Using ELT links in and out of class to engage students

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Courtesy of miniyo73 at flickr.com

All teaching is moving towards digital aids to help our students (especially those newer generations) get on board and motivated to learn English by alternative exercises than fill-in-the-blank and workbook activities. While preparing classes and trying to find websites that could do just that, I found these three that always come in very handy for either in class fun or homework.

1. Voscreen

Voscreen can be used in many different ways, as well as in different languages. First off, it’s a completely free platform, but it does require you to sign up. So, your students will have to sign up, or you can create one account which they can all use. I’ve used this one for out-of-class practice and students seem to really enjoy themselves and learn a lot. To give it a try log in as a guest. First, they will ask is for you to choose a language. Some considerations: whatever language you choose is the one that the phrases will be translated to. So, if you’d like to practice this as a translation exercise choose your student’s mother tongue. If they are a bit more advanced, than try out English. In this mode it’s perfect for paraphrasing practice.

How it works: 

Your students watch a fragment of a video (very short phrase or dialog) and then they must choose the phrase that best matches or translates the phrase (depending on the language you chose). They can choose two options before doing this. The one on the left is without subtitles and the one on the right is with subtitles. Choosing this will start the timer and they must choose the correct answer before it runs out. If they need to listen again they can press the red play button on the screen. In either case, with or without translations, it will show them the correct answer once the time has run out or they’ve chosen their response.

How and when to use it:

I’ve used this site as extra listening practice for exam preparation students, or as an in-class bonus exercise for my students. I’ve felt it’s perfect for paraphrasing practice. Now, I’m not a huge fan of translations, so I tend to use it more for my advanced students in English mode, but you’re free to give the Spanish version a try.

2. Lyrics Training

This one has been around for a while now and most teachers are using it in class with students, but they’ve added some features that can help out with our more basic students. First of all, for those of you who maybe haven’t used it some initial thoughts. This is a website to practice English, as well as other languages, through a fill-in-the-blank automated system, not just for English.

How it works: 

For starters, you can choose the songs based on level of difficulty (green=easy, orange=intermediate, red=advanced), country (the flag on the right hand corner) and genre (by clicking on the button on the top). Once you’ve chosen the right song, you have the option of choosing four levels: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Expert. Each one relates to the percentage of words of the song that are randomly blanked out each time that you play, including the Expert, or as they say it “Are you crazy?” level which blanks out the complete song. It’s important to note that since it is random, students can play the game with the same song as many times as they like. This is where they’ve added a new feature; you can either choose a Write Mode or Choice Mode. For lower levels choose the Choice Mode and for higher levels the Write Mode. When your students begin to play, they must either write the word or choose the correct option when the song gets to the blank. If they make a mistake or take too long, the timer on the top starts the countdown. When that timer has run out you lose the game.

How and when to use it:

This website is great and motivates students a lot to practice outside of the classroom. As teachers, it’s a great task when you want to practice listening, vocabulary or spelling. It is a game, so you can even have some fun with it and make a tournament out of it. You’ll see students practicing in their free time to come out on front!

3. English Central

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Courtesy of Jinho Jung at flickr.com

English Central also makes you to create a user to use its website, but it is free. If you’re interested later on, you could even explore the possibility of using it at your school, since they offer excellent options for integrating it into your curriculum. This website has two formats: videos and courses. In the videos part, you can do quick exercises with videos, commercials or songs; in the courses part you will find different courses created through short videos. Some nice features on this one is that the lessons include four parts: Watch, Learn, Speak and Evaluate, so students really get the opportunity to learn the vocabulary.

How it works: 

As a tip, if you prefer an all-English platform, you can change this in your settings so that the instructions, tips and answers are given in English, instead of translated to your student’s L1. It has some really interesting features that can make learning very interactive for your students. The first stage is to simply Watch the video, although your students can also begin to interact by clicking on words they don’t know. Every word that is clicked on will show the definition, pronunciation and an example sentence (if the platform is in another language the translation will also appear). The second stage is Learn, and here they will blank out some words that the students have to type in. Again they have help if they need it. Then in stage three students can practice their Speaking by recording their voice and comparing it with the original audio. It even grades them (although I haven’t been completely sold on that component yet). Finally, in stage four the students are Evaluated on the words they learned.

How and when to use it: 

Most of the videos are very short, so I like doing this exercise to warm up when I have my students in a lab. Another option is to give all of your students the same link, have them do it at home and take a screenshot of their final result. When you’re registered as a school, the teacher can even keep track of their students’ results and progress through the platform. All in all, I love the fact that students can practice, independent of their level, with authentic English.

 

Punctuation Saves Lives

Yes, punctuation is an important element in the English language and can even change the meaning of what our students are trying to say. So, why not teach them the importance with these fun quotes and activities.
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Dictate to them the following letter and see where they put the punctuation marks. Once they are done, give them a handout with the letter written in these two versions:

Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours?
Jane

Unfortunately, John was far from pleased. In fact, he was heartbroken. You see, John was familiar with Jane’s peculiar ways of misusing punctuation marks. And so to decipher the true meaning of her email, he had to re-read it with the marks altered:

Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
Yours,
Jane

Extra tip:

If you want to have fun some more fun, try this:

1. Have your students make memes misusing punctuation

2. Use all of the images in a Powerpoint presentation

3. Have the students identify the mistakes.

It’s not “very” happy… it’s jubilant!

When learning a new language, writing is an essential part of how we express ourselves. We must acknowledge that the English language has a rich vocabulary and we should tempt our students to expand their lexical resources. By challenging them in class, we are hopefully making them become curious outside of class.  In this case, this particular movie did just that. John Keating, played by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, has a scene where he goes on and on about the importance of a language which, from what he stated in the movie, was made to “woo women”. So for whatever reason we use it for, let’s not let our students be lazy. Here’s a way to challenge those high intermediate, advanced and exam preparation students.

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5 ideas for no more song fill-in-the-blanks. Part 2.

In a previous post I explored a different way to use music in the classroom. To check it out, click here. Here’s a look at some more ideas to use songs and music in class with your students that let us step away from the traditional fill-in-the-blank activity. Here they are:

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Soundtrack

Have students choose from 3-5 songs that they consider represent milestones or are important moments in their lives. The idea is to make a soundtrack for their lives, where they can not only investigate their songs, but also explain to the rest of the class why each song is important to them. I’ve found it helpful to make a step-by-step worksheet that will allow them to understand the project and complete it keeping in mind the language targets that I want to involve in it.

Round the world lyrics

For homework tell each student to bring a song they like, along with the lyrics. In class they should choose a line from the song and every student then goes up to the board and writes their line. If you have a small group (like I usually do) you can have them each bring in a few songs, or have them write two or three lines from their song. Then have the rest of the group guess the song by reading each line. Once the activity is done you can create a playlist and use these songs for your future activities.

Scratch that

Dictate 10 to 15 words from a song, then tell every student to choose 5 words. Once they have done this, play the song and have students scratch out the words from their list as they hear them. The first student to finish is the winner. This is a great warm-up activity before using a song in class. For even better use of the activity, make sure some of the words are related to the particular language target of the class.

Identify errors

Print out a version of the lyrics with some mistakes that are related to the language target. Have students identify the mistakes and write the correct phrase or word. When making the worksheet, make sure to leave spaces between each line so the students can write the corrections underneath the line.

Youtube videos

There are youtube videos that already have parts of songs with the grammar you need in class. These are great to either practice or introduce a topic. A good example is this one on gerund or infinitive I used recently in class.

There are many more ideas that I’ve used in class and will be posting later on. Stay tuned!

Practice speaking by yourself!

Speaking is most often considered the most important skill when learning a language.  It allows us to communicate effectively, which is usually any student’s ultimate goal. We find ourselves in a predicament though when we want to improve this skill, but have no one to practice with. First of all, this is usually a misconception because we usually know at least one person who has better English than we do. This person can become a “chat buddy” in spaces that you designate to this such as having lunch once a week, holding that weekly meeting in English with coworkers or even just grabbing some coffee during your break. Now, let’s say you want more spaces to practice or truly don’t have anyone to speak with, here’s an idea using a playback technique, so you can practice speaking on your own.
First things first, learning a language is not an over night process, so any learning strategy will require consistency to actually be effective. Keeping this in mind, you should set apart anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes to do this exercise.

You’ll need:
1. Video or article of intetest. It can be digital or printed, as long as you can mark it.
2. Cellphone or recording device.
3. English dictionary or computer.

Here’s the process:
1. Choose an article or video that you find interesting from one of the sources suggested below. It can really be from anywhere, just be sure that it has the transcript and the audio available.
2. Read the article or the transcript and be sure to identify the following things:
– new vocabulary
– main idea
You can do this exercise on the computer, but I find it much more pratical to print out the article, so you can write on it.
3. Look up any word you do not understand. Avoid translating! Instead use an English dictionary. Although I prefer using a Thesaurus  (dictionary for synonyms and antonyms), which allows you to easily associate the meaning of the word with the synonyms or antonyns, and to learn new words at the same time.
4. Now, play the audio or video and follow along. Underline or highlight any word that you weren’t sure about the pronunciation. Listen to it a few times, if necessary, until you feel comfortable with the meaning, the words and the pronunciation.
5. Read the article out loud and record yourself with your cell phone or voice recording device. It’s better to do this part by sentences or paragraphs, although if you’re more advanced you can do the whole article without stopping. Depending on your level it will make the following step easier.
6. Finally, listen to your recording and compare to the original audio. Identify the mistakes and make any necessary corrections. If you really want to make sure you have it right, repeat step 5 until it sounds just the way you want it to.

Some additional tips:
The best website that I’ve found so far to do this exercise is Ted, because of its Live Transcript feature. When doing step 6, you can simply click on the word and the recording will go to that part of the video. Having said this here are my suggestions for the websites you can use to practice:

-Words in the news (Intermediate to Advanced levels)

-Voice of America (Basic to Intermediate levels)

-TED (Intermediate to Advanced levels)

-English Central (All levels)

Some additional websites:
-Dictionary
-Thesaurus

3 ways to use sheet protectors for easy reusable ESL activities

0002903_penandpaper_separator_sheet_a4_pack_of_100_sheetsI’m sure you have used sheet protectors tons of times to put away activities, organize essays, file attendance sheets, and much more. But here’s another way to use them that will allow you to reuse your activities in class so we can save some paper. So, a few considerations first:

  • To use sheet protectors for any of the following activities you should have erasable markers available for your students. They will be writing on the sheet protectors to do the activity and once they are done all you have to do is erase. Voila! They are ready to be used in another class.
  • Be sure to make the blanks or spaces big enough to write with erasable markers.
  • Depending on the game you should have various colored erasable markers available for the students.
  • Identify your games and worksheets clearly so that they are easy to find and use. Sometimes marking them will save you time when handing them out. Identify things like: winning cards, difficulty level (for mixed level groups), quantity to keep track of them and to make sure you get them all back or target language.

Let’s go over some fun games you can use in class  and how we can use sheet protectors to reuse them.

Jogo_da_velha_-_tic_tac_toe1. Tic-Tac-Toe (or Noughts and Crosses)

For ESL classes Tic-Tac-Toe is a great game to play, especially for basic levels, because it reduces the time you take to explain instructions. This is valuable time and if we choose well-known games this will also allow us to focus on the task at hand and to give the student a sense of confidence. For this game you can either make teams or pairs, where each one will select their mark “X” or “O”. Here is the way I’ve used it and some variations:

  • OPTION 1: Generate tasks for your students such as using a the target language in a sentence. If the task is performed correctly your student is allowed to put the “X” or “O” where ever they want, following the normal rules of Tic-Tac-Toe. The winner will be the student who not only performs the most correct tasks, but the one who wins based on the traditional rules.
  • OPTION 2: Place the target language in the boxes of the Tic-Tac-Toe and have your student choose where they want to place their mark. If they use the target language completing the assigned task correctly they are allowed to put their mark, if not it is the next student’s turn. Once again the same rules apply to win.
  • OPTION 3: Place instructions that the students must follow like: “Speak for one minute about…”, “Name 5 irregular verbs”, or “Introduce yourself to your classmates.”. Again if the student completes the task correctly, they can make their mark, if not then the game continues until one of the teams or students has won.


2. Bingo:

Even traditional Bingo can work if you want to review letters and numbers. But here are some variations:

  • Create Bingo Cards with the target language for your lesson and be sure to create flashcards with the same vocabulary, so you can pull them out of a bag or mark them off. The same rules apply as in traditional Bingo, but since there are so many variations be sure to set clear rules as to how you can win.
  • Musical Bingo. I explained in detail this activity in a previous post. To read more about it click here.

Battleship3. Battleship:

In other countries not everyone might be familiar with the rules of this game so here are the original Hasbro rules. If you are not sure how to play go over those first and then come back so we can explore how to use it in the ESL Classroom. Although the traditional version, similar to Bingo, can be used to review letters and numbers, here are some of my variations:

  • Practice homonyms by placing the homonyms on opposite ends of the board, so that they replace the letters and numbers. The students should create a sentence with both words to “attack” their opponent. The student receiving the “attack” should recognize the correct word based on context. This is a great game to get your students to understand the subtle differences in using words in context. Remember they should complete the task correctly to be able to make their move.
  • By placing nouns instead of letters or numbers, you can have students compare them in a sentence. This way they can practice comparatives. If done correctly their attack will be valid, if not then it’s the next student’s turn.

Finally, here’s a link to a blank battleship template you can use.

Some extra ideas

The following activities can be used traditionally, but by putting them in a sheet protector we are able to reuse them once and again with our different groups. In all of these it’s important to make the spaces big enough to be able to write the answers with an erasable marker.

  • Pair work conversation cards: We’ve all used those pre-made conversation cards that have blanks and as Student A responds, Student B fills out blanks.
  • Word search: Make your own word searches with the target language for your lesson here. (There are a few websites that do this, so explore on Google to see what options you can find).
  • Crossword: You can also make your own Crossword puzzles just click here.
  • Hangman: Have the template already printed out for instant fun. Print it here.

There are tons more games and activities that can be reused easily simply by putting them into a sheet protector and using erasable markers. Enjoy!

No more song fill-in-the-blanks. Part 1.

Yes, using music in class is an excellent tool, as I’ve gone over in my previous posts. Although there are so many ways to take advantage of this valuable tool, so many alternatives to the traditional filling in the blank. This is Part 1 of a few posts where I’ll explore short activities that you can use in your classes to practice language with music.

Musical Bingo.

  1. Choose the correct song based on the target language or vocabulary in your lesson plan. (Having difficulty finding just the right song, check out these links: TEFL Tunes and Musical English Lessons.)
  2. Choose the target words or phrases in the song and make a list.
  3. Once you have the list, make an alternate list of words that are not in the song, but are from the same group of words as the target language.
  4. Then include this list of words in a blank Bingo Word file or by hand in a blank printed Bingo Card. If you want to leave it up to chance then you can use an online Bingo Generator. When filling it out put the words that are in the song in the correct order to be able to get a Bingo, based on the rules you want to use. For example: Winner has to get an X or a line or an L. The rules are up to you and difficulty level you want to give the game.
  5. Make a few versions of the Bingo Card and then make copies if necessary. It doesn’t matter that you can have various winners, that makes it more competitive. Although if you want the winner to really be based on his or her listening skills all of the Bingo Cards could be winners! The student who wins is that one who heard all of the words.
  6. In class play the song or the fragment of the chosen song, again based on the level of your students. As your students hear the words they should cross it out. The first to complete Bingo wins.

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Additional tips:

  • To keep track of the winning card, if you decide to only make one, you can mark the Bingo Cards with a letter or number on top or something so that you know who should win.
  • If you want to use the Bingo Cards various times, put them into a sheet protectors  and have students write on them with erasable markers and you have reusable Bingo Cards!
  • As a follow-up activity you can go over all of the words, including those that were not in the song.

-TatyGoRa