ESL Pod can be found at: http://www.eslpod.com. I recommend it for upper-intermediate level students. It is free. I do not use the extra paid features.
I like it for 12 reasons:
It introduces very useful new vocabulary. When I choose topics related to business it teaches some business words. But it also introduces some general advanced vocabulary like words from the Academic Word List and other advanced vocabulary.
There is a short dialog. Students usually feel they cannot speak well enough so these are speaking samples.
It uses audio (MP3) for the teacher to explain the new vocabulary. This gives the students listening practice as well.
Dr. Jeff McQuillan, the teacher heard on the MP3, and Dr. Dr. Lucy Tse, the writer, use very simple English to explain the vocabulary. I hate lessons where the English of the explanation is more difficult than the word you are trying to explain. ESL Pod does not make this mistake.
The MP3 talking about the dialog provides “comprehensible input” in itself, actually “teacher talk”. This sort of simplified English gives students a lot of exposure to basic English vocabulary and sentences. My students make a mistake in almost every sentence in speaking and writing. Why? Do they need to study all those grammar rules again? No, they need more input, to hear and read more English. Professor Stephen Krashen has said a lot about this and he is also a fan of ESL Pod. So just listening to the explanation of the new words provides practice with old words and basic sentence structures. In my mind, this is just as important than the introduction of the new vocabulary.
It introduces a lot of word “chunks”. Chunking is a new concept in English teaching. It is the realization that there are some words that always go together similar in the way that collocations do. As explained in an article in the New York Times about chunking, “An idiom like ‘Make yourself at home’ is rather tricky if you stop to think about it: the imperative verb ‘make’ is followed by a second-person reflexive pronoun (‘yourself’) and an adverbial phrase (‘at home’), but it’s difficult to break the phrase into its components. Instead, we grasp the whole thing at once.”
The lessons are very short, about 15 minutes. This helps the lessons to not be boring. A teacher can make an assignment as long or short as she likes by assigning many or a few. I am designing some courses now which will require the students to do one of these every day.
There are hundreds of lessons and on different topics. A teacher can use ESL Pod as a vast resource to select from to teach whatever is needed: general English, business English, hospitality English, etc. It doesn’t actually teach those topics completely. It is not a complete course. But it is a terrific resource. From my research with the students who have graduated, I have chosen lessons that will best prepare my current students for the jobs they are likely to get and the English they will need for those jobs. For example, we have done lessons on: Placing a business order, Importing and exporting goods, Making business contacts, Sending business packages.
It is an online lesson that is easy for students to access anytime, anywhere. Some students can even do it from their smart phone. If the student misses one or two classroom lessons, he can always find the lesson and do it and not fall behind unlike some lessons in the course book. Some students feel that missing class means they are not required to do a lesson. Not so with ESL Pod. They cannot escape the lesson. Note: I do not teach these lesson in class. I assign them to be done at home. I do base a quiz and some classroom activities around the lessons but I do not teach them in the classroom. They teach themselves.
Course book materials usually need to be “taught” but these are materials with lessons. You don’t need to teach them further although I have developed many exercises to recycle and review the material online and in class.
ESL Pod can replace about 80% of the teaching going on in middle schools and colleges. As part of my Project 400 research, I have been sitting in on many middle school and college classes taught by many teachers. I have found teachers teaching exactly like ESL Pod. Play the dialog. Read the dialog. Explain the new words. I would guess that ESL Pod could replace about 80% of the English teaching going on in Chinese classrooms. When I get my students in my classroom, I don’t teach like that. I create other dynamics in the classroom.
From my research with the students, I found that I can “flip the classroom”. I taught about 100 students this way all of last term. I assign the ESL Pod lesson to be done at home and in the classroom we do a quiz to see that they did it. The dynamics are that faster students are more motivated and can go faster and slower students can get more help.
As a teacher, I wish I had more time to focus more individually on students who really need my help. Like most teachers, I don’t like treating teaching like a factory process, hundreds of students moving through my classroom and the school like little products or machine parts. I want to help the good students fly higher and to be able to encourage and lift up the struggling students who need more help. ESL Pod is one of the many tools that I am researching and using to achieve this. I believe it helps me help the students more.