Waiting at the Airport and Brainstorming on Lesson Planning

A lot of my time is spent at airports as I travel Colombia giving training sessions at schools, universities, and institutes. I truly love my job, yes, even the traveling part. I get some of my best ideas while traveling (and waiting).
So, here I am just leaving Armenia, Colombia and once again faced with waiting at an airport and psyched because it allows me time to create new ideas of my own. After each session I walk away with so many creative and innovative teaching ideas and strategies from the amazing teachers I meet that I usually end up in a brainstorming airport session. This time my thoughts take me to lesson planning.
I am big on doodling and use this technique all the time to prepare presentations, and even classes. Albeit I am a huge tech geek, I still find that paper is the best way to map out my ideas and make sense of all the crazy ideas that pop into my head.

What is doodling?
Well, doodling is one way to say it, but you could think of it like mind mapping or sktechnoting as well. All of these are great ways to put on paper your thoughts in a way that allows you to associate freely, create links, and visualize your thoughts in an easy way. Now, I want to focus specifically on sktechnoting because I think it could be a great way to plan your lessons, especially for those of us that don’t think linearly and can’t fit all of our ideas in a rigid lesson plan design.

Ok, quick pause, just had to share the view from my window on my way back to Medellin before I kept going.

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What do you need to doodle?
First things first, you have to be prepared to sketchnote anywhere you go, so if you’re going to get on board with this technique then you should start carrying around a notebook and a pen or pencil. Now, what you use will depend on what your intention is.

What to write on?
Loose paper> if you’re just taking a quick note to get your ideas straight and organize them, well this is the way to go. Any loose paper, napkin or recycled paper will do.
Notepad> a small notepad will do if you have quick, random thoughts you want to keep track of.
Notebook> if you are invested in keeping a log of your sketchnotes and want to revisit them whenever you want and maybe even add or modify them, then you’ll definitely need a notebook. I definitely recommend this if you are going to be lesson planning.

What to sketchnote with?
You can sketch with anything you like but you should consider how permanent you want your ideas to be. With pencil you can be less restrictive and easily erase mistakes, although you will have to additionally carry around a sharpener or leads. With pens or markers, on the other hand, it can be a bit more challenging because you really need to commit to each stroke.

How to sketchnote?
There really are no set rules to sketchnoting. It’s all about unleashing your creativity, adding “picto-notes” (this is a made up word I saw which means making a drawing of something you can’t quite explain in words), fun lettering, colors, frames, arrows and anything else that will let you visualize your ideas.
Finally, remember you don’t need to be an artist to doodle or sketchnote. Anyone can do it, it’s not about drawing a masterpiece, it’s about putting your ideas on paper.

Why sketchnoting can be useful for lesson planning?
When I plan, I usually begin from the end and work my way back. I know what I want my student to be able to do at the end of the session, and then I start working my way back slowly. I make sure that every single activity in the session has a clear purpose and helps me to reach my target. By sketchnoting, I can easily go back and forth and make sure there is a linguistic, lexical and communicative connection to everything I’m including in the lesson. I usually add colors for the different skills, grammar or vocabulary I’m including so I can visually make sure I’m recycling it enough for students to get it. I usually try to work my way through at least 3 of the 4 skills to teach one grammar topic and a group of vocabulary words.
By keeping a notebook, you can focus on long-term planning as well, because it’s not only important to make sure that there’s a thread connecting all of the activities in one class. It’s just as important to plan your course goals and plan backwards to help you map out when and where you should include each topic, how long you have to focus on each one and what you should recycle throughout the course because students didn’t quite get it in a previous class. So, sketchnoting not only lets you plan the class but also write feedback or extra notes on how it went and what to remember for the next session.

If you need help to get started you can try this kind of format which gives you framework to start off with, or you can simply get a blank piece of paper and get started. Either way, you should definitely give it a try.

More ideas for planning with sketchnoting from an interesting blog I found.

Well, guys I’ve reached my final destination so hope you enjoyed this traveling post and tune in next time where I’m going to explore what makes a good target or goal for your class.

Here are some of my examples:
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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.

 

 

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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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.

 

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!