ChatGPT for EFL Teachers
ChatGPT for EFL Teachers
by Mark Fohrmann
First dictionaries made their way into the world of EFL; there may have been worries that students would stop learning the spelling of words that they could just check in the dictionary, but that didn’t really happen. Then the coursebook entered the classroom; there may have been those who worried that teaching would become overly formulaic as a result, but the consequences of coursebooks are more complex.
With every advance comes benefits and problems, and ultimately teachers have to adapt to overcome the negatives. ChatGPT and Artificial Intelligence are no different. Just as unmotivated students might have plagiarised Wikipedia to satisfy a homework requirement, ChatGPT will make it easier for students to cheat in their work - but the technology should not be seen only as a threat, but, like dictionaries and coursebooks and smartphones before them, as a tool to be used by the teacher in making their lessons more successful.
ChatGPT is a form of Artificial Intelligence that has, essentially, been trained on all of the language ever put on the Internet. Users interact with the AI via a text box in their browser. They might ask something that any good search engine could tell them, such as for the capital of a country; ChatGPT will respond appropriately. But they could likewise ask ChatGPT to produce a financial analysis of a company based on raw financial data, or a simple Python script, or even a humorous poem for Valentine’s Day. ChatGPT will respond appropriately to all of these prompts too.
The stakes in AI are high and the resources being dedicated towards its development are incredibly vast. So vast in fact that not everyone is thrilled about the breath-taking speed of progress. Some enormous figures in the world of technology and science such as Elon Musk and Steve Woziak recently published an open letter calling for a six-month halt to the AI race sparked by chatGTP suggesting that “human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity” and “recent months have seen AI labs locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control.”
Not everyone is so negative about such innovation. There is a famous quote attributed to Bill Gates in which he says that he employs lazy people to do hard jobs, the theory being that lazy people find the most efficient ways to do very difficult tasks. We can think of AIs like ChatGPT being the perfect lazy person, in that case. So, before AI destroys the fabric of society, I feel we should at least get a few teaching materials out of it.
How might the EFL teacher make use of ChatGPT? For translation, we have Google Translate, and for checking spelling and grammar there are a whole host of services out there, most of them free. To be worth using, ChatGPT has to do something different for us; here are a few examples.
Objective: Graded and contextualised discussion questions.
Prompt: Make me 5 open-ended discussion questions suitable for B2 level learners about technology.
Chat GPT output:
- How has technology impacted the way we communicate with each other? Do you think it has made communication easier or more challenging?
- In your opinion, what are some of the benefits and drawbacks of social media? How do you think social media has changed our lives?
- How do you think technology will continue to evolve in the future? What kinds of advancements do you predict will be made?
- Do you think that technology is making us more or less productive as a society? Why?
- What ethical concerns arise from the use of technology? How can we ensure that technology is used in a responsible and ethical manner?
Objective: A contextualised gapfill
Prompt: Make a gap fill for children at B1 level in the context of school holidays with 5 regular verbs omitted. Use the names Juan, Gonzalo and Alicia. The verbs used must end in ed in the past. Do not use irregular verbs.
Juan, Gonzalo, and Alicia are talking about their school holidays. Complete the conversation by filling in the gaps with the correct form of the missing regular verbs in the past simple tense.
Juan: Hi, guys! How were your school holidays?
Gonzalo: They were great! I (1)__________ (play) video games every day.
Alicia: That sounds like fun! I (2)__________ (watch) movies with my family.
Juan: Nice! I (3)__________ (visit) my grandparents in the countryside.
Gonzalo: Wow, that's awesome! Did you (4)__________ (camp) in the forest?
Juan: Yes, I did! And I (5)__________ (hike) to the top of a nearby mountain.
This is just a brief sample of what ChatGPT can do. The trick is to use a well-worded prompt. Here are some others that I know will generate usable content for the EFL classroom:
- (Paste the authentic text you think your learners are interested in) Grade the following text to B1 level and then make 5 comprehension questions.
- Write a short funny story about 5 students called John, Steve, Rebecca, David and Lucy. Set the story in the city of Valladolid in Spain. The story must have 5 paragraphs. Set it at Christmas time. After writing the story print it again but mix up the order of the paragraphs.
- What are the phonemes in the fourth syllable of artificial and how would you explain how to make that sound to a 6 year old.
- Using the phonemes analysed above write a tongue twister to practice this sound.
- Explain comparative adjectives like you would to a 6 year old.
- Write me two short stories at A2 level with 5 small differences between them. Set the stories in Madrid. Use the names Meg and Mog.
- Make two identical versions of a train timetable in the city of Valladolid. Keep the versions the same but blank out 5 pieces of data from version and 1 and 5 from version 2.
- Write a text about dangerous animals at B1 level. The text should include 5 sentences which are grammatically incorrect. The errors should all be with the present perfect tense. Include both regular and irregular verbs.
The single most important limitation of AI is that its output is exactly what you tell it to be. ChatGPT is a truly phenomenal tool that can produce a staggering amount of personalised, graded explanation and practice for use in the EFL classroom but it can only do exactly what you tell it to do (and sometimes not even then).
Its generation of communicative activities is more challenging than its generation of controlled or semi-controlled practice. Perhaps that is a reassuring limitation - though ChatGPT can explain the use of different verb forms in a sentence, it does not know the students that it is explaining such grammar to - and so the teacher is still best-placed to deliver highly personalised learning that benefits their students most..
Another limitation is that, after a while, the output of ChatGPT begins to look and feel rather ‘samey’. This is, in a way, the point of ChatGPT - it averages out everything that has ever been written and published to the web, and there has never been a situation in which the average was particularly amazing or exceptional. That’s why we call it the average to begin with.
If we do want something a little bit less common as output in ChatGPT, we have to provide more unique input. In the future, ‘ChatGPT prompt writer’ may well be its own job; but until then, we will have to do it ourselves, and there will come a point for us when the work we put into writing our prompts will exceed the work we would need to put into producing the output ourselves. And when you consider the need to careful proofread - and likely edit - ChatGPT output, you might start to reconsider using it on a daily basis.
Something to be extremely careful of is that ChatGPT is sometimes wrong. Just like books sometimes get things wrong, ChatGPT does too. For example, I recently asked it to write an IELTS Task 1 response but deliberately didn’t give it any data to base the response on. ChatGPT (over)confidently produced a model answer that had nothing at all to do with IELTS task 1. This error might not cost me billions of dollars but it is important to remember chatGPT isn’t perfect. Yet.
As with all disruptive forms of technology, from dictionaries to smartphones, ChatGPT offers both threats and opportunities to the modern teacher. How well we cope with each of these depends on our own perspective, on how we feel about technology. But whether we like it or not, AI-based technology is here now, and we need to know what it is, what it means for us and our learners, and what we can do with it.
Mark Fohrmann is the Director of IH Valladolid. He has worked in the EFL industry for around 15 years in various countries around the world. He has worked as an EFL teacher, examiner, DOS and Director. Mark likes hamburgers. A lot.