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.