Use Project Management Tools to Set Up Your Exam Preparation Course

I have been pretty busy in the last couple of weeks, starting out with new projects and starting up with some old ones. In the years I have been a teacher (still can’t believe it’s been almost 15 years now) the more I teach, the more I feel like I want to keep teaching. I think part of what makes me passionate about teaching is that it keeps me on my toes. For me, part of being an amazing teacher is being a lifelong learner and aficionado to my craft. So, that’s why I love staying up-to-date with how we can improve teaching and continue finding new tools that will make any learning experience more engaging for your students.

I was kind of stumped on what to write about this week until I ran across Anthony Ash’s post on Using Trello for Language Learning. After I quit my day job, I decided to turn into a full-time ELT consultant and since then I tend to end up working on various projects at a time, so I’ve had to find tools to help me keep everything in order. I usually use Asana, but I’ve heard of Trello and I know that it’s just as handy. So, once I finished reading Anthony’s blog, my brain got super creative and tons of ideas started flowing. (Thanks, Anthony!). So, this got me thinking about how I could apply this to what I do today. Nowadays, I’ve been focusing more and more on training teachers and teaching exam preparation courses for different international English exams, specifically IELTS and TOEFL. So, a thought came to mind, why not use a Project Management web app like Trello or Asana to set up my exam preparation course. It could be so effective, and you’d only have to set it up once, because from there on out you would simply update and rev it up every once in a while. After playing around a little with the features on Trello here are some ideas on how you can use Trello to organize your next exam preparation course (or any course for that matter). 

Get familiar with Trello features

On Trello, you can visually organize your information, the same as you would on a board. On each board, you can create columns which are called lists, to which you can also add cards. The cards can contain all types of information from links to images, or you can even attach files from your computer or from other online apps like Dropbox, Google Drive or One Drive. When you open your account you can always check out the welcome board which will walk you through the different features you have available.

How to use to design course?

After playing around a little with Trello, there are really many different ways you can set up a course on this app. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Skills: Each list can be focused on a skill (reading, writing, speaking and listening). By having each List represent a skill you can segment activities, exercises, homework, and links.
  • Subskills: When preparing students for exams, understanding the subskills is just as important as knowing the skills. Here you can set up activities and exercises to help them hone in on these subskills like scanning and skimming, as they improve their overall communication skills.
  • Vocabulary lists: If you’re interested in making sure your students improve their vocabulary, which is essential for  your students if they want to get a better score on an international exam, then try Trello and make a list for each of the different categories like phrasal verbs, collocations, idioms, or word groups by topics. Here you can include word lists or links to practice the new vocabulary, or simply homework so students can put them in use.
  • Grammar review: Make a list of the grammar topics that most people get wrong during tests and strategies with how to improve them with links where they can find grammar explanations, exercises, and examples.
  • Exercises: You can also add exercises, practice tests, links to shared folders on sites like Google Drive or Dropbox.
  • Resources: You can also simply use it to have a bank of files, links, and images that will help your students on their path to preparing for the exam.

How to get students to use it?

During your courses, independent if it is an exam preparation course or if it’s a general English course, you can get your students to keep track of all of the resources that they find the most useful during their learning process. You can motivate students to make lists such as vocabulary, grammar, games, news, references, among others to keep track and revisit all of the resources given to them in class. By keeping it all in one place, it will be more likely that they’ll use it again at some point.

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Check out my sample

Here is a quick and simple example I made just for you guys so you can see how you could potentially set up your IELTS Exam Preparation Course on Trello.

 

 

Using GIFs and memes in the ELT classroom

I was exploring different tools that we could use in today’s classroom and that would capture our students’ attention. The reality is that most students will automatically be reeled in by anything that is similar to what they are used to seeing on their social networks. This means tons of video content, animated GIFs and memes. I think as teachers, even with just YouTube, we have tons of options and ways of using video in the classroom, not to mention TED, English Central and Lyricstraining.com. But, what about memes and animated GIFs? Here’s a quick run through of how these two fun tools could become educational.

MEME

You can either create them yourself or simply find one that’s already made. All the same, you can spark conversations in your classroom and get students interested in what you have to say. A meme is a combination of an image and words, so you can use this to explore language, expressions, idioms, vocabulary or context. They can be funny, or serious and will still work to get the topic going. Here are some ideas of how you can use it:

  • Get students to share: Have students use a meme to either share what they did over vacation, or to introduce themselves to the class. Choosing just the right image and the right words to place on it can be a more challenging task than you think. Now, of course, despite all of the misspellings and poor grammar usually seen on memes, my students are expecting to demonstrate their good use of the language.
  • Report or summarize a book or project: While doing a summarizing activity or even during a debate you could have students make their own meme to express their ideas and ensure they give only the most relevant ideas. Post these memes around the room, and you’ll get a sort of visual summary, where you can then get students to group them into categories and explain the relationship.

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  • You can also create your own, or bring them in: As teachers you can also play around with making your own memes. Be it to show the rules of your classroom or as a warm up to a book or project you are going to do in  class. One idea is to make an inference game with memes, where students have to infer the meaning based on the image and phrase that is given, you could give them options to make it easier at first. Another idea is to have a meme corner, where you place one image weekly and all of your students have to assign a phrase to the same image. You’ll get tons of different versions and it’ll make for great discussion in the class.

Here are some sites where you can get good memes to teach English, or where you can make them:

Pinterest

MakeMeme

Meme Generator

GIF Lingua

Animated GIFs

Animated GIFs are short looping videos and they have become very popular on social networks. We can also use them in the classroom in many different ways.

  • Vocabulary: By presenting a short animated GIF you can solicit vocabulary words and brainstorming from students. By using an animated GIF you can give a full context of difficult-to-explain phrasal verbs, idioms, and collocations that an image just might not get across.
  • Short story and prompts: Use animated GIFs as a prompt to get students to continue a story, be it in writing or as a speaking exercise. You can find tons of creative and fun prompt animated GIFs here.
  • Get students involved: Give students a topic and have them bring in animated GIFs that are related to the topic. If you have access to collaborative tools like Google Drive, have students share them. You can even get students to vote on their favorite and find the favorite one from each topic. This can be a great warm up when starting a new unit.

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  • Reaction animated GIFs: Find three to five animated GIFs that express a reaction your students could have to something. These animated GIFs would represent if they agree strongly or don’t agree at all with a particular topic. Use these in class when having student weigh in, by having them vote. Or to make it even more fun, have students find a animated GIF that shows how they feel about a topic and then have them explain why they chose this animated GIF.

Here are some sites where you can make your own animated GIFs:

Images to GIF

Make a GIF

GIF maker

Giphy (My fav)

GIF Creator

FINAL TIP

If you are ready to start using animated GIFs and memes, consider opening a closed Facebook group with your students. This will make it very easy to get students to share and vote on the animated GIFs and memes that you will be using for your activities. You can even make an album for each lesson or topic and that way easily revisit ones that you can reuse with other groups.

 

Aside

Do you know what’s new with LyricsTraining?

So, I love using LyricsTraining. For those of you that aren’t using it yet, it’s an easy-to-use platform that automates our traditional fill-in-the-blank activity into a game. You’ll find tons of genres, not to mention other languages. All the songs are divided into categories and the game itself also have levels and two game options: write or choice. Besides excellent listening practice for students, it also does wonders for spelling, since the game is designed in a way that you can’t continue until the word is spelled correctly.

Ok, ok… I’m done talking this platform up, and will move on to the real reason for this post. I went in today to use it in class and found that it has uploaded some new videos, but to my surprise, they were not songs. I tried one out and absolutely loved it. Try this one out which is about Google Self-Driving Car Project. I ended up exploring the “OTHER” genre and found that they have uploaded a lot more. So, I hope you have fun exploring the new videos and using this new format of their site.

Now, if you’re new to Lyrics Training and want to know more about how you can use it in class, try reading this old post: Lyricstraining.com: Using music to learn English.

 

Other awesome sites:

English Central

BBC Learning English

Antimoon

LingQ

 

Find new innovative ways to use QR codes in your classroom

I don’t know about you, but I’m always trying to find new ways to create interesting and innovative ways to share content with my students. I ran across an article a few weeks ago and started doing some exploring of my own on how to use QR codes in the classroom. I know they didn’t really take off as expected, at least not in Colombia, but you can easily get your students to download an app that reads QR codes. Here are some ways that I’ve either been using myself or have read online about.

Classroom Hot Spots

If you’re teaching in a room of your own, you can set up QR codes in specific places around the room to give your students access to materials they will enjoy, that will compliment the class or as extra work when they have finished. I would use at least one “hot spot” as a trivia corner, and would change it every week that ways students would know to always look in the same corner for a new riddle, or challenge. I would change it up to keep it fun like tongue twisters or a funny dictation.

Differentiated instruction

In some groups we may have to give different instructions to different groups who have varied language and learning skills, so in these cases you could color code your QR codes, assigning a color to each group, where they will find the differentiated instructions to the same activity. It’s easier to color code them so they always know which color they have to scan. To get more ideas on how to differentiate, check out this post by Rachel Roberts.

Scavenger Hunt

If you want to try a fun game like a scavenger hunt, but want to really make sure they won’t get the information until they get to that particular station, use QR codes in the different locations so they can scan them to lead them to the next clue. You can use this great website to create your very own QR scavenger hunt in an easy way.

Roll the dice

You can even make your own dice, so that students are completely surprised with what’s going to come up. You can get some ideas as to how to make your very own QR code dice here.

Easily update your QR

Link your QR code to a Google Drive folder, where you can update the content easily and always have the handouts or quizzed available to your students. This way you don’t have to constantly change your QR codes, but instead use the same code, and simply change the content on the link. Another option is to create a dynamic QR code, which means even after it’s printed you can change the content.

All in all, by using QR codes you can surprise your students and hide behind them information that will allow them to use language in new and exciting ways. If you get any more ideas please be sure to post them in the comments.

More links:

Create dynamic QR

Create color coded QR

Good read if you want to get tons of new ideas! (Free PDF downloadable)

How to use infographics to teach English

We are constantly looking for new ways to engage our students and get them interested in what we have to say. I’ve found that infographics do wonders! You can use them for so many types of activities and they are so easy to make. Here are a few sites where you can make your own, along with some ideas of how I’ve used them in class.

Wordle

Wordle is one of my favorites. I mainly use it to activate my student’s reading sub-skills. Although there are tons of uses you can give it. It basically creates a word cloud from a link, or you can simply type in or paste the words you want to use. You can be as creative as you like with the font, direction of the words and the colors and sizes. I also love having students make their own as a guideline to an oral presentation, or to summarize a text.

Hohli

This is a great tool to make your own charts, graphs or ven  diagrams. Even though it may seem something a math teacher might use, I love make really simple ones to get my students to describe, compare and contrast. Besides the obvious relation with the IELTS task 1 essay, you can also use it for speaking activities. Give your student an easy graph that describes a person’s activities in the past days, and have them give as many sentences as they can using past simple, past continuous and past perfect. It’s almost as good as a timeline.

Visualize

You can choose any one of their featured templates like language maps,experience timelines, skills bubble charts or treegrams and pictograms. This tool can generate really amazing visual infographics that can be completely personalized to whatever you’re seeing in class with our students. This can give us an engaging and easy way to lay out information for our students as a warm up exercise for a language skills activity, or even a grammar explanation.

Easel.ly

This one has tons of ready made templates that you can tweak to your specific needs. You can tap into a library of images like arrows, shapes and connector lines. It even lets you personalize the font and colors. Again an very easy tool that allows you to quickly make a stunning visual aid for your class.

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Extra teaching tips to using infographics in class:

Be sure you choose the right visual for the information you want to share with your students. 

It’s not all about how it looks. Make sure you work on quality content, so that the learning experience can be even more valuable. 

Give your students the opportunity to analyze and understand them on their own, then share with a partner, and then get conclusions as a group. This will ensure all students get the hang of it. 

Use infographics as prompts to get students participating, talking. 

Sometimes I’ll bring in infographics that are wrong or misinformation on purpose, and I have them find the mistakes.

Explaining grammar rules can be so much more understandable and engaging, if it is visually organized instead of explained orally or read out loud from a text book.

I find this is an amazing tool to flip the roles as well. Getting students to use these tools to make summaries, as a project they have to present to the class or as a way to make sure they understood a particular topic. 

Let’s take full advantage of this fun way of sharing information with our students.

 

 

 

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Using interactive flashcards for vocabulary practice

I love using Cram.com to practice vocabulary with my students.

First of all, I’m a big fan of teaching vocabulary chunks so when I’m teaching a course, I make it a point to teach certain groups of vocabulary together and to explore how to teach them to my students so they actually stick. For me recycling is the key so lately I’ve been using Cram.com in class and for out-of-class practice for my students. You can create digital flashcards in groups and on the page you can even share your flashcards so others can use them. Once you have designed them you can either view the flashcards, play a memorize game, take a test or even play some of the games the page has available. All of these can be used at different moments of your class to motivate students to learn new words. One more thing I love is that it’s available on iPhone and Android, so you can easily include it as individual practice in class.

EXTRA: You can even get your students to create their own and share with the class.

Stumped? Trying to find the best way to teach a grammar topic? Figuring out how to handle the multi-level group?

E-mail me at tatygoraelt@gmail.com and ask away. I’ll write a post answering one question a week and help out as much as I can. Now, of course I’ll be waiting for others to comment on each post and that way we can all reach the best possible solution to your question!

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Clip your videos to make them more engaging and meaningful

Using TubeChop you can edit YouTube videos and cut just the bits and pieces you need. I have wanted to do this for soooo long and today I stumbled on this tool and just had to share. I’ve just tried it out and it’s really easy to use. Definitely opens up so many possibilities to planning classes around video segments, instead of full videos. I usually don’t use any segment longer than 5 minutes (and even 5 minutes seems long sometimes). There are so many linguistic take aways from a short video segment that are so much more meaningful than full movies or videos clips.

How to get the most out of Socrative in the ELT classroom?

We are constantly looking for new ways to engage our students. I have found that Socrative, which is an online platform, has really helped me create amazing activities that allow my students to participate in real time. It offers me so many options that I can tailor-make activities based on what I want and need my students to practice, giving them the amount of control and access to the results or progress as I want. Besides this it also works across devices, be it their laptop, tablets or smartphones, so everyone can log on easily. Now, let’s get started with how you can get the most out of this platform for your ELT classroom!

Get started and learn the basics

The first step is to open a free account. When your account is available they automatically assign a room name, so first go and change it to something your students can feel engaged with. Once you’ve got that all set up you can get started. Here are some of the features Socrative has that you can use in the ELT classroom.

Quiz question to get quick answers

You can generate a quick question type activity. It gives you the option of jotting something down on the board or simply asking out loud and having student answer in three types of answers: multiple choice, true or false and short answer. Choose the one that best fits what you want to ask, and be sure to give them all the information they may need. This is great instead of passing around pieces of paper where they write down what they want, and you can even look back on the saved results whenever you want. I’ve used it for just random things that I’ve needed to find out from the students like: to verify previous knowledge on a topic or to check who has doubts about a particular topic before moving on. You can make the quiz anonymous if you like, so that opens the door to many possibilities. Only the teacher can see the results in this type of quiz.

Make a Question Race

If you want to make a game interesting, Socrative can definitely help you out. By creating a Space Race quiz you can make teams, change the theme and project the scoreboard as they answer the questions. This is a great interactive way to practice language in class and still make it fun! You can configure the test to either give feedback to students and/or give them results, you can disable these if you like. I’ve used this game a lot in class to review grammar topics and students love it. Keep in mind you have to have the quiz created previously. Since the quiz is created and stored in the quiz bank, you can later use the same quiz individually as a graded activity through Socrative as well.

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Create a Test or graded activity

Want to go green, get rid of all that paper on your desk and save time grading? Well, you can do all of that by creating all your quizzes and graded activities in Socrative. Here you can set it up in three ways, depending on the activity: Student paced – immediate feedback (each student can move forward as they answer, but not skip back and forth, and they get immediate feedback), Student paced – navigation mode (Students can skip and go back to questions as they please and they also get immediate feedback), and finally Teacher paced (students answer one question at a time at the teacher’s pace, who can view all of the answers in real time). This quiz activity can be very flexible and depending on if it’s an individual activity, roundtable review or interactive individual game it can be adjusted to whatever you need.

Fun ideas for using Socrative

Surveys: Create fun surveys for your students, where you can easily verify what your students think or want. Choosing the next song to use in class, or simply knowing who they vote to be the next class monitor can be a piece of cake.

Quick knowledge review: Want to make sure they understood before they leave? Ask them a quick question before they leave and that’s their ticket out the door. I usually don’t grade this, it’s more for me to gauge how to start off my next lesson. Sometimes, I also do it in the beginning of a class, to see how I can set up the groups for an activity based on their current knowledge and grasp of the topic.

Have students make their own: I’ve had my students make their own quizzes and share them with the class. It’s always fun, because to make it they first have to understand the topic, so it’s great practice and lots of fun.

Mix and Match – with board game or tic-tac-toe: I use Socrative as my flashcards for almost any board game out there that involves questions. When students land in a square, you can get them to answer the question in Socrative.

Anonymous class feedback: Sometimes you want to the get feedback or simply know something about your students, but don’t want to pressure them into giving their name. This is a way for them to tell you what they really think.

EXTRA:

All of the results you get from Socrative can be downloaded to Excel or PDF in an individual or group format. So no worries about being able to use the grades, or the extra hassle to copy them into your grade book.

 

Take some time and explore Socrative…  Let me know how else you could use it in class!

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson idea: Star Wars crawl creator

For my love of Star Wars!

ELT Planning

I got so excited about this that I had to post it up! I found this site today where you can create your own version of the Star Wars intro! It looks like this, and you can find it here…

starwars

It’s really simple to do – just create your own story, type it in and click done…

starwars2

My students are still loving Star Wars at the moment so this got tonnes of laughs. It’s perfect for creative writing. Enjoy!

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5 Amazing DIY Teaching Websites

As teachers we sometimes want to tweak a little (or a lot) our course book’s ready-made activities or simply want to make our own to really adapt it to our students’ needs. Now, let’s face it, this can be quite time consuming and if we’re not that tech friendly it may be nearly impossible other than brining out the markers. I think we’ve all tried at least once to make our own crossword puzzle, or Bingo from scratch on Word and found ourselves quickly giving up or just finding one that was already made and adjusting our lesson plan around it. In light of this, I’ve put together some sites that I’ve found really helped me to save time and easily make my own fun activities in just minutes. Hopefully they will also help you.

Crossword Puzzle Maker

This website actually offers a few tools to generate games along with fun and easy worksheets and printables, so I definitely suggest you check out their complete website. What I especially like about their crossword maker over other similar sites, is that you can adjust it after it’s been created. My favorite part is that it give you the option of printing out an answer sheet. You can adjust font, titles, size of the crossword, or the font, and instead of printing you can also save it as an image. You can go crazy with this one and give your students personalized crossword puzzles or even get them to make their own as homework!

Word search Maker

This one I’ve found is just very simple to use. Although it doesn’t allow to adjust after creating it, you can also just copy paste it into your own Word file and be creative with it. Since it’s a word search you can put these into sheet protectors and have your students find the words with an erasable marker and then reuse with all of your other groups. For more ideas on how to use sheet protectors in class take a look at 3 ways to use sheet protectors for easy reusable ESL activities.

bingo.png

Bingo Maker

This one in particular is one of my favorite. I love making Bingo cards for many different types of games,even with songs. If you want to know how I use it with songs, check out my previous blog “No more song fill-in-the-blanks. Part 1”. Anyway, this site gives you some ready-made bingo word lists or topics that can really come in handy, which you can also personalize, or if you’re in the mood (and have the time) simply make one from scratch. You can even put a serial number on each Bingo card to keep track of them and again you can put these in the sheet protectors and have fun with them in all your classes.

Boardgames

On this site you can find tons of options to adjust to your ELT board-gaming needs. You can either use one on their list, where you’ll find a lot of great topics to review with your students, or again make your own. You can also adapt it so it has pictures, or words, or a combination of both. I also found one of the templates to be really cool, because it has a loop racetrack theme, so you can adapt the rules depending on how much practice you want your students to have by changing the number of laps to win. For boardgames, you can also simply make a blank one, put numbers, categories or colors on them and print out task cards for each category (if you put colors, print them out on rainbow-colored paper). This is sure to add lots more fun to the game. By doing this you can also reuse the board in any class, simply by printing out new task cards.

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Flashcards

We all like using flashcards in class and here you can make your own. It has a lot of different adjustments that will be sure to help you make the perfect ones for your activity. You can even make the task cards for the board games here. A great feature for those teachers that like using phonetic alphabet with your students, it has a special phonemic keyboard that lets you put it on the cards. If you want to print out two-sided flashcards, just make two sets: one for the front and the other for the back. Be sure to put print it out correctly so they end up behind the right one.

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Well, these are just some of the ones I’ve used. I hope they come in handy for your future lesson plans! Think of all the time you’ll save and how cool it’ll be to give your students a worksheet that is made especially for them.

 

Happy teaching this week!

 

 

FINAL IDEA: As a final tip, get your students to use these for homework. For example, if they are reading a book, have them identify the new vocabulary words and make a crossword puzzle. When in class, exchange the crossword puzzles and when they are done you can do one comprehensive list for the whole class. Always take a few of your own, just in case a student didn’t do their homework.