Sunday, 29 December 2013

My #edtech in 2013

Here is a short summary of what educational technology tools were used both by my students and myself in 2013.

Exam Time  - for making flashcards that students used for studying and revising the new vocabulary, and for creating mind maps.
Flipgrid - for posting questions and storing student audio responses.
Movenote - for creating video tutorials for my students. Students created audio/video presentations.
Padlet, Linoit - for student feedback, responses to teacher's questions, publishing student posters.
Poster My Wall - for creating posters. Students loved this tool!
Evver, Emaze - for creating photo slideshows with music.
Canva - for creating posters, cards and presentations.
Moovly - for creating animated presentations.
Fotor, Pixlr, Picisto - for creating photo collages.
Pinwords, Picfont - for adding text to images.
PuzzleFast - for creating different word puzzles. I used it mostly for making crossword puzzles.
JustPasteIt - for instant web pages, e.g. student assignment for an online session.

For purposes other than teaching I often used Google Drive with most of its functions like collaborating on documents and presentations, also for creating questionnaires.

I do not have one favourite tool because the more tools you use the more options you have for creative solutions to educational needs.

Happy New Year!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Blog challenge - my response to @evab2001

Image #eltpics by @pysproblem81

Before the Christmas bells start jingling, I rush to respond to 11 questions posted by Eva Simkesian (@evab2001) in the current blogging meme Eleven.
Eva is a teacher in Turkey who writes a blog where she shares her classroom experiences. I often find there some good ideas for my own work. I know Eva from Twitter and I wish I could go one day to Turkey to meet Eva face-to-face and also because I think Istanbul is one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

Eva's questions and my answers:

1. Do you remember the first class you entered as a teacher?
Unfortunately, I don't remember the first lesson but I recall that I was really green, a rookie. However, I was sure that I'd manage. Later life proved that it was not nearly as easy as I had thought.

2. What is your favorite social media platform? Why?
Twitter, I think. I get all the hottest news, greatest links and funniest jokes from my tweeps. To me, Twitter is like a club for people who I value and who give me inspiration, knowledge and ideas.

3. How do you think blogging helps your teaching?
Indirectly, it helps me to stay organized, lets me maintain my writing skills (as English is not my native language). Blogging also makes one think creatively and it helps in teaching a lot.

4. Tea or Coffee?
Coffee, definitely! I have explained my preference to coffee before. Tea is fine, of course, but coffee is much more delicious, nothing beats its captivating aroma and its bittersweet kiss!
5. Who is your favorite singer, band, musician?
I listen to all kinds of music and to name just one singer/ group would give me a headache but I will try. These are just a few of those artists whose music lifts me up. Singers - Adele, Rihanna and Michael Bublé (and many many more), groups - Muse, Bon Jovi and Coldplay, musician - Carlos Santana.
6. Do you attend conferences? Why? / why not?
I go when someone sends me, ha ha! Seriously, I love attending conferences because I always bring back lots of fresh ideas, meet great people, see new places, share my own experience.

7. Who were the most helpful tweeters or bloggers for you when you started blogging or tweeting?
I remember very well they were Shelly Terrell and Karenne Sylvester, they were so friendly and encouraging that I felt at home at once.

8. What will be the first goal in your New Year’s resolutions list this year?
Now you've made me think about it. Perhaps... spend less time at the computer! :)

9. Where would you like to travel in 2014?
I already know where I am going, and that is Norway. We have project partners there.
10. How long does it take to write a blog post for you and how often do you update your blog?
I can see in my blog archive that I have been a lazy writer this year as I have written very few posts. It takes me quite a lot of time to write a post the way I want. In my native Latvian I would do it much faster but then... who would read it?
11. What is your favorite food?
It's easier for me to say what I don't eat - mushrooms, raw onions and shrimp. All the rest is fine. 

Eva, I know you do not celebrate Christmas in Turkey, so I'd like to say - Happy New Year!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Blog challenge Eleven #tagged + my questions

#eltpics by @foster_timothy

This is a follow-up to my previous post about the new blog challenge which was started by I-do-not-know-who and will end I-do-not-know-when.

My task is to name bloggers who I would like to tag and whom I would like to ask my 11 questions. I will try to name the people who I have not seen tagged by other bloggers (though I have not read all blogs). You can see that I'd love to tag some people who can't be tagged!

@ does not have a blog
@ can't write in English
@ too busy

Here is the potpourri of my questions.
  1. When is your birthday? (No need to mention the year!)
  2. Describe the place where you were born (as some of you do not live in your native country).
  3. What do you do first thing in the morning?
  4. How do you relax? (Parachuting or abseiling would be met with a standing ovation!)
  5. Do you like circus? Why yes/no?
  6. Can you explain the difference between a sleuth and a sloth so that a child can understand? 
  7. Can you swim? (I can't!) How did you learn to swim?
  8. What are the first three words that come to your mind when you think of school? (Quick!)
  9. Which (one) year of your life would you like to repeat? Why?
  10. What is your favourite music?
  11. What makes your day?

After you respond to my questions on your blog, you may treat yourself to any chocolate from the shelves below.
#eltpics by Roseli Serra

Blog challenge Eleven+ tagged by @seburnt

I could not find the first post that started this amazing blog chain of nifty personal revelations where you have to do the following:
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
My thanks for tagging me go to Tyson Seburn who is the only Canadian I know (apart from Justin Bieber and Alice Munro, oh, and some actors).

Tyson has an intelligent blog or, should I say, a blog written by a highly intelligent person. Had I been born in an English-speaking family, I may perhaps be able to write smart responses to his perceptive posts... but I had not. I observe (on Twitter) how he changes his image still retaining that look of a reticent, yet interested professional.

Some facts about me.
(I never thought this was going to be so difficult - to pick just 11 things out of your whole life!)

  1. My name Baiba was coined by a famous Latvian poet and playwright Rainis exactly 100 years ago and it has no meaning whatsoever.
  2. I am an avid bookworm, there is NO day when I don't read. I can read in three languages - Latvian, English, Russian, equally fast. I can read almost anything, except Danielle Steel. When I have run out of reading stuff, I read a dictionary. For the life of me, I could not name ONE favourite writer.
  3. I learned (about 25 years ago) and can recite Shakespeare's sonnet 116 at any time of the day or night.
  4. In my teens, I studied in music school. My instrument is an accordion (because my father played it, I guess) but I can also play the piano.
  5. In my youth, I did a lot of singing - I have been a solo singer in a group, I have sung in several choirs and participated in singing contests. Now I only sing at informal parties.
  6. In people I value a sense of humour as the most important of all qualities.
  7. I love driving, that is the only sport I do.
  8. I am a coffee-lover. I don't drink tea. I am picky about coffee, and I was taught to drink good coffee by my eldest daughter who lives in Italy. I never drink instant coffee.
  9. My favourite fruit is apple. I eat about 3 apples a day, on average.
  10. I have been to 20 countries, mostly European, attending project meetings, PD courses or as a tourist.
  11. I have never been to hospital except to give birth to my two children.

My answers to Tyson's questions:

You have 5 minutes to rescue one of your blog posts from oblivion. Which do you pick? Why?
I guess it would be the post inspired by @teflgeek The Domination Game because once I learned the game and adapted it to my needs, I have used it at the end of every semester for almost two years with most of my junior classes. Students love it!  

How did teaching become (part of) your career?
In fact, it's the only career I have made. And I could not have a different career because I studied for a teacher. But there have been hundreds of times when I wished I had chosen to do something else. Luckily, this feeling always dissolves.

Aside from weather-related impressions, how does Canada come across to you? If you’re Canadian, how do you think we come across to others?
Everybody knows that Canada is one of the most prosperous countries in the world. But what I believe is that Canadians are very independent, considerate and level-headed. (Don't ask me why.) In my ignorance I have a vision that Canadians are either English or French, so - what is a Canadian?

What career path could you have easily gone down had teaching not worked out?
This is easy. I'd have been either a hairdresser (I always cut my younger brother's hair until he stopped letting me do it and rolled my mother's and aunt's hair on hair rolls, they said no one could do it better) or a singer which has been explained in my comments above.

What characteristic of your Chinese zodiac animal sounds like you?
This is the staff that I don't read but my Zodiac sign is Aries and its description pretty much describes me. But don't seriously believe it!

What do you do vastly differently now than when you were a new teacher?
I am more tolerant, for sure. I know how a kid thinks, I can predict their reaction, I can see behind their emotions.

What book have you wanted to read but have never gotten around to it?
This is incredible but I usually get all the books I want to read. I have ordered tons of books from the bookdepository website (they have every book you can think of), bought them in the bookstores and borrowed from the library.

Out of these options, the best class size is… 1 student, 5 students, 13 students, 24 students, 50+ students.
For me, the best size is 13 (15) students. It's manageable, it's compact, it's easy to pay attention to details, it allows more individual help, it has better collaboration options, it lets any personality stand out.

Does your middle name have some meaningful significance, if you have one?
Unfortunately, I do not have a middle name. At the time I was born it was not a practice.

You will give a workshop to your colleagues. What would you feel comfortable leading a session on?
I have been doing it for years and the theme is always the same - technologies, digital tools for teaching and learning. I am proud that I am ready to give such a workshop at a moment's notice.

How do you feel about carpeted rooms in your house?
What a cool final question, totally out of sync with the others! I have no carpeted floors, it is not a tradition in Latvian homes. At best, we may have one large carpet in the living room. I think carpets are good for accumulating dust.

Merry Christmas, Tyson!

My questions for the bloggers I am going to tag will follow tomorrow.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

My reflections on Barcelona conference

On 2-4 December 2013 I attended the conference organized by British Council Spain Learning and Teaching English in the Digital Age.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to British Council Latvia, Sandra Prince in person, for making it possible for me to attend the conference.

Barcelona is a magnificent city. During the short hours that we could spend outside the conference premises, I managed to enjoy the fantastic weather and some of the most impressive sights of Barcelona, like the grand Royal Plaza.

While listening to the plenary talks and participating in group discussions, I made a lot of notes that in my opinion are relevant to the topic. Below are some of the thoughts pronounced at the conference that reflect the key issue of the present situation, i.e. we teachers need to adhere to the needs of the learners in a new way, and do it fast.

Martin Peacock, director of Global Product Development, British Council UK:
  • The future lies in tablets.
  • Mobile effect - teachers can pick and mix the content and present it visually.
  • Non-linear syllabi that complies with learners' needs.
  • Learning networks - groups of learners brought together via digital paths - are getting more and more popular.
  • Learning technologies allow learners to learn WHEN, WHAT, WHERE they want. Now they can also choose HOW and WHO WITH to study.

Stephen Heppell, professor, Chair of New Media Environments, Centre for Excellence in Media Practice, University of Bournemouth, UK:
  • Teach less so that students learn more.
  • Mixed ages learn well together.
  • Children can DO because of the teachers.
  • Schools should change the rules - Phones on your desk! Laptops open!
  • Organize a lesson for 90 students with 3 teachers, this opens up lots of new possibilities for instruction and collaboration.
  • Don't overuse overhead projectors at the lessons, the light level in the classroom in bad for eyes.
  • In some schools students are required to take their shoes off. Effect? It is hard to bully with your shoes off!
  • Bad school toilets have an immediate impact on learning!
  • The next ten years will be the most exciting in teaching history.

Kirsten Panton, Microsoft Partners in Learning:
  • The rise of new pedagogies.
  • ICT is integrated into all subjects, there is no separate computer lab.

Michael Carrier, director of Cambridge English Language Assessment:
  • Trends in education - tech supported learning, 1:1 learning, blended learning, flipped classrooms, learning management systems as learning hubs, on-demand content, cloud synchronisation.

Nicky Hockly, director of Pedagogy, The Consultants-E:
  • Students need to be taught digital literacies that include texting literacy, tagging literacy, gaming literacy.
  • Interactive whiteboards work only if used as a tool, not as a screen.
  • Tablets are now on the brink of being implemented in education.
  • Beware shiny gorgeous box syndrome! (Gadgets for the sake of gadgets)
  • Wikipedia is reliable!       

 Steven Higgins, professor, Durham University, UK:
  • Those are not the outward signs that make a difference. A new shiny piece of kit does not mean learning will be better.
  • Multitasking does not help learning.
  • What internet gives is not knowledge, it is information.
  • Motivation mistake - students are better motivated by technology but they don't learn better.
  • Tomorrow's learning - augmented reality, voice recognition, multi-touch classroom. 
  • Challenge has to be accepted if you set a difficult task to students. If they don't accept the challenge, there won't be any learning.
  • Pedagogy trumps technology.

Some feedback from group discussions where I was present.

  • We need revolution in the classroom.
  • Methodology should come before technology.
  • Strategy alone is not enough anymore, you need content, process, redesign teacher training, involve families.
  • Motivation to use IT does not mean motivation to learn.
  • Teacher engagement is higher when they see tangible benefits.  

Conference results and recommendations will be presented to the European Commission and published by the British Council.

My conclusions:
Barcelona conference confirmed that teaching and learning has entered a new stage where there is no way back, only forward. This change is marked by extensive use of technologies in all spheres of education. The new generation of students cannot be taught in the old ways and it sets an immensely important and difficult task to the teachers, and we have to accept the challenge.


Thursday, 28 November 2013

Moovly for classroom presentations

When I first saw Moovly I knew it was a tool that could be used in education for creating animated videos and interactive presentations on condition that you are really interested in technologies because the tool is not the easiest of those I have tried.

What slowed me down was the process of adding animation to my slides. For a non-professional user, it is rather challenging. Had I persisted, I may have come to some result but luckily I had an idea of asking my students to test the tool. So, in a few days the video was ready. It was made by a 15 year old student Raitis who is good at English and brilliant at computers.

We had recently studied the topic of environment and he used this theme in his presentation. See what you can come up with using the Moovly tool.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Flipgrid as a student involvement tool

Flipgrid is a relatively new tool which has been created for educational purposes and its essence can be described in one sentence - the teacher asks a question and students post their video/audio answers online.

The idea of the tool is very simple, however, it represents a great up-to-date method of student involvement. Not only does it require the students to use technologies (webcam, microphone) for posting their responses but also it eliminates the need for paper worksheets and classroom time.

Setting up the site for the students is very easy. The teacher creates an account and makes the first room (grid) for posting the questions.

After the grid has been created, the teacher writes a question for the students to answer. In the example, I have written 3 questions for my students.

What the students see when they go to the link provided by the teacher looks like this.

Now the students have to click on the question and record their answer. A cool thing about the tool is that the camera takes a snapshot of the student's face and it appears next to the student's answer.

My students do not know yet what has been prepared for them. Tomorrow I am going to invite them to record and post their answers. If you are interested, I can write a follow-up to this post. Mention it in the comments below.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Two instant dictionaries for EFL students

Here are two quick ways how to help your students get the meaning of an unknown word provided they have a personal PC.

I have mentioned Lingro before and it is worth mentioning it again. You have 2 options for using Lingro.

Either you just go to the Lingro website and paste the address of the webpage in the address box, then Lingro will open this page where each word will be clickable and word explanations will be displayed. Or you can install Lingro as an add-in to Firefox browser and have it at your disposal on any webpage you visit.
It is extremely useful to older students who can understand the meaning of a word by reading its definition, not only by translating it into their mother tongue. A superb way of one's vocabulary development.

Another possibility is to add an extension Dictionary Bubble to your Chrome browser and be able to double-click ANY word on the page you have opened. The application will show you the definition of the word and also its synonyms. There is a transcript and an audio pronunciation available for each word.

Students won't have to look for any other dictionary (and they tend to be a bit lazy, don't they?) and they won't have to make excuses for not understanding the difficult words.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

How to reinforce student vocabulary skills

This school year I am determined to think more carefully about the ways how I teach vocabulary to my students, as this is one of their weakest skills. The results of the state exams regularly show that the lack of sufficient knowledge of vocabulary leads to making lots of mistakes and getting lower scores.

One of the most efficient ways to reinforce students' vocabulary skills is to use videos.

Below is a great video showing a method of building students' vocabulary by using special word cards. The video is taken from Teaching Channel which is a fantastic site for teacher professional development.

The next is a video which explains the most common mistakes learners make. The presenter on the video is a teacher but not the one standing in front of the classroom, so perhaps they will listen more carefully?
(I have removed the video as it was really slowing down my site but you can click on the link.)
The Most Common Mistakes in English

Another helpful video deals with the most common pronunciation mistakes. The humorous way of talking and the presenter's personality may appeal to the students and make them remember the most important points.
79 Common Mispronunciations

Besides videos, there is another simple way to learn the new words, i.e. flashcards.
There are numerous sites for creating interactive flashcards. The latest I have tried and used with my students is ExamTime flashcard builder. Below you can see a flashcard set Clothes: materials. Students learn at home, at their own pace returning to the hardest words until they have been memorized.

More resources:
Edutopia have published a great article giving 11 tips on teaching vocabulary.
On Edudemic you can find another great article with 4 activities to teach vocabulary.
Learn English is a marvellous website for learning vocabulary. Each topic comprises some theory and online practice.
The article Presenting Vocabulary published on website gives fantastic practical suggestions on teaching vocabulary.
Finally, read the post about 4 online vocabulary resources on WizIQ website.

Friday, 16 August 2013

New tools for the new school year

You know, teachers celebrate a New Year twice every year, in January and September, the 2nd this year in Latvia. And it pertains to think a little about how you are going to spend it.

My simple and straightforward aim is to use more technology in the classroom because I am sure my students will be waiting for something new and exciting, as most of them are used to working online.

There are loads of web tools that I am going to use, both for preparing my own resources and materials and for involving my students in using more technology in their daily studies.
Here are a few web tools that I would like to employ in my work.

I and my students are definitely going to use Google Drive, documents in particular, for essay sharing and feedback, and I will use voice comments as a very convenient way of giving my opinion. We are also going to try collaborating on a piece of written text or presentations in the Drive.

I would like to teach my students better collaboration skills and for that purpose I will try using which is a great tool for creating attractive non-linear presentations that can be made individually or collaboratively, in pairs or groups.

There is another great web tool which has aroused my interest - Living Junction. It is a tool for creating media rich online magazines which can easily be turned into presentations. We'll see what we can do with it!

For fun and for younger students I am going to use PosterMyWall which will be a perfect tool for creating different kinds of posters.

As a teacher, I will try out StudyShuffle which is a tool for creating interactive flashcards. I intend to use it for making studying vocabulary more exciting and productive, hopefully.

Finally (and I mean finally for this moment only), I have discovered a superb website Language is a Virus where there is a section of text manipulation games, a fantastic web page with lots and lots of writing games, such as Visual poetry, Text collage, Sentence builder, Word medley, Text weaver etc. Some of the games may be too hard for non-native speakers but they are worth a try!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Hollywood is dead or is it?

This is my contribution to the 33rd ELT Blog Carnival titled Songs in ELT Classroom.

I made this worksheet quite a while ago and had forgotten about it until I read the theme of the current blog carnival. I thought it would be a good opportunity for my worksheet to have a second life.

This is one of my favourite Michael Bublé's songs Hollywood. The great Canadian singer himself has described the song as "being about his "tongue-in-cheek statement on the culture of celebrity". Notice his impersonation of Justin Bieber, it is amazing!

You may download the worksheet below with the traditional task - while listening, students have to write the missing words which they hear or insert the given verbs or nouns. The pictures serve as prompts.
The song lyrics are included in the worksheet, as well as the link to the video on YouTube. The second page need not be given to the students.

After listening, you may discuss with your students the idea of the song and ask the students if / how they understood the phrases "Hollywood is dead", "you sold yourself for this...", "love what is true...". Discuss the notion of celebrity culture, its illusions and false values. Ask why Hollywood represents a magic place where all dreams come true and if they always become reality.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Creating presentations on emaze

Recently I came into possession of a bunch of great pictures which were taken during my trip to Italy (arranged by my daughter who lives there), and I decided to kill two birds with one stone - share the images with you and try the emaze tool for making my presentation.

emaze is a great free online tool for creating presentations as well as digital stories. It lets you upload pictures, videos, add text and shapes to your canvas to get a nice linear slide presentation. It is best viewed on full screen which allows you to hide the navigation buttons at the bottom of the page and use the computer keys instead.

It took me a couple of days to complete my first emaze presentation, not because it was hard work but because I did a lot of other stuff in between.

emaze is easy to use, it does not have tons of complicated formatting tools to employ, but there are some really helpful features that make the creative process pleasant. While working on your slides, pay attention to the tiny pale markings on your canvas which indicate the borders of your presentation window. Also it is very helpful to preview your slides on the left-hand panel as you work on your presentation.
The author can also invite other people to collaborate on the presentation which is especially great for student projects.

Enjoy the show!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Ending the school year

The school year has reached its final stage, with the English exam already done. Students are dreaming of summer holidays (as are teachers). More interesting things are happening outside school, and who could blame them for wishing to be part of real life?

To say good-bye to school 2012/2013, I am posting here a video made by one of my students. Their task was to make a short speech on a topic of their choice.
"Everyone should believe in something" - that is what Dzenita [dʒenɪtɑ] is speaking about.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Tools for text addition to images

Pictures speak louder than words, yes, but words help to convey the message more effectively.

There are numerous tools for manipulating images to achieve a desired effect but in this post I am going to write only about one way of working with images, i.e. adding text to an image.

All the web tools mentioned in this post have two things in common (and for this reason they are great to use with students):
1) they are free of charge,
2) they do not require registration.
Needless to say, anyone can cope with uploading an image (or borrowing it from the internet) and adding a text box to the image, so I won't write any instructions how to do it.

The picture above which shows me in my classroom was made with the help of Pinwords tool. Easy and fast!

These are my students photographed a while ago. The image on the left was worked with BeFunky,
but the image on the right with PicMonkey.

My students again. I used Roflbot for the picture on the left and Picfont for the picture on the right.

A moment caught at the lesson. The image manipulation tool is Picadilo.

I inserted a text line in the picture by using LunaPic photo editor.

Finally, check out Pixlr which was used for adding text to the image above. The picture was taken in Iceland this February.

Why would a teacher or a student want to use this image editing feature?

First and foremost, once you add some text to the image, you instantly get a short story. By putting many images together, you create a longer story. By putting all student stories together, you get a class book!
Thus this method can be successfully used in storytelling. Students can use their own drawings too, not only photos. This method is indispensable for creating comics.

Images with a written message serve well in presentations, especially if a student is not very voluble.
A caption inserted in the picture helps the viewers to understand the author's attitude or the idea of a snapshot.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Web resources for Easter activities

Traditional Easter activities are usually intended for younger kids because they include colouring of pictures, drawing rabbits and eggs, doing egg hunt. However, baking egg nests, weaving egg baskets or carving wooden eggs will be more suitable for older students, so there is something to do for everyone.

Below I have listed various resources that I found on the web which may come in handy to the teachers who wish to mark this festival in the classroom.

Teaching Ideas - Easter poems, stories and slideshows, different worksheets and card templates. The site also offers classroom display pictures and an assortment of Easter videos.

Activity Village has an interesting set of Easter coordinate puzzles for kids where they have to colour the squares according to the code.

TES Connect has a huge range of Easter activities for young kids, some of them are for the interactive whiteboard. Just remember, you will need a TES Connect account to download the worksheets and resources but it is free.
Get inspired by the ideas published on TES Pinterest board Easter Teaching Resources and Ideas. Little kids will love to watch Chick and egg lifecycle Powerpoint presentation.

The Guardian have published a great article with lots of suggestions for the teachers and links to resources. You will have to create a free account to get access to the resources.

Easter webquest on Onestopenglish website is great for older students with higher language level. Worksheets are free to download.

There is a great article on Mental Floss for senior students 6 Easter Traditions You Might Not Know. The text can be used for reading and discussion activities.

What does Easter Island have in common with Easter? Ask your students to find the answer by reading the post on the fabulous Wonderopolis website.

Finally, older students may enjoy watching this video about the stunning Faberge eggs which were made for the Russian Imperial family about a century ago, and also learn a bit of history.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Some ideas from the OUP conference

Today I attended ELT conference Motivating and Inspiring Teenage Classroom organised by the Oxford University Press and Dace Miska as its representative in Latvia, and the British Council Latvia. The speakers were brilliant Ben Wetz (OUP author), Martyn Clarke (OUP teacher trainer) and Joanna Gore (BC Barcelona).

Below I have listed a few ideas I jotted down while listening to the speakers (and I regret I did not write down more). The activities can be used in any lesson and they should work with all teenagers. Even though I knew some of the activities before, I realised this blog is a perfect place where to save and keep them because so often notes get lost and good ideas are forgotten. This post is basically a reminder to myself and anyone else who happens to read this.

1. Listen and react.
Revision of vocabulary. The teacher prepares a list of words and reads them one by one. Students have to touch their mouth if the word is food, pat their heads if the word is furniture, mime the action if the word is a verb, cough politely if the word is an adjective. The teacher can pick the word categories depending on the lesson theme. Fun is guaranteed!

2. Sentence drills.
The teacher prepares and reads aloud sentences with various language structures taught at the lesson. Students repeat the sentence if it is true about themselves but keep quiet if not, e.g. I love onions, I ride a bike, I am happy, I am scared of snakes, I enjoy skating etc.
The sentences can contain various verb tenses. A hilarious example by Ben Wetz:

Teacher: I've been to the zoo. (Students repeat it.)
Teacher: They've asked me to stay. (Laughter in any case, repeat or not repeat.)

3. Memory test.
Oldie but goodie. The teacher writes the words (taught at the lesson or before) on the board and wipes them away one by one asking the students to name the missing word. This activity can be easily done onscreen (using, for example, PowerPoint) or on the interactive whiteboard.
For creating this type of activities digitally, possibly the best online tool is Textivate.

4. Revision with songs.
Oldie but goodie. Students listen to the song, e.g. Why does it always rain on me? by Travis. They identify present simple, present continuous, present perfect, past simple verb forms, either by listening or by reading the lyrics.

5. Chinese whispers - a variation.
The class is divided into 2 teams. The teacher gives a slip of paper with a phrase or a sentence to the first student in each team. This student translates the sentence into his mother tongue and whispers it to the next student. The student translates the sentence back to English and whispers it to the student behind who in turn translates it to his mother tongue again, and so it goes on until the final sentence is said aloud. Then the first and the final sentences are compared and the differences are analysed.

6. Nonsense words by Martyn Clarke.
The teacher writes the sentence on the board and asks the students what they think the underlined word means.
I accidentally dropped the plunket on the floor, and it broke. The drapse ran everywhere.
Students try to guess what the nonsense words could mean, e.g. glass, vase, bowl, water, juice etc. The teacher can make a longer story including some nonsense words to make the students think about the importance of context.

7.  30 second speaking.
The students choose a letter of the alphabet. They are asked to name some words beginning with this letter. The teacher writes the words on the board. Then a student is invited to pick one word and speak about it for 30 seconds. Another student picks a different word and does the same.

8. Assessment of speaking by Joanna Gore.
The teacher shows the assessment chart to the students and explains how their speaking is going to be evaluated at the lesson.
0 points - the students uses only his mother tongue.
1-2 points - the students uses his mother tongue but also says a few words in English.
3-4 points - the student says some phrases in English.
5-6 points - the student says some sentences in English, no mother tongue.
7-8 points - the student communicates ideas in simple sentences.
9-10 points - the student communicates coherent ideas in longer, well-structured sentences.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

ExamTime and what you can do with it

Examtime is a website which is primarily meant for students to increase their learning experience and help them revise for the exams. But as I have made sure, it can successfully be used by the teachers.

Examtime has four features which you can choose from - creating mind maps, flashcards, quizzes or study goals. The site also provides a range of study tips for students.

I have already posted a mind map that I created on Examtime a while ago. It is my favourite feature of those offered by Examtime and it produces really attractive mind maps.

Today I made a set of flashcards on the topic Publications.

Each flashcard has 2 sides, the front side for the word, the back side for the definition. Students can flip and shuffle the cards, and study the words at their own pace. In my opinion, it's an activity that has to be prepared exclusively by the teacher.

Creating a multiple choice quiz was a little inconvenient because first you have to prepare the questions with answers and only then, in the next step assemble the quiz. In the end the quiz turned out well, and it looked good. After completing the quiz, students can see where they made a mistake and see the correct answer with an explanation which has to be added in the preparation process.

An option Creating a goal means that students can write their study goals as a reminder of the approaching tests or exams that helps them plan their time and stay organized.

The registration and use of the website is free and its creators have given good thought to the ways of helping students in the study process, but I have a feeling this site should have been aimed at teachers. I don't know any student who would spend hours making a set of flashcards (which means looking up each definition in the dictionary) or creating multiple choice quizzes for themselves.

I find it discouraging that there is no option of sharing an activity by URL, only by email invitations. On the other hand, I admit it gives the website owners more control of the visitors and their online behaviour.
But I can imagine a situation when a student who created a mind map would like to show it to the teacher, and the only option will be inviting the teacher to the site instead of sharing the web address which just seems more time-saving to me.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Free online collage makers - Part 2

Big Heart of Art - By Qthomasbower

Now that the collages have been viewed and liked, it's time to reveal the tools that created them.
I won't rank them according to the number of votes because the results are obviously partial and to judge the tools by 'likes' will be unfair.
It should be mentioned that I have not included those collage makers that work only on mobile devices.

Collage nr.1 was made by Pixlr which is a cool and versatile tool. It does a lot of things with images and it is free, so it's worthwhile to explore it. Collages are created by Pixlr Express - lots of formatting options.

Collage nr.2 was created by Picture2Life collage maker which not only creates collages and edits images but also animates them. But I have no explanation why this collage got the largest number of votes! :)

Collage nr.3 was created by Ribbet photo editor. It is a great tool for manipulating your images in various ways.

Collage nr.4 was made by Collage Maker which is a nice online tool for the single purpose of making collages. This is the 'youngest' of all collage makers. Give it a try!

Collage nr.5 was created by Photovisi which is a tool for creating collages online. A large variety of templates to choose from and lots of editing options.

Collage nr.6 was made by PosterMyWall which is a poster maker but finely suitable for poster-size collages as well.

Collage nr.7 was created by AutoCollage which is the only tool among the ones I mentioned that has to be downloaded as part of Learning Suite by Microsoft. I have written about it here. It is one of my favourite tools and it is fascinating to watch the collage creating process which is happening in front of your eyes.

How could teachers and students use collages?

1. In teaching for focusing students' attention on the topic or particular vocabulary.
2. In storytelling. You can put the whole story in one collage! Upload your collage to Thinglink website and put your story inside the collage!
3. In discussions as a visual stimulus.
4. For capturing and sharing memorable moments of school life.
5. For creating artistic wall decorations in the classroom or school.

More ideas?

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Comparing free online collage makers

Photo collages are a powerful and expressive visual means of conveying a certain message, not put into words, and I would like to compare some of the popular collage generators.

I have made seven collages with seven different free online collage makers and I would like you to vote for the best collage, according to your opinion. Of course, your preferences will be intuitive, based on your like/dislike impulse.

The poll is at the bottom of the post and it is anonymous.
I am going to reveal the name of each collage maker, give some feedback and draw conclusions when there are enough votes cast.








Thank you for responding to my request!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Using mind maps with students

It seems that new mind mapping tools and software are created daily. There are so many tools that are similar in their design and performance that one may question the rationale for making more and more new applications but for the customers it means a wider choice, a possibility of finding a tool that suits your needs best.
A mind map is an indispensable learning tool for visual learners.

You can explore the vast range of mind mapping applications on my scoopit page. There you will find not only links to most mind mapping tools and software but also articles that deal with the theory behind mind mapping, tips for creating mind maps, examples and suggestions for the use of mind maps in learning.

I would like to share some of the ways how I use mind maps with my students.

One of the simplest ways how to use a mind map is gathering and sorting new vocabulary. The example shows city vocabulary organized in 3 groups. Students find it much easier to memorize the words which they see placed in a certain spot, connected to a certain topic. Works well with students of all ages.

This mind map was created with

Another way of using a mind map is giving students a task where they have to display a summary of some topic, for example, My favourite pastimes. Each bubble may contain more than one word or even a phrase. This mind map can be used by the student in the classroom for making a short speech or a comment about his free time. If a mind map is created by the teacher and shown at the lesson, it can be used as a basis for classroom discussion or a writing task.

This mind map was created with ExamTime which is my new favorite.

Older students may use a mind map for outlining their report or an essay.
This mind map was created with Popplet which is a versatile application and may be used not only for mind mapping. Bubbles can be filled with text or images, arranged in various ways and even used for visual storytelling.

Useful websites for learning more about mind mapping: