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:

4 Jan 2012

From screen to the classroom. Part 1

Films have always been a great source of ideas and an excellent resource we can use to suit our English classes, motivate our students and help them develop their listening, speaking and writing skills. 

Apart from that, films are a highly valuable source of authentic language since they are full of vocabulary, expressions and structures that native speakers use. They are perfect to bring the English-speaking world into the classroom.

The question for teachers is what kinds of film clips we can use, what for and how to use them.

What kinds of films can we use and how?
Did you know that there are some absolutely fabulous teachers’ blogs which can inspire you to create your own activities to suit your students’ needs? Through their blogs they share their own materials just for free and give useful tips on how to create your own ones.

One of them is Film English, a wonderful project started by Kieran Donaghy, an English teacher at UAB Idiomes Barcelona, whose aim is to promote the use of film in the language classroom. In this blog you will find lesson plans around different topics such as jobs, money and greed, football and values, among others.

Claudio Azevedo is another teacher who I have inspired me and I have learnt a lot from. He publish his own resources in two blogs:
  • Movie Segments for Warm-ups and Follow-ups which includes a series of movie segments to be used to brainstorm and prepare students for the topic that will be discussed in class.                                                                                                  
What can I say about Jamie Keddie’s Lessonstream website? Well, he is a really creative and enthusiastic teacher and this can just be seen by visiting his new website full of free lesson plans based on films for different levels and aims.

Next week, I will publish the second part of this post with more ideas and examples on how to work with films in the English class.

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