnaire (*for the origin of The Burning Questionnaire, see the end of this post) – I can’t remember why, but as a journalist, we may have been talking about – hey – interviews. We went into the blog, and I showed him some of the mosaics chosen by interviewees (see above for examples), and we spoke about what they might say about those people. My student’s curiosity was piqued, so we read Dale Coulter’s interview. I hadn’t particularly noticed the language in Dale’s answers – the blog is aimed at ELT people after all – but my student found it fascinating. He is of what used to be called Intermediate or Upper Intermediate level – B1 or B2, depending on the day – and he enjoyed reading chunks out loud and playing with the pronunciation, for example with Dale’s description of Vince Vaughan in Swingers as an ‘outrageously misogynistic character’ (and this reviewed the word ‘tongue-twister’ from an earlier lesson..). We spoke about music, motivation, why we become what we become, professionally, and about the film – and book – High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. My student (J.R.) was genuinely interested in Mr Coulter, to the extent that we decided to read another interview and compare them. Ian James was our next subject, and my student was even keener, particularly upon reading Ian’s musical tastes, as J.R is a music buff with even more musical knowledge than the guys in High Fidelity. Ian’s explanation for where it all started brought mirth, then

Scribblings.    From an image by Fiona Mauchline at eltpics (click for full image)

Scribblings.    From an image by Fiona Mauchline at eltpics (click for full image)

the musical recommendations agreement; vocabulary items were discussed ‘scribblings’, ‘pews’, ‘toad-in-the-hole’, and we compared notes on Ian’s recommended films, particularly as one of them is set here in Extremadura, more language chunks for pronunciation, the meaning of inspiration, and just who WAS (IS) Jenny Agutter

I asked J.R if he fancied writing his own answers to the Burning Questionnaire, and he agreed, seeming quite keen after having read two examples and, I think, been impressed by the eloquence of the ‘average’ ELT person 🙂 I slightly modified the questions to suit a journalist rather than a teacher. and emailed them to him. A day or two later, he sent me his first draft, and we looked through it in class, without writing on it in any way. I pointed out areas that I felt could be improved on, either in language or spelling, and we discussed his answers in terms of content, much as we had discussed Dale’s and Ian’s. After class, I highlighted in yellow the areas we’d suggested he improve on, and he redrafted his answers. Very few errors remained. I sent a quick email querying a couple of things and he sent me his final draft, and his choice of four ELTpics. I have asked his permission to reproduce his work below. And believe me, this is a student who is B1- B2, but you can see how his imagination has been caught by the writings of Messers Coulter and James, and how the desire to write well shines through. If you have any one-to-one classes, or perhaps even groups well managed (reading and discussing in smaller groups), you may like to try this idea. It certainly worked for J.R.

My Student’s Burning Questionnaire (NB this is his third draft, uncorrected, and presented in the same way as those on the Burning Questionnaire blog, with his mosaic and individual images):


What is your full name, and where did it all start?

José Ramón Valdivia González, heir to a dynasty of conquerors from Extremadura. Hahahaha. One of my history teachers told me that my ‘great, great, great grandfather’ Pedro de Valdivia, conqueror –or defiler of Chile, as we see- was killed by the natives, who used his bones to make cups, plates… cookware . I guess it all started there.

What music do you listen to while driving/cooking/contemplating your navel?

Depends if I’m alone in the car or not. With (my wife), rumba and singers like Pablo Alborán. It’s a dictatorship. When I can choose – most of the time- I turn on my iPod, connect it to Chevrolet and and let the music play randomly: Sigur Ros, Love of Lesbian,

Image by @fionamau at eltpics

Image by @fionamau at eltpics

Maga, Belle and Sebastian, Leonard Cohen, Dylan …

When I cook, I do the same. Sometimes I prefer flamenco, especially Camaron, El Cabrero and Poveda. By the way, ‘Three daggers’ is a masterpiece. “I’ve bought three daggers for you to give me death. The first: indifference. The second: betrayal. And the third: stainless steel if you have courage”. Great! I have recommended this song to all my friends.

Do not usually look at my belly button … metaphorically, either.

What’s the most satisfying – or frustrating – aspect of your job?

Satisfying: Communicating. Informing citizens and stimulating their analytical and critical capability.

Frustrating: Seeing every day unscrupulous businessmen who do not know the mass media are demolishing the foundations of good journalism and democracy.

Writing or on the air? Why?

Both of them. I still haven`t found what I’m looking for. Today, I prefer to fly on the air. Tomorrow, who knows… But always writing.

A teacher from your schooldays:

It’s hard to say, but none of my teachers — and I’ve had dozens- influenced me. In none of did I find that mixture of passion and knowledge to become a reference in my life. I barely remember the names of ten or twelve.

What was the first thing you learnt as a journalist?

Absolute truth does not exist. Nor does objectivity.

Image by @fionamau at eltpics

Image by @fionamau at eltpics

What motivates/inspires you most?

The good people always motivate me and inspire me. Every day I search for them in the pages of newspapers, on the television news, on the streets, in the family, among my friends…

Do you ever cry in the cinema?

Many times. Especially with emotion. With ‘Schindler’s list’, ‘Cinema Paradiso’, ‘It’s a wonderful life’… The list is very long. My private little secret (not anymore) is related to a Jennifer Lopez’s movie called ‘Maid in Manhattan’. I’ve seen this film twice and I cried both. She is an immigrant hotel maid and a famous congressman falls in love with her. Cheesy, no?

Your favourite meal? Where? And perhaps with whom?

A good stew of chickpeas, with their meat and vegetables. With good wine, of course. Best at home. Although I would say that the most pleasant culinary moment is when Mati and I eat paella at the beach bar in Aguablanca (Ibiza).

A dream?

See my son become a honest, honorable and happy man.

Favourite film?

I will not be original: The Godfather saga. Under the excuse of the mafia and the family, the three films complete a metaphor for life, with their miseries and greatnesses. Few days ago, when Ratzinger flew, I remembered the third movie. If we talk about Spanish cinema, I love –and hate– ‘Los santos inocentes’, because it’s masterful and reflects the Extremadura that should never exist again. Not everything is going to be drama. ‘The front page’, from Billy Wilder, is the best comedy I’ve ever seen. Oops, I said five movies … and

Image by Phil Bird (@pysproblem81) at eltpics

Image by Phil Bird (@pysproblem81) at eltpics

all, including the last, are dramas. I’m sorry.

A sport?

Rugby, because it contains all the human values ​​that I cant`t find in football or basketball. In rugby, players fight to the death to win, but always respecting the opponent, without tricks. Also, this historic sport has managed to integrate new technologies to solve problems. Basketball begins to do it. In football, it’s unthinkable. Football is another world. “Football is football”, said the historic coach Helenio Herrera.

Beach, mountains or city?

Beach, of course. It is the ideal of every ‘extremeño de dehesa’. Few things are comparable to a day at the beach, swimming, talking to friends, reading a book, having a beer at the beach bar and watching the sunset. In Ibiza or Zahara better.

Image by Steve Nickodemski (@senicko) at eltpics

Image by Steve Nickodemski (@senicko) at eltpics

Day or night?

The night, because the night belongs to lovers, as legendary musicians like Patty Smith, The Boss or Natalie Merchant have sung. At night, I find the necessary solitude to cultivate my spirit, or to destroy it. I always find inspiration, peace and food for my life. Also at night I have shared the best moments with my family and friends. Definitely, I’m a vampire.


* The Burning Questionnaire was originally a feature in an old ‘webzine’ of mine called The Atlantic Forum, back in the day (about 12 years ago, I think). Apart from articles on ELT and news, I used to ask a ‘Name’ in ELT to do The Burning Questionnaire, and ‘victims’ back then included Mario Rinvolucri and Mark Hancock, whose BQs I still have on my computer 🙂 When Take a photo and… was about a year old, I decided to reuse the format with contributors to this blog, and hey presto. SO be warned, all contributors past, present and future; your turn will come….. 😉

Fiona Mauchline 2013


Newsflash: ELTons 2013 nomination

Well, what a wonderful surprise. The ELTpics suite of resources for teachers, including

Click on the image for more information about the 2013 ELTon Awards.

Click on the image for more information about the 2013 ELTon Awards.

this blog, has made it to the shortlist of nominees for an ELTon, so we’ll be there at the ceremony in London in May.

Literally hundreds of teachers from around the world have helped make ELTpics the resource it is, and we’d like to thank each and every one of you.

Thank you.

Fiona, on behalf of the eltpics curators.

Interactive techno-travels

Paul Braddock is one of the brains (brainses?) behind the British Council’s wonder-web TeachingEnglish, a former ‘Barefoot blogger’, a teacher based in Barcelona, webinar host extraordinaire and all-round nice guy – and it’s a great pleasure to include his post amongst the collection of guest posts we’re so lucky to have on Take a photo and…  So without further ado……. Paul Braddock.


This is a lesson I’ve used a few times using the ‘Bridges’ collection. It has always worked well and can be adapted for a range of levels & contexts. It is a more tech-integrated way to focus on the topic of travel and gives students a chance to personalise their learning.

Stage 1

paulbridge1Show students the six different pictures of bridges. Ask them to choose just one of the pictures they like and ask them to try and guess where the picture was taken.

After conducting feedback and writing their guesses on the board (next to the picture if you’re using an IWB), show the pictures with the correct locations below.

paulbridge2Put students into pairs and ask them to choose one or two of the photos. They should make notes about the place(s) they have chosen, including facts they know about the country together with some ideas about why they would like to go to their chosen locations, or what they might expect the place to be like. You can use simple sentence heads to guide them:

  • What I know about X is that it is / has…
  • If I went on holiday to X, I would…
  • One reason I would like to go to X is…

While they are working with their partner, place the individual bridge pictures around the room. This will give you an opportunity to listen to the different discussions without it looking like you are monitoring too closely.

When they have finished (give them about 5 minutes), form new groups of students and invite them to give feedback on what they had been discussing to their new partners by walking around the room, stopping at the different pictures they chose and talking about what they had written in their notes.

Explain to students that they are going to find out more things about one of the places shown in the pictures. Make a list with the class of things that they would want to know if they were going to a place. If you have slightly less motivated students, you could do this as a ranking exercise by giving them a list of things they might want to know and asking them to put the list in order of importance.

  1. Night-life
  2. Recommended Sights (monuments, squares, etc.)
  3. Cost (hotels, meals, public transport)
  4. Shopping (the best places for x, y, z)
  5. Restaurants / food you should try
  6. Galleries / museums
  7. Festivals & Celebrations
  8. The people
  9. ?
  10. ?

Stage 2

Once you have a list of 8-10 things, or you have finished the ranking activity, tell the students that they are going to find out some of these facts by researching them. A problem I often find with these kind of “we’re going to the computer room so you can do some research” activities is that there is often very little communication going on in English between students. To a large extent, an overuse of L1 is sometimes unavoidable, although this is also true of activities conducted in the classroom. At the same time, there is a tendency for students to look on websites written in their own language, or to simply copy and paste text without even understanding the gist. To avoid this, it is important to give students clear tasks with tangible outcomes. For example, in this activity, where students are being asked to look at different websites to gather information, I tend to give them the url’s for a small number of sites via a sticky wall (see below) and tell them to use only these few sites to conduct their research.

paulbridge3This avoids long periods of time spent on Google looking for relevant sites. There is still the issue of understanding the content, but if students choose the ‘copy & paste option’, you should build in activities that focus on some of the vocabulary and also allow for students to develop their summarising skills.

Once your students have made their relevant notes, either on their own virtual sticky wall or in their notebooks, tell them that they are going to create a virtual display highlighting FOUR key facts about the city they have researched.

Go to popplet.com which, if you don’t know it, is a fantastic online mindmap resource. It is incredibly simple to use and is free! In the computer room, if you are still there, or in the classroom if you have an IWB or data projector, demonstrate the different features to the students by building a mind map for one of the locations the students didn’t choose as in the popplet below of Tokyo

paulbridge4If you are still in the computer room, give students time to sign up for an account. Go through with them again how to use the site and then give them a time-limit for creating their Popplet. Ideally, it should include some video content and images as well as a small summary sentence to go with each image or video.

Stage 3

Explain to your class that, now they have compiled interesting information about their chosen location, they now have to get back home. Tell them this is not as simple as getting on a plane and flying back to their home town.

In order to get back home, they need to travel by four different means of transport.

Elicit the different possibilities (boat, train, plane, bus, hot-air balloon(!), etc.).

Tell them that each group will be competing to see who can travel home the quickest using the different forms of travel and also spend the least money. Obviously at this point, any students that have chosen Venice, for example, will be smiling at those who chose Vietnam.

If this happens and you have groups travelling back from a nearby country, make sure you give any group that chose a nearby destination 4-6 hour penalty as well as a suitable amount of your country’s currency as a forfeit.

Students should plot their journey home on the Popplet they have created and demonstrate they have researched travel options by explaining how they travelled, how much the journey cost and how long it took as well as one interesting fact about each place they stop (see example Popplet below).

paulbridge5The nice thing about Popplet happens that you can share your canvas with anyone who also has an account and allow that person to edit it. This makes it a perfect activity for students to do at home if you run out of time in class or if you are teaching online. If you look at the different ‘popples’ on the popplet, you can see the name of the person who created it, so you know (if it is a homework task) who has put some effort in and who has slacked off!

Anyway, once students have finished their journeys home, ask them to give a small presentation outlining how they travelled and some of the interesting information they came up with. Total up their full journey time and cost and announce the winners.

What I like about this activity

  • There is a lot of room for personalisation. Students are able to ‘choose’ at pretty much every point – which image do they like? where do they want go & why? Travel options, choice of information to represent on the popplet…
  • A lot of rich language emerges from the activities – describing the pictures (useful for exam classes), travel & transport vocabulary, sequencing events (we started in… then we travelled by boat to… after we had arrived in… etc.)
  • A number of skills are used (reading for gist, summarising skills, presentation skills, agreeing/disagreeing, working collaboratively (either face-to-face or remotely), selecting & justifying.
  • There is a harmless competitive element to the final activity which motivates the students to do the task well.
  • There is the option to spend time at the popplet-creation stage to focus on copyright and copyright-free images that can be used.

(For an earlier Take a photo and… post on using the Bridges set with ESP learners, see here.)

eltpics used in ‘bridges’ worksheet

  • NY bridges by @shaunwilden
  • Rainbow bridge, Tokyo by @pacogascon
  • French bridge in Vietnam by @elt_pics
  • Venice by @mkofab
  • Bosphorus bridge by @arzuteacher
  • Dublin by @mkofab

Images used in Popplet

  • Tokyo Tower by Another side of yukita
  • Kimonos by starfires
  • Cosplay Parade by chooyutshing
  • Lunch at the station by @grahamstanley