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 writing 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, then, share our thoughts on what at least one  tool is for, how we can 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 we 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, you can 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.

15 Jan 2012

Electronic Village Online 2012: Classdigitools

New year, new resolution: to take any opportunity I can to improve my professional development. No sooner said than done! Seven days ago I joined Electronic Village Online Sessions 2012 which are free virtual courses. For five weeks teachers will connect to others teachers from all over the world, will discuss different topics related to the ELT world, collaborate and dare to work out new ideas and activities which  can spice up their teaching practice.

One of the sessions I have enrolled in is Digital Tools with a Purpose in the Classroom. Throughout the first week we had to complete several tasks:
  • TASK 1: Join the group online meeting place: Edmodo and Wiki.
These two learning environments were absolutely new to me, but I have not had many problems so far since they are really intuitive. It just took me some time to explore them and know where I had to publish comments or share my portfolio, this blog.

Edmodo is a virtual learning environment which includes several tools to share documents, pictures, videos, audios, links and others to foster participation, colaboration. As it is private and there are no age restrictions, we can use it with students from any educative level.

This time we were asked to introduce ourselves using different tools, interact and provide feedback to other participants. There is so much creativity in the group! I was really impressed by some teachers who expressed themselves through poems, songs and really nice presentations using a great variety of tools such as Glogster, Voicethread (two of my favourite tools), Dvolver and Sliderocket, among others.
For this task I preferred to use Stupeflix, an online video editing service similar to Animoto. However, instead of just 30 seconds, it allowed me to create a bit longer presentation for free. In addition to this, Stupeflix is very easy to use and straightforward. You only need to sign up, upload the pictures you would like to include in your video, add text, choose or upload your own music and share it.  This is the video I produced using this tool:

Another tool I decided to explore was http://flavors.me, a free service with an appealing interface. What I like about this tools is that it allows you to gather all your social activity in one place.

  • TASK 4: Create and/or share our digital portfolios. As you can see I have decided to use my blog as my digital portfolio since it is where I have been writing about topics related to ELT, sharing links and teaching ideas for three years now.
      The idea was that we:
    • collected the digital resources we produced along the way.
    • kept a space for reflection on our learning and the tools we get to know about.
    • received feedback from our peers in what we had been producing.
    • started our journey as a lifelong learner.

  • TASK 5: Go on a web safari about technology integration. This time we were asked to check the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) which   illustrates how teachers can use technology to enhance learning for K-12 and reflect upon where we are nowadays and where we would like to be according to our own education context. We added our thoughts to our Edmodo Group Discussion:

 I love this useful and detailed matrix you have shared with us! Generally speaking, I would say I'm in the adoption / active level. As I mainly teach one-to-one and small groups with different learning abilities, it is not always easy to integrate technology in the way I would like to do it - collaboratively. Some of my students use technology outside the classroom just to revise some language aspects previously seen in class. Others love using web 2.0 tools like Glogster, Blabberize or Xtranormal for writing and speaking tasks.

In the near future, I would like to work in a secondary school where I have the opportunity to move ahead and use technology to enhance collaboration and participate in projects together with other schools.

Achieving the transformation stage is another of my goals, I would like my students to work more independently and provide them learning activities which help all of them to succeed. However, we should not forget that technology is just a means for students to achieve their learning objectives and not an end in itself.In the near future, I would like to work in a secondary school where I have the opportunity to move ahead and use technology to enhance collaboration and participate in projects together with other schools.Achieving the transformation stage is another of my goals, I would like my students to work more independently and provide them learning activities which help all of them to succeed. However, we should not forget that technology is just a means for students to achieve their learning objectives and not an end in itself.
  • Discuss our own ideas on how we can use those tools with our students. I am afraid I will not have enough time to complete this task on time. Nevertheless, I would like to share with my colleages some ideas I wrote some time ago about using Glogster in the English class: Do you glog? Reinventing posters with Glogster Edu. It includes:
    • Tutorials.
    • Posters created by my students.
    • A poster I created as an example to write a biography and create a poem based on Rudyard Kipling's poem If.
    • Ideas from other teachers.
Waiting for your comments and suggestions!

12 Jan 2012

From the screen to the classroom. Part 2.

Last week, I introduced the amazing work that some great teachers are producing to work with films in the English class. They are really inspiring to encourage other teachers to create their own video activities and improve their teaching practice.

This week, I would like to concentrate on different techniques we can use to plan our lessons based on films. Any ideas you would like to add or share? Please, contact me! I will post them in the blog.

How to use them?
We can resort to the old way bringing a film, pressing play, watching it for the whole class and asking students to answer some questions about the film or write a summary of it. But have you wondered if there is any point in approaching the learning of English in such a way? Are you sure your students have learnt something in that lesson?
I think that a more sensible idea to work deeply with films in our classes is to select a short film scene (3 – 4 minutes) and divide the lesson in three parts, including pre-viewing, while-viewing, and post-viewing activities.
Previewing activities are really good to arouse the students’ interest to the film clip they are going to watch.
  • Vocabulary: pre-teaching some words which appear in the video and may be unfamiliar to students is essential to avoid interruptions and questions during the viewing process.
  • Brainstorming: this is a great technique, and very student-centered. We can use visuals, trailers or film scenes and ask students to speculate about the scene’s details such as the characters, the plot or the setting.
  • Predicting:
    •  You can provide students with a handout with some facts about the film and they have to predict if they are true or false.
    •  You can create a series of screen shots with Vidinotes or just with Paint and ask students to predict what the story is about or what the characters may say.
While-viewing activities: they provide a deeper understanding of the film, and allow to check if students.
  • Predicting: the students check if they were right or wrong in their previous predictions about the film.
  • Imaging: freeze the scene as something is going to happen and ask students to work in group and try to deduce what will happen next. Elicit from the class what happens.
  • Jigsaw predictions: divide students into two big groups and sit down back to back in two rows. Only students in group B can watch the video, while students in group A will be able to listen to the video only. When the video ends, the teacher asks students in group A to interpret the meaning of what they have heard. Once they have finished reconstructing the story, students in group B tell students in group A what actually happened.
  • Video ON/ Sound OFF: play the film scene, but this time with the sound turned off. Ask students to write a short narrative text predicting the content of the scene. They do this activity in small groups. You can show them some questions on the overhead projector or on the digital blackboard to guide them. Once they have finished, they read their stories and vote for the funniest story. After that, they watch the scene with the sound on to know what really happened.
  • Ordering events: play the video and distribute a worksheet to students with a series of events from the video. Ask them to put them in order, as they happen in the film. The students watch the video a second time to confirm the correct order.  
  • There is no need to leave grammar out of a video-based lesson. We can use sentence examples which appear on a video to introduce a grammar point and ask students to deduce the rules and uses planning different kinds of activities. How we teach grammar is really important since grammar is necessary so that students achieve accuracy in English. So, we need to be creative and produce student-friendly, student-centered activities which develop students’ curiosity in how English works. You will find a lot of ideas in Claudio Azevedo’s blog Movie Segments to Assess Grammar Goals
  • Production of the next scene script: ask students to write a dialogue between two characters of the movie which take place after the part of the video they have previously watched. To do this, they can use some free web 2.0 tools:
  • Writing a movie review for the school (online) newspaper.
  • Discussion group activity: ask students to choose sides around the topic introduced in the video and take a in-favour/against position from others in the classroom to debate it.
  • Watching videos can also enhance some pronunciation aspects which students have difficulties with, such as connected speech, word stress and sentence intonation, among others. They are a really good source of authentic listening material.
This is my lesson plan sample on excuses and relationships using the film scene I found in Claudio Azevedo's blog. 

View more documents from Inma Alcázar
Some websites where you can find videos and information about films to create your own activities:
If you found this post useful, you may also like:

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More