3 Feb 2014

Creating our own restaurant

Internation Restaurant

I have got a small pre-teens group this year and I'm finding very difficult to engage them in class. They want to play games all the time and don't like writing, so when I saw them working and enjoying this project, I couldn't believe my eyes!

Step 1 – Restaurant selection
What KIND OF RESTAURANT is it going to be? A Chinese restaurant? A Mexican restaurant? An English restaurant?
     Now you need a NAME and a LOGO for it so that people remember it.

Step 2 – Create your own menu.
Your menu must include:

  • o   Starters
  • o   Main courses
  • o   Side dishes
  • o   Drinks
  • o   Desserts
-     Brainstorm different dishes that you are going to include in your menu.
-    Include a short description of what each meal is (e.g. FISH AND CHIPS – an English meal made from fried potatoes and fish).
-        Include the price in pounds or dollars.

Step 3 – Create a radio ad.
Now that you have created your own menu, it’s time to advertise your restaurant to encourage customers to come in and enjoy a delicious meal there.

Step 4 – Dining Out. 
Create a short dialogue and act out a conversation in the restaurant. Two of you will be the customers and one will be the waiter or waitress.

26 Jan 2014

EFL Chefs - A new TV cookery show

Picture taken by Inma Alcázar
After such a long time without posting anything in the blog... I'm back! Did you miss me? I hope so. After very busy months full of exciting things to do, this blog post had been left behind in a folder somewhere. 

This was a lesson I and my students enjoyed a lot since it was about food, restaurants and cooking. Thinking on new ways for my students to learn new vocabulary, and not just that, but also remember it and put it into practice, I came up with this simple idea - EFL Chefs - A New Cookery Show.

I asked them to think of a dish or dessert that they enjoy cooking, the ingredients they would need to cook that dish or dessert and imagine they are teaching others to cook that recipe in a new TV programme. This was the result. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

9 Sep 2013

New School Year - Getting to Know You Activities for the First Day

September has arrived again! The summer is almost over in this part of the world and many teachers start their classes with new students. It is time to build new relationships, a relationship of confidence between our students and us, but between students and their peers as well.
No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship. James Comer.
After many years of teaching English to students of different ages and levels, I must admit that I still get butterflies in my stomach on the first day of class. However, thanks to all those generous teachers who are online and share their successful activities on their blogs or on Twitter, I have learnt a lot on how to create an atmosphere of trust, respect and learning from day one. Now I would like to share some of those activities with you:

I hope you find these ideas useful for your first day. If you would like to share your own ones with other teachers, don't forget to leave a comment!

3 Sep 2013

Useful websites for students - A2+ level

In August, I was very lucky to teach an intensive English course for adults at the Centre d'Idiomes de la Universitat de València. Apart from the traditional resources usually used in class, I encouraged my students to take advantage of the Internet and practise English outside of the classroom using free online resources. I think that an important part of the learning process is to give students the tools that they need to continue learning independently.

This is the list that I shared with them:

"If you could add any useful online resource to the list, what would it be? Why?"

19 Jun 2013

Useful Websites for PET Exam Preparation

These are all the websites I have found to help my students preparing for the Preliminary English test. Some of them do not include PET tasks, but I have decided to include them because I think they can be useful to improve the different language skills.

All the links worked the last time I checked them, but please let me know if any of them are broken. Equally, if you know other interesting sites which could be added to the list, please leave a comment or write me an email.

You can access the document or  download it:

14 Jun 2013

Adapting a coursebook.

In most subjects and in any grade level, teachers and, therefore, students are expected to use a textbook as a resource in their classes. However, we have to bear in mind that although those textbooks are produced by experts, experienced teachers and teacher trainers, they are created to be used by teachers who work in different teaching contexts, in different countries and with students who are in the same class, but whose level is not exactly the same. Therefore we need some things that the book doesn't provide:

CREATIVITY to adapt the textbook in order to address our students' learning needs.
SELECTION CRITERION to choose just those activities which can be useful, meaningful and suit your students' needs.
SUPPLEMENT the textbook with other kinds of activities which could work for our students and can help them develop their speaking skills and fluency.
ADAPT the activities so that they are interesting, motivating and meaningful for our students.

This is an example of an activity I adapted from the coursebook for one of my one-to-one classes with my 9 years old student.  I was supposed to create a short theatre play with a group of students, but it was just her and me in the classroom. So, I decided that she could create a very short piece on her own including some of the new vocabulary and other expressions she had learn during the school year. She wrote the script and then we recorded it. This is the result. I hope you like it!

The search (Part 1) by inmaav on GoAnimate

 The Search (Second Part) by urpillay on GoAnimate

If you are interested in discovering other possibilities to adapt your textbook I recommend you to watch Shelly Terrell's presentation on the topic:

17 May 2013

The Sunshine Award

This morning I could hardly wake up, I felt exhausted, it was cloudy in the city of light and just when I switched on my computer to follow the latest news, I read that our "dear" Spanish Education Minister has finally decided to impose an education reform, LOMCE, which has been widely rejected. So, the Sunshine Award came at the perfect time from a talented teacher and blogger I look up to very much for all the effort, energy and heart she puts in everything she does! She and her students write on their blog Stop and Learn English where they create and share their everyday learning and practices.

Thank you very much, Mª Jesus, for bringing me some extra sunshine today and thinking of my blog for this award! You definitely made my day! Who doesn't like a little recognition now and then?

The Sunshine Award is an award given to bloggers by other bloggers. It is given to ...
Bloggers who are positive and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.
Now do you understand how honoured I feel?

Well, as with other similar awards, there are certain rules to keep to:

Rule 1.  Post the Sunshine Award logo on your blog.
Rule 2.  Nominate 5 to 10 other wonderful  bloggers.
Rule 3.  Announce their nomination in their blog’s comment section.
Rule 4 .Mention links back to their blog, including a link to the person who nominated you.
Rule 5. Answer seven questions about yourself.  This is designed to help people get to know you better.
And my nominees are .... (Drums roll sound):
Think and Dream in English by Pilar Pamblanco for the great amount of ESL resources and interesting news on education and technology she shares on her blog. Thanks for all your support and help on Twitter as well!

EFL SMARTBlog by David Mainwood also deserves this awards because he always shares useful lesson plans which include interesting resources from the net.

My First Blog by María Luisa Sánchez for her great work on encouraging little children and parents to learn English together in a fun way using ICT and other resources to develop creativity.

Movie Segments to Assess Grammar Goals by Claudio Azevedo for his contribution to make language learning through films more meaningful and sharing activities which work in class for him.

Collablogatorium by Carla Arena, always ready to share tips, her thoughts and reflections on EFL learning, teaching practice and technology integration.

Lengüetazos literarios by Silvia Gongo, Una tiza y tú by Carmen González, Educadores Hoy by Isabel Ruiz and Canada Blanch by Mercedes Ruiz (in Spanish), teachers from different subjects, from different educative levels, from different regions, joined for their passion to share, collaborate and change education and the way students learn. Thank you very much for teaching me so much! That would had been impossible without Twitter!

Educación y Virtualidad by Cristóbal Suárez (in Spanish) for your thought-provoking posts on education, collaboration, open learning and ICT. Thank you very much for encouraging me to start blogging when I thought I didn't have anything interesting to share. I have learnt so much from you!

Some things about me...

1. Favourite colour. 
I love purple! For me it's the colour of dreams, it makes me feel calm and usually is one of the best colours on me. 

2. Favourite animal. 
I can't choose one. Can you? So... cats, dogs, horses and dolphins and mythically speaking, dragons.

3. Favourite number. 
Maybe 8?

4. Favourite non-alcoholic drink. 
That's easy! A lovely cup of coffee to wake me up in the morning or enjoy with friends somewhere.

5. Favourite alcoholic drink. 
I'm not a great fan of alcoholic drinks, but it depends on the moment. I always enjoy a glass of wine with some delicious "pintxos" and friends. However, if I go to a party (something I don't do lately... I'm getting old!), I prefer a mojito, a daiquiri cocktail or a chilled champagne sorbet.

6. Facebook or Twitter. 
Well, definitely, Twitter has had a great impact on my teaching life, on my way of understanding education, of collaborating with others, sharing, learning and be informed. Twitter is the gateway to reflection, discussion, resources, free online chats and webinars. What else? Well, this is just my personal experience. I think the Twitter experience is different for everyone, so look for your own one!

7. My passions. 
My family and good friends, travelling, dancing salsa, walking along the beach, sunny days, reading and watching films, new experiences and adventures, writing on my blog when possible, cooking, photography, and of course teaching!

8. Giving or receiving gifts? 
Honestly, both of them make me happy and smile. However, something I find a little bit stressful is trying to find a present for someone just because it's a special day (birthday, Christmas day...). Any day is good to give and receive presents, isn't it?

9. Favourite city or country?
This is one of the most difficult questions for me to answer. I can't choose just one! As a mentioned before, I love travelling and I always discover something marvellous, surprising in any city or country I visit.

I love London, its modern and historical arquitecture, its museums, its lively atmosphere and cosmopolitan lifestyle; Peru, a country full of surprises. Coast, mountains, desert and jungle, all in one place. I love its food and people as well! Greece, what can I say about Greece? It's an amazing country full of culture, sandy beaches, great food and people.

I wish I could travel to all the places I dream of, and take my family and friends with me!

10. Favourite book?
Impossible to choose one, once more! I love reading, it's one of my favourite pastimes. So, some of my favourite books are The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Animal Farm by George Orwell, Elogio de la madrastra by Mario Vargas Llosa, El túnel by Ernesto Sábato or Cuentos by Julio Ramón Ribeyro. I also love reading and attending poetry readings, and going to the theatre.

Congratulations to all my nominees! Now it's your turn to spread the positive flow and send the sunshine to other fantastic and inspiring bloggers!  

2 Oct 2012

Learning to Teach at the British Council

Photo: British Council España
Last Saturday I had the privilege to attend the 5th Annual Teacher's Conference organised by the British Council, here in Valencia. There were  many young and enthusiastic teachers, but also very experienced ones to learn from.

Being interested in knowing new ways to motivate students, it was a pleasure to listen to Deborah Bullock talking about Projects to Motivate Teenagers. Her session was really dynamic. She encouraged teachers to participate and share our views and experiences on working through projects in the English class. We brainstormed some advantages and disadvantages of working on projects, thought of topics which teenagers could be interested in and draft a project idea in small groups.

These are two of the projects which were successful for Deborah:
Some interested resources Deborah shared with us:

The second session I attended was Michael O'Brien's talk on Grammar 'Goodies' or better said 'Rules'. His talk was brilliant and quite thought-provoking. He pointed out that teaching students grammar rules or recommend them to use a grammar reference to learn English is sometimes pointless. These kinds of books include unnatural sentences, dialogues and longer responses. That's not the way native speakers talk! 

It is clear that there are differences between written and spoken grammar. Surely spoken grammar cannot be taught through written grammar rules and within rules, there are always exceptions. So, what kind of grammar should we teach to our students? Shouldn't we teach them some rules to guide them through their learning process? In my humble opinion, if students' main objective is to pass an examination, then by all means, - they will definitely need to study grammar!  Although I'm not a big fan of constantly repeated  grammar points course after course, I think grammar is necessary, is a means to master the language, not an end in itself.

An interesting point Michael O'Brien brought up was that grammar is much more than context and much more than objective time. There is also a time called psychological time which refers to the way speakers perceive actions and experiences, not what 'objectively happened'. In my opinion this is really relevant, because it is something which is not always taken into account by ELT course writers. I mean, there is only one possible correct answer in most gap fill practise activities or multiple choice quizzes, when actually it is possible to use different aspects of a tense. In order to demonstrate his view, he asked us to complete a text taken from a coursebook. Here it is the result:

He finished his speech stating that the perfect rule is that there aren't rules, it's a matter of choice. Then taking this reflection into account, I wonder if we really need to teach these kinds of things. Wouldn't it be more confusing for students? Would it help them to pass their exams?

For the last session I chose Patrick Howard's presentation whose title was Using Visuals. This session was full of practical ideas for using visuals to develop speaking skills and review vocabulary.

Drawing - Vocabulary

The first activity we did in small group was a brainstorm related to Olympic events and verbs related to sports. After that, Patrick gave us a set of cards with some words related to sports written on them. In turns we played pictionary with those cards and then a memory game with the cards and pictures we had previously drawn.

Video without sound - Describing (Present simple and continuous)
For the second activity he used the following video:

We worked in groups of three. He handed in a piece of paper with some words written on it to two members of the group who sat down in front of the screen. Then he played the video without sound and one member of each group had to describe what they could see. The people with the worksheets had to crossed those words they heard.

Photo - Speculating (Modal verbs of probability and certainty)

This time Patrick showed us a picture covered with post-it notes and we had to guess what the picture was, using modal verbs like must, could, may, might and can't. In turns, we rolled a dice and depending on the number (1 and 2 = must; 3 and 4 = could, may, might; 5 and 6 = can't) we had to use that modal verb in a sentence. I have just discovered this site which has great photos for speculating. 

Describing pictures

We received half of a postcard each. The objective was to find the partner who had the piece from the same postcard. So we walk around the class describing our picture to the other teachers.

Picture cards game - Storytelling

The last game we played was a card game with a beautiful set of picture cards. It is very good to tell stories, experiences, talk about feelings and so on since it includes different kinds of cards with people, places and situations on it.

How to play (groups of 3-5 students):

- Deal four cards for each student.
- In turns, each student describes his card. The other ones listen to him and try to find a card that matches his story. They have to explain their choice.

I love attending to these kinds of teaching events since as teachers there is always something new to add, learn, improve, change or share with other colleagues.

25 Apr 2012

Digital Games: Learning English by Playing

“Games are a more natural way to learn than traditional classrooms. Not only have humans been learning by playing games since the beginning of our species, but intelligent animals as well” (Clark Aldrich, Learning Online with Games, Simulations and Virtual Worlds, 2009).

Playing is an important part of human development and life. We learn by doing, socializing exchanging ideas and collaborating with our peers. However, we grow up and all of a sudden – voilà – school appears and playing takes a back seat. What has happened? Teaching, understood as instruction, does not consider it relevant for learning.

However, in spite of this negative picture, there is still hope as ICT is changing the way we perceive games and particularly videogames. They are becoming to be considered powerful and valuable tools for learning. 

Videogames play an important role in children and teens’ life. What we call 'technology', they call it 'life'. Therefore, why not gamify our language class? Do you need more reasons for it?

Digital games are...

Good for learning, developing strategies and skills to solve problems in context and critical thinking.

Autonomous learners.

Motivating for students.

Emotional engagement.

Situated learning, social learning, students become the centre of attention.

As part of European Schoolnet's project 'Digital Games in Schools. A Teacher's Handbook' was published in 2009. The handbook is intended for those teachers interested in introducing digital games in their teaching practice. Therefore, it provides useful information about the benefits of digital games for learning as well as tips on how to use them as educational and motivational resources.

The handbook will be very helpful as an overview of this issue. Nevertheless, if you wish to explore the possibilities of videogames for second/foreign language learning, I recommend you to visit Graham Stanley and Kyle Mawer'blog Digital Play. The blog is really easy to navigate and offers a wide range of activities and lesson plans based on digital games to accomplish different language learning objectives while having fun. 

In the following video, Graham Stanley talks about the ways gamification can be used in the English classroom and shares some ideas for adapting games for language teaching. If you want to have access to the full version, click here.

An interesting educational digital game which will be launched next summer is Wikiduca.  This is the project of two creative Spanish young minds, David Anthony and Anton Popovine, who decided to work on this educational browser-game to help children learn English vocabulary through videogames.

Starting from the idea that children love video games, fantasy worlds and solving mysteries, David and Anton propose exciting quests and minigames for them. As children increase their vocabulary words, they gain more powers and new missions within the game. The key point is "learning by playing".

Wikieduca is basically based on a business freemium model, that is, most of the content will be free except a small part of extras. You can read this news in Spanish.

For further reading:

Other websites where you can find useful digital games for your classes:

Video Games and Education
Via: Online Colleges Guide

14 Apr 2012

Collaborative project: A Wall of Books to celebrate World Book Day

23rd April is World Book and Copyright Day, an initiative from UNESCO to celebrate world literature and promote reading. This year, Mª Jesús García San Martín, a creative English teacher who I really look up to, has had the brilliant idea of celebrating this day by creating a collaborative wall of books using Pinterest

Everybody is invited to join and take part in this project. The aim is to create a literary wall full of book recommendations to promote reading.

If you would like to become a contributor, just register on Pinterest or sign in with your Facebook or Twitter account to pin your favourite book and explain the reason why you like it and other people should read it. All the pins can be embedded in the school or classroom blog, website and wikis.

Información en español sobre el proyecto  en el Blog de TIC en lenguas extranjeras.

8 Mar 2012

English with Music

Can you imagine a world without music? No tunes, no songs, no melodies, no singers or concerts. Music surrounds us and it is an important part of our lives, as well as of our students' lives. They are enjoyable, motivating, full of examples of real English and, therefore, very effective tools for reviewing vocabulary, grammar structures, pronunciation, culture and dealing with social issues in upper-intermediate and advanced classes.

What is very important to bear in mind before choosing a song are the objectives, the resources we will use and the activities we will use so that students can achieve their goals and develop the different language skills.

Try not to choose songs that are popular among teenagers because, although they may love and enjoy them, they will already know the lyrics and the activities you have carefully prepared may become an absolutely flop. 

Digital resources for our classes
Tune into English is one of my favourite sites because it offers a section for teachers and another one for students. In the teachers section you will find lesson plans created by teachers to use different kinds of songs in your classes. Those lessons plans are in word format, what means that you can adapt the activities to suit your students' needs. Within the students area, students will find a lot of games, resources and links to learn more about music and learn English through songs.

TEFLTunes is a great place to find song ideas for teaching grammar and topics. However, not all the resources provided are free. There are free lesson plans but if you want get full access, you will need to subscribe and pay £10GBP.

Lyrics training is another great tool for students to improve their understanding of lyrics. The site includes YouTube videoclips which are organised in different levels of difficulty and cloze-type activities to complete the whole song.

What I do not like so much about it is that it includes a wide range of songs and some of them may be not suitable for pre-teens or teenagers.

Contribute with your ideas!

Interesting articles about this topic:

28 Jan 2012

Collaborative writing

New week, new exciting tasks! This week I have been exploring some digital tools for collaborative writing in the English class. The first activity consisted of selecting one of the four pictures in each column, three columns in total, and write a 50-word story-starter based on those pictures.

These are the three pictures I chose and my short story:

It was a beautiful sunny morning on Coconut island. Nina woke up with the idea of enjoying the exciting school trip to the city of Pombo. She had breadfast, hastily kissed her mum and raced off to take the school bus. Nobody could imagine that that would be a day for sorrow and grief...

Written under each picture, there were some tools we had to explore and share our thoughts on what at least one  tool is for, how can we use it, what age group is the tool for and what are its advantages and limitations:
One of the tools I liked the most was Five Card Flickr Stories, an interesting website based on the Five Card Nancy game which lets you pick five pictures from a group of images from Flickr and get some inspiration to write creative stories. Would you like to read my story? Could you continue it? Could you write a different story with the same pictures? 

Five Card Story: Through the Bare Land

a Five Card Flickr story created by Inma Alcázar

flickr photo by Serenae

flickr photo by bionicteaching

flickr photo by IKnowHowToWhistle

flickr photo by bionicteaching

flickr photo by Serenae
Strolling down the narrow streets of Katmandu where not much happens, legend has it that a mysterious woman dressed in black used to wander through the forest. All the villagers were completely frightened. No birds, no crops, no flowers grew in the area, just death and desolation.

I think this website is a great tool for secondary school and Bachillerato students (15-18) to develop their creative writing skills through these visual prompts. It is true that students can do this without technology. However, what this tools adds to education is the possibility to receive feedback from other students. In my opinion, this fact is very motivating for them since they are writing for an audience, not just for the teacher.

How can we use it in the English class?
  • Collaborative writing: publish your own student and share it in your English class blog with your students. Ask them to write two or three more lines each to the story.
  • 5 pictures = a lot of stories: go to Five Card Flickr Stories, choose five inspiring photographs, embed them in your class blog. Divide students in groups of three and ask them to write their own collaborative story using those pictures.
  • Creative writing: as in the previous activity but letting students to choose their own pictures.
  • Twitstory: ask students to write 140 characters stories based on five pictures, chosen from Five Card Flickr Stories, using a class hashtag. Embed students' stories in the class blog using EmbedTweet. Students vote their favourite one.
    • Optional: provide them with different categories for their stories:
      • horror
      • romantic
      • funny
      • inspirational
After exploring these great collaborative website, our amazing teachers asked us to put collaboration into practice. They provided us a list of sites designed to allow multiple writers to participate in a kind of collaborative literary experimentation:

We had to read other teachers' stories, choose one story starter I had liked and contribute to it using one of the previous tools mentioned. I chose Vicky Theodoraki's story about The Sanders and their strange neighbour, Mr Tucker, using Just Paste It, a cool tool for collaborative writing. What I liked about this tool is that you don't need to spend time signing in, just start writing, include pictures or even a video, and share the link to encourage more people to contribute to it. This was our story:

The loving Sanders family had just moved to a provincial town. Little did they know that their life would soon take a sinister turn. Their new neighbour Mr Tucker, an elderly man, had an unworldy quality. Howls and all sorts of weird sound would often come from his house.
 Last night, while they were having dinner in the garden their daughter Margaret screamed: 'Have you seen that? Look! There is an odd shadow coming out of the wall. I mean, out of the wall where there isn't a hole.' 
"What in the world is that?" cried Mother Sanders. Fearful, she quickly escorted her family back into the house.  Dinner in the garden had sounded like such a nice idea, but now it seemed a much safer choice to be inside. Who could they talk to?  What could they do?  What was it that they saw?!
When they went inside they could hardly sleep. They kept on talking about the odd shadow that Margaret saw and then Mother Sanders had an idea. She decided that in the morning they will go over to Mr. Tucker's house an ask him to come for a visit. The point was to try and find out what he was like and what were the howls and weird sounds that were heard from his house.
The family had a restless night and could hardly wait for morning. As soon as dawn broke and the first rays lit up the little town, they were up and about, eager to solve the mystery of their mysterious neighbor.
They arrive to Mr. Tucker's house and knock the door, but nobody respond then they decide to enter. It's dark inside still but they have a light. They look across the room and see in the middle a beautiful glass vase on a table and a painting on the wall. They call Mr. Tucker but nobody respond. This is very mysterious. 
Suddenly there was some noise under the table. They all jumped up but it was just a cat. When their daughter wanted to caress it, the cat ran away. Then the daughter shrieked - the painting on the wall moved.
The moment they realised there was an unmarked door set in the wall, it creaked open. Mr Sanders stood in the doorway for a moment before he popped his head through the narrow oak door. He decided to enter the pitch-dark corridor.
He disappeared in the darkness. His wife wanted to follow him there but SLAM - the door closed and they could not open it again. Mr Sanders was on his own in the dark.

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