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.

 

Find the perfect balance of high-tech and low-tech in ELT

Technology is becoming an integral part of education represents something that seems to be inevitable. Our everyday lives are affected in almost every aspect by technology, be it home appliances or medical equipment, and not to mention all of the alternatives in personal communication devices. Technology has engrained itself in our society and because of this it is no surprise education is also part of it. I, for one, believe that technology brings an element of interactivity into the classroom that no other tool had done so far, so I love using it. I consider myself a tech geek and love finding new ways to include apps, interactive activities, BYOD lesson plans into my teaching, but at the same time, I am not blind to the difficulties, disadvantages and maybe even misadventures it could bring to my classroom. So, to be honest, I don’t think technology on its own is the only answer to changing education and engaging students. There must be a balance between high-tech tools (or notions) while not leaving behind the low-tech materials and props that can make your class unforgettable.

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Advantages to using high-tech

There are many advantages that jump out at you when you consider high-tech in an ELT classroom. Some of the obvious ones are having access to immediate almost unlimited resources, which is a huge time-saving tool for us, teachers. But let’s look at some other advantages that high-tech aids could represent for us.

  • Faster and mobile: Any activity, in theory, will be faster and mobile allowing students to interact, participate and move around while they do so. The fact of having technology on small devices like tablets and phones opens the door to the types of activities that we can plan.
  • Collaborative: Of course, being connected allows our students, ourselves and even fellow teachers to interconnect and collaborate in a way that they’ve never been able to before.
  • More engagement and motivation: Especially for younger learners who have been brought up around technology, learning through these devices seems to be more engaging, entertaining and motivational. Students will usually get excited about doing an activity in front of a screen rather than on paper.
  • Transferable technological skills: Today’s world needs more professionals that are tech savvy and feel comfortable innovating and finding new ways to change the status quo. With an increasing number of nomad workers and professionals, technological tools will come in even handier. Who knows, maybe that tool they used with you in class will come in handy down the line.
  • Learner independence: Once they learn how to use the tools, where to find the information and how to find what they need and want, they are free to do it on their own, as independent learners.
  • Integrate CLIL, project-based and content-based learning: In the case of any of the new emerging methods, you can easily integrate them into your curriculums with access to technology and devices in the class. It will make finding the content, sharing it and keeping track of student’s work relatively seamless.

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Advantages to using low-tech

When analyzing how low-tech activities can help in an ELT classroom, some teachers may feel it’s just easier to use tech, while others still prefer to make those flashcards themselves. I think low-tech tools for the classroom are just as beneficial to students and can bring their own advantages.

  • Hands-on activities: Our students are so used to doing everything on a device that some have even lost practice writing by hand, drawing or doing anything manual for that matter. This gives our students of all ages the opportunity to do hands-on activities that allow them to show and explore their creative side.
  • Promote face-to-face communication: Our society is becoming more and more isolated as our communication is reducing itself to social networks, even with family and close friends who live in the same city. Promoting activities that allow our students to interact in ways that don’t involve a screen will help their interpersonal skills.
  • Creative and critical thinking: Facing students with situations where they have to interact, discuss, debate and create with classmates will not only help them become engaged but will help them discover new skills that they will need later on in real life.
  • No budget, doesn’t matter: In many schools around the world, there is simply no budget to have a device for every child, or even one for the classroom, which leads to teachers wondering how they will ever engage and teach students. The fact of the matter is that with low-tech ideas teachers won’t have to depend so heavily on budget and lack of technological resources at schools.
  • Promotes resourcefulness: The fact of having to go “old-school” for a lesson plan may seem like something quite difficult, for those of us accustomed to using tech in our classrooms. In reality, not using it promotes resourcefulness not only for students but for teachers. We as teachers can also find benefits in figuring out ways to get our students to be engaged without using a device.
  • Transferable skills: By prompting students into an environment that promotes creative and critical thinking, hands-on activities and interpersonal skills, they will begin to see useful applications for them in real life. In fact, some of these skills are the ones that are lacking in many of our youth today, and in part this is because of their inability to develop skills in a context other than their devices.

 

Finding the balance

In cases where teachers do have access to technological devices for their students, it’s all about finding a balance. Blowing off low-tech activities all together can also be problematic for a number of reasons like not allowing students to develop their other real-life skills. On the other hand, for those who don’t have technology available to you and your students, don’t worry. At the end of the day, we are trying to get our students to acquire knowledge of the language through content and a series of skills, and this can be done just as well through low-tech or high-tech activities. Don’t underestimate the power of a paper and pen, the best ideas have come from notes that were written on a napkin. Let’s focus more on the content, rather than the mean used to deliver it. I have seen inspirational teachers get their message across to completely engaged students with little or no resources. Let’s dream big and find ways to make our students fall in love with English and want to become autonomous learners, independent if we use high-tech or low-tech resources.

 

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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!

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.