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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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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)

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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.