Saturday, 24 December 2011

Google+ Hangouts to Teach EFL

This is a Christmas gift for me and you - a guest post by Marina Salsbury who has already been my guest before.
Thank you Marina!

Google+ has formally been around for less than a year, but it's already turning into the online social network of choice for educators. For language teachers, especially those who teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL), Google+ can be used as a tool to augment learning and as a virtual classroom. As a learning subject, EFL demands a lot of teacher-student engagement and interaction, something that Google+ excels at. In higher learning environments such as masters or PhD programs, habitual conversation is one of the best ways to retain a language, so having an online avenue to converse will be highly beneficial for language learners.

Hangouts are essentially videoconferencing sessions on Google+ which can accommodate up to 10 people. Hangouts With Extras are enhanced online meetings that incorporate text chat, a sketchpad and other collaborative tools. Google has added many features to Hangouts, one of the most innovative being a smart video switching system, which automatically switches the onscreen camera view to the parties that are talking at the moment.

One-on-one EFL teaching or tutoring is the first function that comes to mind when considering Google+ hangouts for education. Skype has already been extensively used for this purpose for a few years. While Hangouts may be effective for traditional one-on-one EFL instruction, they truly shine for group sessions and have already being used by casual English conversation clubs.

When it comes to language instruction, EFL teachers tend to enjoy full attention from their students. This same level of concentration translates well to a Hangout session. In traditional classroom sessions, EFL students must listen and wait for their turn to verbalize the skills they have acquired. This allows students to learn from each other as well. EFL teachers should remind their students that on Hangout sessions they must wait for their peers to finish speaking; otherwise the video auto-switching feature will be enabled and become disruptive.

EFL study groups are already making Google+ their home, and thanks to the ability to integrate a video that's posted on YouTube, they are conducting Hangout sessions in which they watch, learn and discuss video material. English teachers are increasingly alerting their peers to the features that make Google+ a great educational tool, and others are discussing how the integration of Google Docs can augment EFL teaching.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

My reflections on using Papershow in class

When I first wrote about Papershow digital toolkit, I promised to give my feedback about the tool.
Now I have tried it out in the classroom with my students and here are some of my thoughts.

Basically, the tool consists of a digital notepad and a bluetooth pen. What is written in the notepad is seen on the screen. The teacher can choose whether to show the pad at the beginning of the activity or reveal the outcome at the end.

I tried all the activities mentioned on the Papershow website, such as mindmapping, checking and correcting student handwriting, doing dictations, checking spelling, taking notes (in groups and individually).

How else did I use Papershow with my students?
  • Students made a list of difficult key words from the text they had studied.
  • Students in groups studied idioms and wrote the most interesting ones in the notepad.
  • Students put down their ideas of healthy / unhealthy food items.
  • Students listed the causes of global warming.
  • Students brainstormed ideas for an essay.
After each activity students' notes were discussed, they could see what other groups had done, read what other students had written. This is one of the main advantage of the Papershow tool. It produces immediate visual response, and I think this is what attracts students, especially younger, to this gadget.

The use of the tool may involve each student in the classroom and make them active participants in the learning process. For younger students it really makes a difference if they use a plain pen and write in their workbooks or use a "magic" pen to write in a special notepad.

Now my few cautious critical remarks.

The initial excitement and interest quickly wore off once the students had understood how the tool worked (or not worked). Unfortunately the pen did not work in the distance of the promised 10 metres, it did not even work 5 metres from the computer. Students had to move closer to the front or I sometimes gave the pad to those sitting at the front desks. They even made up a joke that the bluetooth ray of the digital pen was too short for their classroom (no more than 4 x 6 m).
The older students realised (and told it to me) that the pen was fun but it was actually a waste of time. I had to agree with them.

Perhaps I and my students have been too serious (we had our bit of fun though) or my expectations have been too high, but I am going to pass the toolkit on to a colleague.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

How I use Linoit in class

I have tried using rather many websites which are created for posting sticky notes but recently I realised that my favourite site is Here are two examples how I used it with my students.

The ones who are a little more experienced digital users (14 years old) were asked to post their answers to a simple question about their future jobs. We had just finished studying the theme about jobs and they were ready to give their opinion about the topic. Check out their answers here. They have a class blog, so they did not experience any difficulties posting their replies.

The other students (aged 15) had never used interactive tools before, this was their first attempt of posting something online.
The task was elementary - they had to complete a grammar exercise in the classroom and (after showing it to me) immediately go to the media library one by one, enter the website (I had supplied the address) and post the exact time. I stayed in the classroom and watched them posting the stickies. When they returned to the classroom, we discussed the tool and its possible uses.
Needless to say, they were delighted with the activity, especially after they had attached the picture of the naughtiest boy in class. For beginners, their joy was natural, and I had reached my aim - to get them interested in using web tools for making learning more exciting.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

#ELTBITES Challenge

Richard Gresswell, the @inglishteacher, has invited the teachers to share their bite-size lesson activities. The activity should be done with minimal resources, just some paper and a pen. Great idea and useful at that!

Here is mine, adaptable to any age.

Spy Adam!

The aim of the activity – to practise describing someone’s daily activities.

1. Divide the students into 3 groups.  Try to put an equal number of students in each group.
Each student in the group has to describe Adam’s (pick whatever name you prefer) activities for a certain period of the day. Tell the first group the time – from 6am till midday, the second group – from midday till 6pm, the 3rd group – from 6pm till midnight. If you wish to include the night, stretch the period.

2. At the beginning of the lesson read an introductory paragraph about Adam. Give Adam’s background, mention some peculiar features, e.g. Adam is afraid of the dark, he is scared of bees, he hates hamsters, he plays the flute, he knows Swahili, etc. Students have to include this feature in their stories. Encourage them to make up funny situations and strange incidents.

3. Remix groups - pick one student from each group and put them together in new groups of three. Students read their stories to the other group members and they decide if they have got a realistic story.

4. At the end of the lesson, the teacher decides which story has been the most coherent or captivating.

Looking forward to new ideas from other teachers and Richard himself.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

My favourite web tools now

We all have our favourite web tools and technologies that we prefer to use in our work. This is the word cloud of my favourites at this moment. It is highly possible that in a few months my preferences will be different.

I use Weebly and Posterous for class blogs.
Vocaroo is indispensable for audio homework.
Penzu is great for student online writing (journals, essays, reflections)
I can't imagine my work without PowerPoint.
Linoit is fantastic for short student reponses.
Wordle and Tagxedo are the tools for making word clouds (like this one which I made with Wordle).
WordDynamo is my newest favourite site for making interactive vocabulary quizzes.
Bubbl and SpicyNodes create great mind maps.
Kubbu is a wonderful tool for making interactive online exercises.
Glogster helps to create attractive online posters.
Flisti is just one of the numerous poll creating sites.
YouTube has always been the site where I find most videos that I need.
IrfanView is a simple (and therefore easy to use) picture editing tool.
Moodle is the platform I use with my older students.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The roles we play on forums

Have you ever posted a message on a public forum? Why did you post it? What did you want to say? What made you choose the particular forum - topic relevance, familiar people or urgent / desperate need for help?
Whenever we decide to make an appearance on a public site, we have two options - be invisible, i.e. anonymous or reveal our name. These are two totally different conditions which determine our online behaviour.

People who post intelligent, balanced and relevant comments are lifeblood to any successful forum discussion.
The worst type are anonymous discontented forum users who give vent to their anger or malice. I have seen thousands of comments posted by such people on national websites and it has always made me wonder about the true nature of anonymity. Does it automatically gives you freedom to abuse other people or is it a shield to protect you - from what?

If the forum is closed as in elearning environment, people coming to forums have a certain aim in mind, and usually it is posting for study purposes. They are never anonymous and it preconditions their sticking to the rules of netiquette. However, during a long time I have observed that there are as many patterns of behaviour on forums as there are participants. Active, coherent and responsive people are emoderators' joy. There are the brash ones and there are the considerate, there are the shy and the headstrong, the diligent and the idle. And there are lurkers. Reading, observing, watching, waiting, posting only when they cannot avoid it.

I have known the website Flame Warriors for years. It gives a huge list of roles people play on forums, each role supplied with a picture and definition created by an artist Mike Reed - Rebel Leader, Big Cat, Toxic Granny, Coffee KlatchBliss Ninny, Fanboy, Lonely Guy, God, Weenie etc.
Even if you don't agree with everything Mike Reed has written, it is worth taking a look at the site, especially if you have to deal with forums - either as a participant or a moderator.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Blog challenge by @adaptivelearnin

First I saw Brad's post and then read Beth Crumpler's blog. A new challenge from my PLN!

What easily carries me away is an opportunity to use a simple web tool for playing with words creating something that has never existed, then eye the result.

The challenge was to use Tagxedo and make word clouds showing blog and Twitter vocabulary. Here is what I got.

My blog word cloud. No surprises. This is what I write about - English, students, classroom, teacher, school... Not exactly mind-boggling.

My Twitter cloud:

Revelation! I never knew my Scoopit links constituted the majority of my tweets! Obviously, Tagxedo used only my latest tweets (as Brad suggests) and if I had made a word cloud an hour later, it would have looked totally different.

Thanks, Beth and Brad! That was fun!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Is PowerPoint to blame for poor presentations?

This has been going on for some time already - blaming PowerPoint for boring, bullet-pointed presentations that make the audience fall asleep or inwardly burst with indignation. I beg to differ. I don't think PowerPoint is the root of all evil.

I may not have plunged into defending PowerPoint if not for the endless stream of verbal abuse of this popular, accessible, functional tool, so widely used in education. A new phrase has even been coined - Death by PowerPoint. See here how it started. Scary!

Do you believe that those people who damaged their presentation by using PowerPoint would know how to create brilliant presentations on Slide Rocket, Prezi or Keynote? I don't believe it for one second. Because it is not the tool but its user who is to be held responsible.

I love PowerPoint also because it has never let me down when the internet connection is broken or there is no access to the web. You put the Powerpoint presentation in your pocket and carry it with you to any place you need.

Perhaps it is not about PowerPoint but about Microsoft...?

Watch this slide presentation which also puts my untold words into a superb answer to the destructive skeptics.
The slides have been made by Clear Presentation Design.
Don't Blame PowerPoint! It's just a vehicle

Do you feel for PowerPoint?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Challenges of Adult Language Learning

My guest today is Marina Salsbury who planned on becoming a teacher since high school, but found her way instead into online writing after college. She writes around the Web about everything from education to exercise.

Marina's article focuses on the problems and challenges in language learning which college students and adults face if English is not their native language.

image by urbanphotographer on flickr
 The concept of a “critical period” for language learning has been of much debate historically. However, linguists' as well as language teachers' current thoughts reflect acceptance that college-age and adult learners can become quite fluent. Despite this possibility, adult language learners face unique challenges in college ESL classes online or on campus. Understanding these challenges and how to face them may help both teachers and learners attain greater success in learning English.

Some challenges adult English learners face are common among any adult language learners. Learning languages may be more difficult as one grows older, and adult learners may not be willing to speak and practice language because they feel silly or embarrassed. Learning may go quickly at first, when a lot of new vocabulary is introduced, and then may seem to slow to a crawl as grammar and other concepts become more complicated.

These problems with acquiring grammar and structure as an adult seem to be true regardless of the language being learned. Facing these challenges takes time and patience, but can be aided by being willing to use English frequently, even if it’s not perfect. Finding opportunities to use English and practice what's being learned in the classroom will help students begin to overcome the problems they face. By gaining more input and interaction, English learning will be better facilitated, and classroom lessons will become relevant and meaningful.

Learning English, though, presents some problems for beginning learners that adult learners of other languages don’t necessarily face. The major issue is simply accessibility. Most English language programs in the US teach their classes completely in English. Students with no previous knowledge of English may have a difficult time understanding and keeping up. Textbooks are written almost exclusively in English, making independent study quite difficult for students who don't already know how to read English. Even seeking individual help from instructors may be difficult because they may not be able to offer explanations in a language other than English. Students in these programs with no background in English may need to find additional tutors, lower-level courses, or online programs that can help with translation. Another option is to take a few English classes in their home countries so they have at least a basic knowledge of English and can access the information in subsequent classes.

Of course, for EFL learners who may not have ready access to English within their local communities, finding ways to practice English outside of the classroom can be challenging. One of the best ways to get more English input is through entertainment media. TV shows, movies, and music in English can provide interesting and accessible English to study or at least be exposed to. For more interactive practice, students should encourage themselves to only speak English with classmates. They can also find online conversation partners, or check out the expat community where native speakers may be willing to exchange conversation practice in the local language.

Adult learners who don’t begin their English study until college are likely to encounter difficulties, even if fluency is attainable. Not only are they faced with typical language learning challenges, but they may find English inaccessible, either through program design or location. By finding ways to make English accessible, these students will find a greater degree of success as they work toward becoming fluent speakers of English.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A lesson with two faces

Reading of the great post by Ceri Jones on her blog Close Up made me think about the situation in my professional life which has kept recurring again and again - one and the same lesson plan in two different classes of the same age never works in the same way and never produces the same result.

Ceri sees the grounds of the different outcomes in the seating of her students. Sadly, it is out of the question for me because my classroom has three stationary rows of desks that are impossible to rearrange. So I have to leave alone the idea of moving the desks.

Seating apart, what makes the same lesson work differently in ostensibly similar classes?

I have two classes this year who are new in the school (they have come from primary schools). The kids aged 13 in both classes are lively, talkative, rather noisy but when it comes to the lesson, a miracle happens and they behave like they have come from Mars and Mercury.

While one of the classes turn into careful listeners and active participants in the lesson activities, the other class stay indifferent, demonstrate boredom and dislike for everything they are asked to do. In addition, they are difficult to calm down and get quiet.

While the former class seem reluctant to go after the lesson ends, they stay with me to talk and share their news, the latter can't wait to run away and likely never come back.
Needless to say, I have been using the same syllabus, the same lesson plans and the same content in both classes.

What is making the difference? What am I doing wrong? How can I resolve the problem?
I don't know. Yet.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Compare and contrast: #photoblog challenge

Spot 12 differences in pictures No.1 and No.2 - a task for primary level but anyone can try :-)
Inspired by my PLN.

Picture No.1

Picture No.2

The question: What was being built in pictures No.1 and No.2?
The answer is here:

Picture No.3

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Creating online vocabulary activities

I have prepared this post with regard to the teacher training session when I am going to consult the teachers on creating online vocabulary activities for students to be used either in class or independently, at home.

There was time when only Hot Potatoes was available for creating interactive quizzes and it was a really cool program back then. Now we can choose from a vast variety of intelligent and user-friendly online tools and applications without the necessity of downloading the program.

One of my all-time favourite sites is Kubbu which lets the teacher create attractive interactive quizzes though you have to spend some time on it. There are different formats you can choose from, like Crossword, Match, Divide, Slider, Composer. Take a look at the samples (on the main page) to see what they look like.

Check out the activities I have created and used with my students.

Newspaper vocabulary for advanced students - multiple choice exercise to match the word with its synonym

Food vocabulary for elementary students - drag and drop exercise to sort the food nouns

Another website I have used for creating vocabulary lists is Wordstash which is a great site for learning vocabulary and in addition it makes some easy online activities from your word lists.

Teachers can choose from the ready-made lists or create their own which I did here. I prepared a short list of travel words (synonyms) which my intermediate students had problems to distinguish and made them practice until they knew the difference. Students can either first study the words in Learning Mode or go straight to Practice Mode and then play some easy online games with the words from the list.

My latest discovery is Word Dynamo website which is the youngest child of the parent site, still in Beta.

I took to it at once because it looks cool and it does everything itself, you only have to provide a list of words. The presence of the dictionary ensures you have a choice of definitions at hand, you just have to pick the one that suits your needs. The choice of activities include Match, Crossword, Listen, Write and Flashcards for learning the word definition and pronunciation.

Have a look at the word list Travel synonyms which I made for the same class as above to check out how this site works.

The next website I plan to explore is Educaplay which lets you create various multimedia activities which can be placed on e-learning platforms, eg. Moodle. A pity its blog is in Spanish, so for me there are two options - either I don't read it or learn Spanish :-)

Updated on 02.10.2011.
I tried creating activities on the site but most things on it are in Spanish including the instructions for students, so I have to drop the idea of using it. I also found the instructions for making activities confusing even though they were in English. Bad luck!

I also suggest you to visit Random Idea English website which publishes great grammar and vocabulary online and printable exercises to use with your students of upper-intermediate or advanced level.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Back to School Ice Breakers

This is a great moment in the life of my blog because I am having my first guest writer!
Natalie Hunter grew up wanting to be a teacher, and is addicted to learning and research. As a result she is grateful for the invention of the internet because it allows her to spend some time outside, rather than just poring through books in a library. She is fascinated by the different methodologies for education at large today, and particularly by the advent of online education. She also loves to travel and learn via interaction with other people and cultures.

September has started, and if the school year hasn't begun already for you it soon will. Teachers and students everywhere can dread coming into a new class and meeting new people, whether they are in a real classroom or in online school. Some worry that they don't have the kind of skills they need to stay on par with the class, which can be quite daunting. Acclimating to new surroundings can be difficult for everyone, but with the right kind of introductory exercises, it can be easy to relax students and teachers alike and get the school year off to a good start.

Ice breakers can be as simple as the teacher wants them to be. Almost everyone has experienced the one where everyone introduces themselves by telling everyone their names, where they are from, and an interesting fact about themselves. If the class is large or if you think it may be easier on some students to not speak in front of everyone, the class can be broken up into small groups. The important thing about ice breakers is to not only situate students in a class but also help them to relax so that the class might be fun for everyone.

A more elaborate ice breaker that can be used for any age group would be to have each student write down a given number of questions. They should be questions that anyone can answer, and that can't be answered with a yes or a no. Students learning English should be monitored during this process to see how their formation is doing, and students at higher levels can be asked to form more complex questions. When everyone is done, introduce the activity by asking the students to put enough blank spaces to fill in with every other student's name. Then everyone could stand up and wander around the room, making sure to ask everyone one question, writing down their names as well as their answers. At the end, hand out sheets of paper for everyone in the classroom with one student's name on it to pass around, and the class can collectively fill out little biographies about each student that can be shared or posted on the wall. You can also ask students to volunteer what interesting things they learned about one another, and talk about some fun questions that may have been asked.

Another fun ice breaker is to hand out notecards to everyone and ask them to write a few things about themselves, like what they hope to learn over the school year, their favorite ice cream flavor is, or what is the one thing that everyone should know about them. Put them in a hat and then shake them around, and then draw them out to read to the class one by one. Have everyone guess who the person is if they can, explain why they guessed so, and when the name is found write that name on the back of the card and save it. At the end of the year, you can pass the cards out to each student and they may be excited to see what has changed in the intervening year.

These are just a couple of examples of what can be done to help students get to know each other and to start verbalizing during the first few days of school, and to help the teacher begin to get used to their new students and their needs. Just remember, it's a new experience for everyone, and in the end the object is to help everyone feel at ease and comfortable with one another as learning begins.

✒✑ ✒✑ ✒✑ ✒✑
We both would appreciate a comment or a question from the readers of this blog.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

A present for my new school year - Papershow

My school administration surprised me by giving me a present to be used in the classroom in the new school year. The present is a digital writing set consisting of a special interactive notebook and a Bluetooth digital pen - PAPERSHOW.
image from

Its version Papershow for Teachers developed for and by teachers can be viewed here

The idea of the tool is to enable the teacher write (anything) while walking around the classroom. The teacher's notes are displayed on the screen / whiteboard instantly. (You need a computer connected to a video projector, of course.)

image from

I have tried it and I like it for the simple reason that it is another way of making the lessons more interactive and technology-supported. The tool can definitely be used also by the students which will increase their interest and participation in the study process.
After I try the tool out in the classroom, I promise an update about how it works and what its benefits are.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Where to fish for back-to-school ideas

image by jchip8 from

While I was thinking of writing about my favourite back-to-school activities, I realized that none of them are downright my creations, they have all been gathered over the years from different websites, jotted down at seminars, learned at conferences, heard form colleagues.
So what I ended up doing was I decided to post a digest of web links to different sites which offer useful tips and classroom materials for the first lessons of the new school year.

Scholastic is a fantastic website for all things teachers need. Here are a few pages with valuable advice and tips.
Top 5 Ways to Get to Know Your Students - great suggestions for introductions and getting acquainted with your new class.
8 Ways to Welcome Students -
help your students feel comfortable in the new class.
Fabulous First-Day Ideas - suggestions for classroom activities on the first days of school.

Another great website for teachers is Education World. Check out these pages.
Fun Activities: Get the School Year Off To a Good Start - will help the teacher get the year off to a great start.
Icebreakers Volume 4: Activities for the First Day of School -
teacher-tested ideas for getting to know your students.
Check out more icebreakers and other fabulous ideas in Back to School Archive.

Teaching Happily Ever After
is a great blog about creative teaching which has a page on back-to-school activities suitable for little kids. You will get inspired by the pictures of classroom arrangement and decorations, and you can also read some useful tips.

Brainpop has a fantastic Back-to-school page with an interactive quiz, lesson plans, graphic organizers and a Brainpop animated movie kids will love.

A huge list of back to school activities has been published on the TeachersCorner. Be prepared to spend some time reading about "get to know you" and icebreaker ideas, first day lessons, and bulletin board ideas. Printable activities and worksheets included.

There are plenty of websites which offer printable worksheets and lesson activities. Here are just a few of them.

A terrific collection of 80 Back-to-School - First Lesson worksheets is published on BusyTeacher website. The worksheets are aimed at younger kids but you will find many activities suitable also for older students.
Freeology website has a great collection of printables including icebreakers, "get to know you" games, and beginning of the year activities.

Finally, check out this video for little kids which is the right choice for setting the cheerful and dynamic mood in the classroom.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Short writing activities for exam classes

Writing is one of the most difficult parts of the English exam for non-native speakers. While they are coping with speaking and reading tasks quite easily, writing exam may cause much distress and anxiety to a number of students. Teachers can do a lot to help their students to prepare for the exam.

Here are a few suggestions how you can raise students' confidence by using short and effective writing activities.

1. Expand the sentence
Write a short sentence on the board and ask your students to expand it by adding adjectives, adverbs, intensifiers, modifiers, clauses and so on. Ask your students to build a pyramid of the sentences in their copybooks and after they have run out of ideas, ask them to read their final (longest) sentence and vote for the best one. This activity can also be done orally, then the sentence "travels" round the classroom until it is complete, i.e. no more words can be added.
Example: The boy ate a sandwich ✒ The hungry boy ate a big sandwich ✒ The hungry little boy ate a big ham sandwich ✒ The hungry little boy hurriedly ate a big ham and cheese sandwich ✒ In the kitchen, the hungry little boy hurriedly ate a big ham and cheese sandwich and asked for more, etc.

2. Write a chain story
Tell your students that they are going to write a ghost story (an adventure story, a crime story, a love story, a horror story etc). Write the first sentence of the story on a sheet of paper and pass it on to the nearest student who then writes the second sentence and passes the sheet on to the next classmate. Each student writes one sentence.
To involve more students simultaneously, put them ir groups and give the same starter sentence to each group. In the end read and compare the stories.
Starter sentences: It was a dark and stormy night... / Somewhere in the house a floorboard creaked... / The house looked abandoned and bleak but...

3. Write the opening sentence
Tell your students the topic of an essay for which they have to write the opening sentence. Give them 3-4 minutes and then ask them to read their sentences. Discuss which was the best and why. Be prepared to read your own sentence.
Example: Surveillance cameras are a threat to citizens' privacy.
Variants of the opening sentence: a) Today surveillance cameras are everywhere b) Today citizens are being watched, spoken to, and analyzed by CCTV cameras c) Surveillance cameras are used for prevention of disorder or crime, etc. 

4. Associations
Tell the students one word, eg. yellow, and ask them to write a quick sentence describing their accociations with the word or the first thought that comes to their mind when they imagine the word.
Example: I was standing in a huge field of sunflowers and listening to the hum of bees.

5. Picture description
Display a picture on the board and ask your students to write all the words that they can think of while looking at the picture. 
To give the task some structure, be specific - first ask them to write nouns (the easiest category), then adjectives, verbs, adverbs and finally ask them to make up a long sentence using the words they wrote down. As usual, listen to the sentences read out by the students and pick the best one.
If you have time, you may ask your students to write a longer description of the picture or invent a story based on the scene. A variant of the story: Describe what happened before the moment in the picture.

Sample photo:
The image was taken from my favourite website where you can find fantastic pictures on any topic.

Here is a brilliant website for you and those students who would like to spend more time on developing their writing skills:

You may read my older post about developing writing with the help of journals.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

What to do with words that elude you

This may sound flimsy to a native speaker but there are words in English which do not stick around no matter how hard you try memorizing them.

Let me give you an example. Here are a couple of words which took years to settle down in my memory - procrastinate and serendipity.
Procrastinate has always sounded ominous and evil to me and for a long while my brain could not accept its simple and mundane meaning. I could not believe it is such an insipid word.

Serendipity is a word which up to now has not found a verbal equivalent in my native language. Well, even the English cannot define it properly, they need to use a sentence to reveal the essence of this cunning word. Serendipity, for me, is a whole paragraph, not a word.
There are words which sound plain ludicrous like pundit, and again I took pains to learn its meaning but I still find it funny, probably because it reminds a Latvian word pundurītis which means a dwarf, gnome.
Guru is not much better though.

Students encounter the same problems. Difficult words (gosh, most of them are difficult!) are a challenge to everyone and a perpetual cause of failed tests and bad marks.

Here is a method I used with my 16 year old students last year. They approved of it and we decided to use it next year again.
We picked the most difficult words that we came across at the lessons and placed them in certain spots around the classroom. Thus we placed according to on the green plant that grows in the front right corner of the classroom. We put the word diligent on the window-sill. We sat the word consequently on the OHP and every time I asked them the word (or they chose to use it) they would look up at the ceiling and remember it. Surprisingly, it was great fun and it helped too.
One guy was especially good at this game. He proved to me and his classmates that he could recall most of the complicated words correctly because he had placed them all around the room and he just had to take a look at the spot and the word would come to him.
This should work perfectly for visual learners but I am not so sure about the others.

How do you deal with difficult words?

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Using advertisements to develop speaking skills

An easy way to hold students' attention and develop their speaking skills is the use of advertisements.

Hide the text or other objects which reveal the identity of the product advertised in the picture. Display the ad on the whiteboard / screen and ask your students to take a look at it. Give them a few minutes to get an overall impression and then start asking your questions to provoke a discussion.

What do you see in the picture? Where does the action take place?
Who are the people involved in the situation?
What exactly each of them is doing? Why?
What do you think is advertised in the picture?

You may ask the students to provide details seen in the picture to review the vocabulary. Elicit shelves, shoes, shoe boxes, chair (sofa?), laptop, red, blue, purple, orange, yellow, black, sit, stand, watch, try on, fit, choose, observe, interested, eager, bored, excited etc.

When you have run out of ideas, show the advertisement and let those who guessed the product cheer.

Here is another pair of pictures of an ad which I have loved for years and consider brilliant. See if anyone can guess the product. I bet the image will lead them astray!
(click to zoom)


Thursday, 14 July 2011

Glogster takes the routine out of your lessons

Glogster is a multimedia tool which we all inevitably set about using - sooner or later. I did it later. I am glad Glogster came to my mind when I was trying to make up a CLIL lesson combining geography, history, music and English, namely Liverpool and the Beatles.

Glogster lets you put all the lesson components in one place - an interactive poster - which you display on the screen and show your students the lesson in a nutshell.

How to use this glog?
  • Take your time watching the video about Liverpool with your students.
  • Ask them to do the worksheet about the video, discuss their answers.
  • See the pictures of Liverpool and tell your students what YOU liked about the city when you visited it.
  • Read the piece of text about the Beatles craze and discuss it.
  • Watch the Beatles video.
  • Ask them what they know about the Beatles, give them some additional information. 
  • At the end, ask your students to give feedback about the lesson and evaluate the digital poster you made for them.
  • Ask for volunteers who could make a glog for the next topic.

Download the worksheet to use with the video about Liverpool.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The evolution of a twitterer (aka tweeter or tweep)

  1. You come across the word Twitter in some blogs you have started reading.
  2. You hear that Twitter is a site where everyone publishes what they eat for breakfast or where they are sitting at the moment.
  3. You decide - no, that's not for me.
  4. You catch sight of the word Twitter again mentioned by the people you respect. You start wavering.
  5. You go to the website and register.
  6. You discover that you are totally at a loss about what to do next.
  7. You read Help and calm down, now you know what to do.
  8. You spend 3 hours on creating a fancy background for your Twitter page.
  9. You are puzzled by the #s and @s and different abbreviations - a totally alien coded language - people are using and get determined to find out what everything means.
  10. You learn that you can follow the people who you know from your professional field.
  11. You start clicking frantically on Follow.
  12. You discover that you are following 200 people while 10 are following you back. You get a little sour.
  13. You rack your brains about what you could post.
  14. You read the witty, facetious and loaded messages others are posting and realize that you with your English being the third language you've mastered cannot be eligible to the title of everybody's all-time-favourite tweeter.
  15. You decide to focus on posting useful links from the sites and pages that you keep finding on the web.
  16. The tactic works, people who share your professional interests start following you back.
  17. You are overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.
  18. You are thrilled to see your first mention or a retweet.
  19. You learn that you can acknowledge your favourite tweeters with Follow Friday sign #FF. The first time you are hurt when you follow-friday an army of people and get 3 #FFs back.
  20. You spend hours surfing the web to find more and more new pages to share on Twitter. The number of your tweets per day rockets.
  21. You discover that retweeting the posts of very popular sites is pointless, everyone has already tweeted / seen them. You don't get any response.
  22. You are hurt when you see that the same links you have posted are ignored but are retweeted if posted by popular, fave people.
  23. You are hurt and stop retweeting blog posts from people who never ever say thanks to you for popularizing their blogs.
  24. You go to the You follow list and unfollow the users who do not post anything of interest to you or who have come into your list by plain chance.
  25. The next day you see that the number of your followers has decreased considerably. (Because of your unfollow? So you ask yourself - WHY were they following me?)
  26. You have established a tiny group of people who actually TALK to you sometimes. You want to hug them every time they write something for you personally.
  27. You have realized that Twitter is an endless stream of bits and pieces of useful information which you can use for your development - professional and personal, and you are content and happy that you are a twitterer.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

On-screen timers for classroom use

Teachers often give their students classroom tasks, quizzes or tests with a time limit and in such cases online timers or stopwatches which you can display on the screen are indispensable. Here are some of them out of the surplus of available online countdown timers.

One of my favourite timers is a countdown timer here. You can show it full-screen, set any time you need and use Pause if you see that more time is needed. When the time is up, it rings like an old-fashioned alarm clock and the display starts blinking.
The site has a large variety of timers and you may try several before you know which you like best.

Another simple timer is here. You can choose the background colour of the screen, the size of the digits (which is this timer's best feature if you want to use it in a big room) and set the time limit. However, you cannot set your own time, you must use the pre-set time intervals. Not a big problem though, there is a choice of any number of minutes up to 1 hour.

 E.ggtimer can be found here and it shows minutes and seconds written in numbers and letters like this - 1 minute 20 seconds, not a clock face, which is boring if you ask me. On the other hand, if the students are busy doing their task, they will not pay much attention to the screen. The good thing is that the e.ggtimer gives a beep and shows time expired on the screen.

If you want to bring some fun into the lesson, you may choose a fancy alarm clock which does what it says - it wakes you up. It works like a true alarm clock - you set the real time and choose what sound you would like to hear - cockerel, classic clock, electronic, military trumpet or slayer guitar (impressive!), then forget about it and jump when it starts ringing.
You can read about one more countdown timer which I have described before. Check it out here.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Easy classroom management tricks

While reflecting on my work during the school year that has just ended, I went through different classroom management methods I had been using in my lessons and found that some of the most efficient ones were the following:

  • Secret student
The teacher writes all the names of the students on separate cards. At the beginning of a lesson the teacher picks out a card with a student's name but does not reveal it. The rule is that this student will be observed during the whole lesson and he will be given an evaluation of his work at the end of the lesson. The thrill of this method is that no one knows who has been picked and everyone tries to behave and do lesson work.

This works well with younger students because they are still naive enough not to guess the "victim" although with time they learn to read the teacher's mind and eyes.
While it is still a new game, it works perfectly. Just don't overdo with it!

  • Sit down
At the beginning of a lesson all students are asked to stand up (which I am usually not very particular about) and the teacher asks a question, e.g. Who had a boiled egg for breakfast? The ones who did, sit down.
Questions should be asked until everyone is seated. The teacher has to be rather ingenious to come up with the right question if there is one student left standing not to embarrass him / her.
What surprised me at first was that the students did not cheat but apparently waited for the "right" question to be able to sit down.

Some of the questions I have used are Who rode a bike to school today? Who took the dog out this morning? Who is wearing something new / red / leather... today? Who watched (the name of the movie) yesterday? Who went to bed after midnight yesterday? etc.
The questions I ask depend on the students' age of course.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The annual LATE conference

Dace Miska, the consultant of OUP in Latvia is giving her presentation in 2010

Summer is the time when teachers in many countries have their professional conferences. Latvia is no exception. August is the month when LATE (Latvian Association of Teachers of English) is organizing its annual conference. This year it will be the 19th event in LATE history. For its scale it cannot compete with the major conferences in Europe or other parts of the world but it is the central event in the professional development of English teachers here.

During the previous conferences such speakers as Adrian Underhill (Macmillan), Robert Dean (Pearson Longman), Martin Parrot (Cambridge), Peter Grundy (IATEFL) and many others have shared their knowledge and expertise in educational matters. The best and most experienced Latvian educators always complement the list of the renowned foreign speakers.

This is a unique possibility for the teachers to get updates on what is new in the teaching world, learn about the trends in education, hear about new approaches, methods and tools that can be applied in teaching, and of course meet each other and share their own experiences and get answers to bothering issues.

This year the conference is taking place on 25 - 26 August in Riga.

For more information visit LATE website. And - everyone is welcome!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Spice up your lessons with educational jigsaw puzzles

There are many good ways how to enliven your lessons with attractive elements, for instance, using jigsaw puzzles. These puzzles can be created and played online. Not only younger students but also older ones might enjoy a fun activity with serious learning content which is supplied by the teacher.

The Jigsaw Planet website lets you create a puzzle using an image of your choice and save it for playing it online privately or publicly. The puzzles are embeddable as you can see in the example below. You will need Java to make it work.

Teaching about social media

I used a picture with different logos of social sites to discuss the topic of social media at the lesson. When the students have done the puzzle, you can ask them which sites they recognize, which sites they are using and which ones are completely new to them. Then go on talking about the less known sites and social media phenomenon in general.

You can embed the whole puzzle on your website or your Moodle site but I am not doing it here not to slow down the traffic.
Click on the puzzle or the title to go to the website and play it online.

previewSocial Media

As the next step ask your students to do the second puzzle where I have used the definition of social media turned into an image which is used to create a puzzle. This puzzle is more difficult because the students have to read and try to put the words and sentences together.

previewDefinition of Social Media

When the students have done the second puzzle, you can read and discuss the definition of social media and proceed with your teaching or homework as you find necessary.

You can successfully apply the flipped classroom principle to this activity asking your students to do the puzzles at home and come to the lesson ready for discussions and reviews.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Flowers from my students who have just finished school

I just came back from the graduation ceremony which is a traditional event in schools here. The official part consists of the headmaster's, mayor's, teachers', parents', benefactors' speeches and handing out of the documents, awards and gifts to the school leaving students. They in return give flowers to the teachers.

This is one of the not-so-frequent touching and heart-warming moments. I captured the beauty of my flowers in pictures. The collage is made with Photovisi.

Off to the dance party now - the second part of the event!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

State exams - where have we teachers failed our students?

Students in Latvia are taking the school leaving exams in June and I have been marking the student speaking exam recorded on CDs (which is the procedure for the centralized state exams here). I have a stack of CDs with recorded answers of anonymous students from different parts of Latvia whose speaking skill I have to evaluate.

Task 1 is Interview - the student has to answer the questions on a certain topic read by the teacher.
Task 2 is Role Play - the student has to interact with the interviewer following the script on the exam paper.
Task 3 is Monologue - the student has to give a summary of an extract from an article and his own opinion about the theme.

It might be a coincidence that the students whose exams I have been marking come from the "weak" schools where the majority of learners have poor knowledge and learning skills in general. However, considering the hundreds of answers I have heard, the conclusion is depressing.

Student answers to the questions conspicuously bring out our failure to give them understanding and knowledge of the issues that are part of our daily life and the society we live in. The questions where many students lack the scarcest knowledge all center round technologies, social networks, online activities.

We teach what we know ourselves. We cannot teach what we do not know.

Can teachers discuss social networking with their students if they have not made the acquaintance of the virtual world and learned about the trends in online environment? Our students are there, they just do not know everything has a name and everything has a purpose.
Technologies can be explained, taught and used. If you tell your students that what they do online every day for hours is social networking, they will no doubt understand it and probably remember because they learn easily what they like.

There is a great website Social Networking dealing with the topics a teacher should know about social networks, addiction to online sites, cyber-bullying etc. It gives a down-to-earth explanation about what is social networking. Teachers can turn the text into a reading or discussion task and they won't need more than a couple of lessons before their students have learned the basics of the subject.
More sites have been given in the handout.

I have made a table with a few exam questions and typical student answers which fall short of understanding of the topic. There are some suggestions for the teachers about how to give their students some knowledge about social networking and online activities. 

Download the document here.