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.

 

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.

 

Week #2: Are you using 21st century skills in the classroom?

Last week’s results!

As part of this series of exploring 21st century skills, last week I asked:

What’s your take on using technology in the classroom?

So, most people voted for “I love using tech in and out of the classroom and include it in everything” and “I love using tech, but I try to keep a balance between lo-tech and hi-tech activities in the classroom”. Now, I wasn’t very surprised by the results, because I figured most teachers out there that are not very tech savvy would not be exploring my blog and answering polls, but at the same time, I saw something quite interesting. I think we all realize the importance of using tech in the today’s classroom, but most of us may struggle with which tech to use, how and when to use it and how much of it we should be using? My task this week will be to investigate these questions in depth during to see what other teachers are saying and what research is out there, so stay tuned for my next post to discover  what I found out.

This week’s question

Continuing with understanding 21st century skills in the ELT classroom, here’s the next question:

Every week I’ll ask a new question to get a feel for where we stand in terms of using 21st century skills in the ELT classroom. Based on the responses I’ll write a post with different strategies to implement innovative and creative ways to apply these skills. The more responses the better because I’ll be able to make the post as specific to your questions and doubts about using 21st century skills in the classroom as possible.

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Week #1: Are you using 21st century skills in the classroom?

Answer this question and later find out if you’ve already started or are in the process of starting to use 21st century skills in the ELT classroom.

Every week I’ll ask a new question to get a feel for where we stand in terms of using 21st century skills in the ELT classroom. Based on the responses I’ll write a post with different strategies to implement innovative and creative ways to make the transition as smooth as possible. The more responses the better because I’ll be able to make the post as specific to your questions and doubts about using 21st century skills in the classroom as possible.