#EVOMC2021 Day 1 – The beginning!

This is my first day on EVO Minecraft Mooc 2021. I have tried to follow this group of educators before so I did have a Minecraft account and a discord account. This made my first day much easier. I have to say that connecting the to EVOMC21 Minecraft server was a lot easier this time and I was pleasantly suprised by a mc world when I got into the server.

This was my first pic of the new world that I have entered into. It is a bit daunting at the beginning and really I don’t know what to do. I will go back to http://missions4evomc.pbworks.com/w/page/141007341/2021_Week1#MissionsforWeek2Declare and watch a few howto videos, to begin with.

Minecraft basics.

Good video to start with. Gave me the information that I needed to find my way around but still need more information like how do I talk with the rest of the participants on discord and even send msgs on MC to other participants.

Surviving your first 20 minutes on MC – Vance Stevens

This video helps a lot. I got the gist of the game and started to wonder around my world.

One question that came to mind on the EVO MC server is that if I have to do those things myself becuase the world was already built for me…

Connecting with the EVO team in game really helped!

It’s good to connect with the EVOMC team in game. Got a few insider tips.

  1. T is to talk to others on the server (and this is ghosted on the discord server too!)
  2. /sethome home is to set the place where you are as your home.

This was really interesting. I’m sure I can get some more tips from my students tomorrow! I’ve got quite a few of them that are really into MC!

Here are a few pics of me with other EVO MC Members!

Me at my first bbq!
Me getting tips for TeacherVance and Olvetree about how to bbq fish!
Family potrait of TeacherVance and Bobbibear!

Overall, it was a overwhelming experience. I felt a bit lost, but the chat helped a lot. The team there quickly got me into the gist of things and helped me understand what I should be doing.

As was informed, the server is in survival mode so tomorrow I am thinking about exploring the world and see if I can find a spot of my own!

Back again! Happy New year everyone!

Has been a while since my last post. I suppose so much has happened during the pandemic, don’t know where to start, really. Well, firstly, I want to wish everyone (or anyone!) reading this a happy new year full of health, laughter and happiness.

I suppose what got me coming back here is me signing up as a participant, for an Electronic Village Online session (more here EVO2021) after a long time since I am also a moderator in the Flipped Learning in language teaching session too (more info here ). Personally, I have a thirst for knwoledge for anything that has to do with making learning fun and more interesting, including gamification. Therfore I have wanted to advance my knowledge in Minecraftand and this free EVO session from well-known global educators is my chance. Here’s a link (here) if you are also interested!

Luckily, I have done some prior research so I do have a Mojang Minecraft account and a discord account. So not much to do before we start on Sunday, I believe. The only concern I have is if the live sessions are going to clash with our Flipped sessions, but not to worry because recordings are cool too…

Categories CPD

Teaching With Songs: Jigsaw Viewing with Sia’s adorable Snowman!

Always enjoy using SAF activities with my learners mostly as a warmer or filler activity. I suggest going through and trying one in your next online (or f2f) class.

Song Activity Factory


There are numerous websites for teachers out there, but here is

the place to be if you believe in the power of using songs to teach English!.

If you’re a BELIEVER, here you’ll find Creativity, Inspiration,Teaching Ideas and Resources to bring Musicalinnovation to your English Language Teaching Practice!

Whether you teach English online or not, using songs to teach has a wider scope than you think, and it is not restricted to listening exercises with songs or gap-fill. Check my older posts and don’t be afraid to try something new!

This week, SAF features SIA and her marvelous music video for: SNOWMAN!

I hope YOU and your students have a BLAST with it!


This song-based STEP-BY-STEP LESSON PLAN  for ENGLISH language TEACHING features the lyrics and music video for “SNOWMAN” by SIA

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Song-based materials from TEFL-ers around the world!

Love using song-based lessons in my EFL classrooms! Check these out.

The TEFL Zone

The end of the school year is almost here! I don’t know about you but I’m really looking forward to it! This year has been quite challenging for both students and teachers!

Are you looking for interesting, no-prep activities for your last week of classes?

Why not use song-based lesson plans for a fun school year end? 🙂

1. These are the ones I created this semester, based on top trending songs. They include both language and skills practice.

2. Márcia Mars Bonfim has created 18 brilliant song-based lesson plans for B2 exam practice! You can find them all here:


3. Cristina Cabal has also shared lots of song worksheets on her blog:

Blog de Cristina

4. Cool English, which is an amazing site, has created song clips you can use…

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Proctoring your online writing classes

So where do I start? Now that I’ve got your attention with a flashy title let’s just start off defining the word “proctoring”. According to the Cambridge online dictionary,  the word “to proctor” means “to watch people taking an exam in order to check that they do not cheat”. I suppose if I leave this in the context of emergency remote online teaching this is easier said than done. Moreover, I’m not sure if this is where I want to take my thinking at all. The first thing that pop’s up in my head is a meme I saw on social media with a child in front of a screen and a mum holding a dictionary under the table helping her son pass the writing test. Personally, I believe that we as teachers are not responsible for just supervising a writing test. This is something that examination bodies should think about now that current trends are moving towards online solutions for examinations.

We as teachers should be thinking in another direction with our writing classes. We should be moving towards the ultimate goal of creating autonomous learners and trying to instil the love of writing in our students so they can feel that writing is a form of expression, a way to express feelings and to portray imagination and creativity. Easier said than done, right? Well, there could be a way to do just that.

Let’s begin. The first thing I want to talk about is writing classes. Due to the coronavirus crisis, we were all forced to teach online. Surely, most of you found ways to go around the hurdle of getting students to write online. Most of you used methods like getting them to write a piece of writing on paper and then sending it as a photo to some sort of communication medium, whether it be an email or a platform like Google Classroom or Edmodo. Some of you got your students to type their writing piece and send it to you for corrections. These methods are perfectly fine, but what was the result? My guess was that most students wrote exactly the same as the would have done in class. Some students excelled, some did ok and others were not to a high standard. What I had in mind for my students though was different.

If we look into the real world, you would all agree with me that most writing takes place in front of a computer screen. Nothing like what is expected of students when in exam classes. So how can we take writing for English lessons out of just writing for the teacher/examiner and make it more meaningful for our students? For one thing, we keep our methodology of teaching writing intact, i.e pre-teach vocabulary, rubric analysis, model essay analysis and the like and but change the way we approach it. Think of ways of putting the burden on the to preparing guided self-paced lessons which could be used in class both off and online. Something that I feel is inevitable too and is my quick and easy take on this matter is to get them to write their composition on paper; in class? at home? Whichever way suits your style of teaching and then just tweaking the correction stages to coaching them to becoming autonomous writers.

So how do we push the scale of creating versions and correction of own mistakes towards our students? Easy, offer them the chance to use a few quick and easy tools to correct their own mistakes and improve their writing. Take advantage of free online writing tools that even professional writers use. Let’s have a look at this idea in more detail:

For one thing, make use of digital material to flip your teaching. Even if you are returning to face-to-face classes, take advantage of the fact that most learners now have access to their own devices getting them to bring it to class. The idea of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to class is already among us and is used in some schools around the world already. I suggest creating a digital activity sheet around ready-made and widely available free resources such as youtube videos and self answering quiz, having your students show you when they achieve each task. It could be a grammar point you want them to know before writing or even a vocabulary-building skill. Have a look at the below google doc from a fellow moderator from the Flipped Learning in Langauge teaching EVO 2020 TESOL sessions, Diana K. Salazar is an English teacher in Colombia at the Rochester bilingual school, teaching Writing for 4th grade. She used the in-class approach and wrapped the activity in the form of a google doc (see image below) in an online class as a game board but it could have easily been used for a face to face class too. In-class flip 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png
Diana K. Salazar’s in-class flip writing board game.

Just as she mentions in her title, “This study guide aims to prepare you in an interactive, fun and catchy way for the final exam of English Writing”. Let me repeat that, fun and catchy way to prepare for an exam. See, make it meaningful and “wham” they’re engaged. Another reason I really loved this piece and decided to show it as-is is the way this doc was created in a very short time, taking advantage of all those unlimited videos, quiz, and articles without the need of recreating endless pages of own work. My biggest problem before this was if I gave a quiz, exercises or reading pages how could I check that they had completed them. I would have gotten them to create accounts for web apps, like Kahoot, edpuzzle, wordwall, quizalise, quizziz and the list would be endless, and then log in to the each and every dashboard to see if they did them.  Using the in-class flip way, the proof of completion is not in the exercise but in understanding what you have completed. Read these articles and create a graphic organiser to show your understanding. By all means, this isn’t new, it’s just another way to look at what a coursebook would have in the form of columns of information and exercises. Sure beats a coursebook, but also takes advantage of a coursebook too. If you look at the first, bottom left box in Diana’s board game she actually quotes page 68 of her coursebook and gives it to them in digital format to save time.

So break your lesson down into interesting chunks, put the burden on students to prove that they have understood and completed their blocks and get that final composition handed in. Then what? Correct it and give it back to them? I was thinking more of reading over with them, why not getting them to read it to you to check on fluency and pronunciation and then for homework get them to type it up in google docs and use a spellchecker like Grammarly (chrome extension) to self-correct their work. This way, they can spot their own errors and if those errors are fossilized, it might even help them to see those errors in the future. For a final stage get them to share their google doc with you so you can go over their draft and suggest changes or improvements more like an editor rather than a teacher.

One thing I get them to do once they have their final draft ready is to get them to publish it on the internet as an article. We have a school blog which we get our students to use so they can feel that their article is available for all to read. Have a look at our school blog here.

Overall, now that we are returning to our face-to-face classes don’t stop taking advantage of the digital tools we have readily available. Even if you don’t have access to them in class you could still get your students using them out of class. Something very important to me is, always plan your activity to be as meaningful and relevant to your student as possible and try to make it fun too!

Thanking ELTnews and flforum.gr for the invite.

About setting goals

I always try to start out my lessons by talking to my students about the importance of goals and steps on how to achieve them. This is part of my way of creating a needs analysis of my students. I ask them what they think of how people learn a foreign language and get them to talk about how they see themselves as language learners. I follow through by getting them to set personal goals about their learning path and how they will achieve this. This helps them get the feel of what to expect from my lessons and what is expected of them.

Stating the above though, I can say that the results and the feedback I get from this activity aren’t that idealistic as you would at first think. Even though I have tried quite a few different techniques to help students set goals in class like getting them to set SMART goals or other types of goals, the reflective feedback I usually get from my students is that they find this activity not so relevant to learning English and thus they don’t actually say it but, I can sense it that they feel that it wasn’t a very helpful learning activity for them. I know this is set in their beliefs of how they should be learning a language and just want to get straight into the bits of language that might help them supposedly learn. It’s not all doom and gloom though because I know that their way of learning is not always the best way of learning and that this has not been so successful for them in the past.

Having to prepare for my next new class, I thought it would be a good idea to design and plan something more solid and more useful for all my lessons and for my school. So, I did a routine I always do when I am trying to learn something new, I indulge in immersive online research and reading. This usually takes me a couple of hours or so, and to tell you the truth it racks my brain and I mostly end up overloaded. You could say that I end up with an information-overload feeling. So, this morning I thought I would straight up reflect on what I have been researching and maybe this way would help me shape what I want to do next.

I decided I wanted to create a new needs analysis form which I would fill in with my students online. I chose a generic form from ISL Collective that I found will be just right. Have a look at it here.

Next up I did some Internet research on setting goals. By doing some keyword research for goals and setting them, I touched on the idea of setting smart goals. One thing that I was interested in by the use of smart goals was how to set them and what questions should I have in mind when facilitating this activity. Here are a few interesting bits’ n bobs I found.

Goal setting guidelines:

  1. Your goal must be conceivable
  2. make your goal believable
  3. Your goal must be achievable
  4. Make your goal measurable
  5. Be sure to set one purpose only

Setting SMART goals:

S-Specific. Don’t confuse wishes with specific goals. Don’t over broaden your goals. I often hear goals like, “I want the Proficiency”. Why? “to have the qualities I need to get into Greek public service”. And then I usually tell them, “What if I could help you learn the language in such a way that it would be interesting and meaningful to you and as a consequence help you ace the C2 level exam too?”, most of them usually like that idea.

M-Measurable. I usually tell them to measure what is success to them. I try and convince them that an honest return on Investment after taking part in language learning would be to attain the desired outcome and have learnt a way to sustain and improve language learning. So here I would say things like, “What about watching a movie without subtitles and understanding most of it?”

A-Achievable. So how do you define achievable. I suppose the example I use in my classes be the most relevant unachievable goal for myself a bit too extreme. I tell them that I want to go to the moon as an astronaut, but given my age, not that I’m old or anything, it would be a very difficult task to achieve (my philosophy in life is, nothing is unachievable- but that’s wishful thinking!). So, I prefer them saying things like, I want to be able to speak fluently with as little as errors possible than the typical, ” I want to sound like and American native speaker”.

R-Realistic. This one is a difficult issue. Most of my learners come to me and wanting to achieve a fluent “Received pronunciation” like British accent, without the thinking about what fluency really means to the world now. So, here is where I get into the ideas of “Who is a true Brit and what is their accent like?”, “Globalization and keeping your local identity”, “English as a lingua-franca and the ideas of correct pronunciation over native like accents.

T-Time bound. There should be a start date and an end date.

Like this presentation from SlideShare here.

And found some questions to facilitate this activity here. Examples shown below.

  • What is it you want to accomplish?
  • Who wants to accomplish the goal?
  • Why do you want to achieve this goal?
  • How are you going to make it happen?

Finishing, I also like talking to my students about motivation and ways to stay committed. In the past, one area of interest in which I have looked into is Zoltan Dornyei’s L2 Motivational self-system. This system lies on the belief of a student’s motivational language learning behavior, that is their efforts, choice and persistence will be largely affected by three variables: their ideal L2 self, to what extent can students imagine themselves and highly proficient language learners, their Ought-to L2 self, which is what outside pressures students acknowledge throughout the learning process, and finally their language learning experience, which influences attitudes their classroom processes (Dornyei).

So, questions I want to ask my students are:

  • How do you vision your ideal L2 self?
  • How is your life affected by getting a certification and by knowing the language?
  • What is your ideal classroom experience?

There’s more… so to be continued…but until I do, what do you do to set goals with your students?


Teaching to a black screen.

Teaching online has its days. Yesterday, in one of my classes, no matter what I tried and believe me it was a well-prepared lesson about ‘famous’ people and most of the class was about how we could charm a somewhat famous person attend a small session with us in our ‘zoomroom’, nothing worked and it was mostly a class of the black screen for me.

I want to talk about black screens today because I believe it is strongly connected to student activation and engagement. Engagement in second language acquisition (SLA) is twofold and not only is it coined as being something your learners should have it they are motivated to learn also it’s about having the will of giving you their full attention and focus. It is often said that this is the new-age type of students. They say that millennials are multitaskers, they can watch tv and listen to music and maybe be active on social media at the same time. This for me however surely means that they share their attention and that basically, they don’t want to give you their full attention. Also, this to me says, “Your not boring, I’m in your class, I got out of my way to attend and I’ll do my share of work, but I don’t want to give you my full focus; I’ve got other stuff more interesting to me than you.”

Most students close cameras on the pretence of being embarrassed, or having a bad hair day or not liking their learning environment or having their little brother with them. Some scholars say that during remote emergency learning we should not pressure our students to open their cameras because they might indeed not be feeling comfortable with their personal learning environment. The truth of the matter is I agree with not pushing too hard for students to open their cameras, but lately, I have been noticing that this state is contagious and that all students are slowly using it as an excuse for not opening their camera.

In a class, yesterday, all my students were reluctant to open their cameras for me.  I did try to convince my students to open, but in a short while they switched off and even though I tried, they won in the end because I was losing time and seeing my objective going out the window. So I did spend time talking things out but ended up going back to the lesson as not to lose their attention completely.  And what struck me, yesterday is at the start of class when I was alone with one student, I got him to open his camera to say hello which he did, and as soon as another student entered the class, he immediately switched off his camera. Another case was after having a conversation on internet bandwidths and speeds of connection, one of my students who always uses his speed of connection as a problem to switch off his camera boasted about how fast a connection he has to all of us. This was actually mentioned to me by another student told him, who said to him, “why do you say that you never have enough bandwidth to open your camera since you have 100Mbps download and 10Mbps upload”, that’s a really fast connection for home internet!

So the truth of the matter is, even though we have our students motivated enough to come to our online class because they could have just say, “online doesn’t work” and that “my parents shouldn’t be paying for these types of lessons”, the fact that they attend without turning on their video is saying that they are just not engaged enough to do so. If your not actively involving them in an activity which needs for them to be seen, then they prefer to do your activities without their video turned on.

This preference is what needs to be discussed. Should we allow this to happen should this be talked out with all students separately and discussed as a prerequisite?  What do you do with the students who genuinely do have problems?

The more you allow this to happen in your classes the more disengaged learners you will eventually end up with. I believe that this notion should be actively talked about amongst older students and we should reach an agreement towards everyone being actively involved and having their cameras switched on.

For me, in my next lesson, it’s time to redo classroom rules, maybe work upon these rules through a google doc or a collaborative Canva drawing activity. Get them to collaboratively write the rules and to create an infographic of “our ‘zoomroom’ rules”

A good way to create ‘zoomroom’ dynamics and restart my class with a new outlook.

Photo by z yu on Unsplash

Disaster recipe: Collaborative writing online and young teens

They say the older students get the more attention span they acquire. I don’t really know if this is a true fact. Especially now with all my lessons having being moved online, I get to witness even the good students not wanting to focus in on me presenting something to them for even four minutes. This I found out yesterday when I had a group of four EFL students at a B1 level for a two-hour writing session. I had planned to do a writing session with them and planned to make it as interesting as possible, and mind you, even though I should get others to vouch for me, I myself was impressed with my own lesson plan which was quite impressive to say the least.

This lesson plan incorporated a nice warm-up activity to engage my learners on the topic of Mobile phones and young children. We watched a video about the use of mobile phones by young children where brainstormed ideas about the pros and cons of students using mobile phones were written on a padlet wall. Thereafter we reviewed a rubric from a model answer before we started reading and analysing a model answer. Sounds good so far? Well, after getting them engaged in the topic, getting them to collaborate on the padlet and all together read the model essay, which I found went well, all  I had to do after getting their attention was to show them a few key points in the main body paragraphs, giving emphasis to cohesive devices used by the author to link ideas together. (see image below) After at the most four minutes of presenting and underlining I started asking CCQs, that’s when it hit me that one of my students hadn’t been following me. He found my presentation time to switch off and let his mind wander which meant he didn’t pick up enough about how to structure a for and against discursive essay.

At the time, I was pretty disturbed. I found his behaviour upsetting and disrespectful, I put so much effort into this lesson plan and he just switched off. Then I thought, wouldn’t you switch off if you had something more interesting to think about? Especially, being in your own home, in your bedroom with your PJs on? Being honest, I probably would.

So this is where I had to differentiate. What I did for the following write up stage of my lesson is I uploaded the topic to a Google Doc and got them to write a paragraph each. They didn’t know that this could be done so they found it quite captivating. Below is an image which shows my students working on a google doc together. What I did was allocate a paragraph to each student depending on what I thought would benefit each of them. I got the weaker students to concentrate on the main body paragraphs and got the stronger ones to be more creative when writing the introduction and conclusion.

collaborative writing

I put a copy of the rubric in the Doc and wrote the titles of the main parts of the essay of I wanted them to write. After I shared the doc, they opened it on their pc and one of them directly on their mobile phone.

It took them about twenty minutes to complete the task and in the meantime, I had time to scaffold the structure of the main body paragraph to the student that had listened to me in the presentation stage.

The overall outcome was reasonable, and they were actually quite happy to get to write another essay in their own time. towards the end

Finally, I took their essay and plugged it into analyzmywriting.com which measured lexical density and got an average scale of around 50% which I explained that this was reasonable at the B1 Level. They like the idea of analysing their text using tools so I found this a chance to explain some more details about this analysis and promised them that we will do more with this tool in the near future.

lexical density writing

Overall, the practical part of the lesson was really interesting for them, but sometimes if a student wants to switch off while you present something, even though you think it’s very important for them and try to make it as interesting as possible for them, they will. Quickly, when this happened to me yesterday, I had thought, I should’ve flipped the presentation stage of this lesson plan and gave it to them to complete in their individual learning space and at their own pace. That way we would’ve got even more done in the group learning space. So flip it, is what I’m going to do with this for my next class.

Lesson plan: On the Bright Side of Quarantine

What really amazes me with our ELT field is that it is based on an idea that sharing your creations like materials and lesson plans not only to help other teachers be inspired and adapt tested activities, but also help the sharer reflect thus evolve as a professional educator. One such professional educator that I truly admire and that always shares his awesome work is Miguel Míguez.

Here’s a lesson plan based on the current covid19 lockdown situation and what really got my attention from this lesson idea is how he found a Lithuania photographer, Adas Vasiliauskas,  who happened to do a project on coronavirus lockdown and turn it into an inspiring idea to have meaningful conversations with my student which just might motivate them to end up expressing themselves in writing. Will definitely use this plan in my advanced class today. Very current topic with an interesting way of using this material in our class.

Amazing images for nonstop online class participation.

Quick not on how I will modify Miquel’s lesson plan. Basically, I will use his suggested activities as they are but since Miguel offered a word document for students as a file,  I adapted it as a google doc for my online classes. I will end up sharing the link to this google doc, get my students to make a copy for themselves and share their link back to me. So while we are in the lesson, when they are writing, I will be able to view their documents at the same time and individually comment on anything that might help. As a quick communication tool, I use Padlet.com for sharing links, docs, and getting feedback from students.

Thanks again, Miquel!

On the same page

Lithuanian photographer Adas Vasiliauskas has been using a drone to capture pictures of people in their homes since the country went under quarantine on 16th March, 2020. Each portrait is an imaginative exercise in creativity by the dwellers, too. “I started this project to give people a chance to brighten their day in this negative corona information environment,” says Adas. “I believe that these funny photos remind everyone that sitting quarantined at home can be fun too. And, of course, to remind everybody that you need to keep your social distance during these times.”

I contacted Adas about the possibility of using some of his photographs for a lesson and he readily agreed to it. His work provides such an inspiring and vibrant context that it will be difficult for students not to come up with unique, memorable personal responses to it — and we all know how important…

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What role does pedagogy have on this current digital stage?

*This article is to be featured in an online magazine.

In the days of COVID19 in which governments around the world have required us to work at home to save our lives and the lives around us, we have seen an unprecedented number of schools and teachers transfer their classrooms online. This has brought about tremendous stress on both students and teachers. On a larger scale in Greece, two main factions have arisen, the one says that online schooling should not be done without proper pedagogical insight and the later have started online teaching already. The question that arises amongst those who have opted for online teaching is do they have the proper training to support such an endeavour?

When we look at online schooling, it is not about knowing how to use digital tools that are needed to conduct such lessons. It is a whole lot more and is mostly about how you as a teacher can keep the teaching style that you have in your physical classroom before the coronavirus outbreak and instil them in your digital classroom. 

How do you support your teaching style in an online environment? 

This is where your knowledge of what can be done online and what not is most valuable. This expertise can be attained by either your personal learning network (PLN) that you already have or through a plethora of online sites giving you such information. Sure, one solution is to gather your students online and do your lessons. Saying that you could also do your lessons online without trying to use any of the available features of these such tools like breakout sessions and the use of the digital whiteboard. Sure it is ok not to find other digital tools to create engaging activities for your students as the core of your lesson plan or even as warmers or fillers, but how engaging and effective will that be for your students? Will your students’ motivational levels be high enough to keep them engaged in your lesson? Will you tap into their higher-order thinking skills by following the coursebook page by page (This applies to both online and off). How will they feel when you are at the centre of the classroom all the time and not them? If that is what you do anyway in your physical classes, then that is what will happen to your digital classes, but if you want to have that same magical effect you have when you are in your physical classes and keep your teaching style the same both online and off, then you have to be a lot more prepared when you get online. 

What methods of delivery do we have for online teaching?

Pedagogy is the science of teaching and is the method or approach we as teachers adopt for the delivery of our instruction. In practice, there are a variety of strategies to deliver instruction, whether online or offline; here a few strategies that teachers look at in the service of digital and blended learning environments. 

For one thing, teachers use flexible grouping strategies in their classrooms and commonly decide on who will sit with whom before class. In general, ‘flexible grouping’ is used to differentiate instruction to cater to all levels of students by grouping them into small groups, pairs or using the whole class instruction model. This strategy gives us the chance to focus on certain issues some students might have in the use of certain skills by differentiating instruction. Thus, keeping this strategy for your online classes is very important too. 

Typically, online you can achieve flexible grouping by using breakout sessions. Most serious online synchronous meeting tools do have this option. One example where you could apply flexible grouping is the think, pair, share routine in which you pose a question to your students, get them to think about it for a few minutes, having them take notes, and pairing them into breakout rooms to discuss and document results for about 7-8 minutes. Upon their return, they will be asked to share their discussion with the rest of the class. Indeed, you can not view all your breakout sessions at the same time. Yet, because this routine is known (or at least easy to teach) and you have planned your staging, your students will not let you down. Not to mention that you could always call on the option of popping in on them or adding an element of competitiveness to your task by getting them to police each other while in pair mode.

Also, taking advantage of collaboration strategies in your classes will work towards maximising your class time and eliminating the ‘one hand at a time’ discussion. This is even more prominent in online lessons where ‘one hand at a time’ becomes even more tiresome which adding to poor quality of internet connection could involve ample time loss. To plan collaborative tasks you might have to take advantage of a digital collaborative tool for a class discussion which could maximise class participation even to 100 per cent. This would even allow students who are not comfortable engaging in physical class discussion the opportunity to be heard.

Thereafter, there are other strategies that one could use to apply to online learning but these also apply to physical classes. There are options like Project-based learning (PBL) or Inquiry-based learning to choose from, but again choosing these methods boils down to the teaching-style you have in physical classes. One choice that is more of an approach than a structured method is the use of Flipped learning strategies for language teaching. This approach relies on the notion of saving valuable class time by taking out the teacher ‘chalk n’ talk’ time from the group learning space putting into the individual learning space or in other words the students own time; taking advantage of the group learning space to make use of more collaborative and communicative tasks. This by nature will get students using the language for extended periods of class time resulting in the reduction of students passively listening to the teacher.

No matter which pedagogy you apply or which strategy you embrace for your online classes, the most important thing you should keep in mind is that you could get away with not adequately planning your lesson in your physical classes and improvising your way through, due to experience. In online classes, there is a big chance that you might not only lose a noticeable amount of time due to technical issues but because of a lack of preparation, this time might multiply and lead to your students becoming disengaged resulting to loss of focus and connection.

Photo by Vincent Ghilione on Unsplash

So what’s the deal with online engagement? Can it work?

Inevitably so much has happened since my previous post. Due to Covid19 shutdown in Greece, our physical school has been closed since the 11th of March. Even though our digital school was up and running the next day, it took me 19 days to get my head around all that has happened to actually sit down and reflect. This post is about what has been going on in our digital classes and what are our next challenges to overcome in keeping our learners engaged. Saying that you have to know that I am not only interested in the engagement of individual students to learn; I am similarly interested in keeping my learners engaged as a community of learners at the school level. This ‘engagement’ is according to Zoltan Dornyei’s theory of engagement which means keeping our students motivated but also willing to interact with your curriculum in their free time and furthermore be active as a whole community. We want our community of learners to be actively involved in their learning.  The focus of this post will mostly be given to student motivation and engagement in online classrooms and how to continue to get students actively accept responsibility for their own learning which in the most part will keep students engaged and motivated. In theory, it sounds astonishing but in actual practice, it is easier said than done.

You might be wondering, why did I immediately get my school online? For one thing, I realised that firstly, I can, I was technically able to get my whole team online in a day because the infrastructure was in place anyway, and I had a well-trained team of teachers. But, secondly, I wanted to keep my community of learners active and involved and not at home and feeling depressed with what was going on around them in life. I didn’t want this Covid issue to completely affect my students’ routine. A community of learners that especially this year at our school have shown wonderful signs of growth and maturity in their own autonomous learning by using our infrastructure and course design.

Now nineteen days later, after the lockdown due to the Covid-19 virus, most teachers around the globe are now familiar with terms like ‘synchronous & asynchronous learning’ and the various digital tools readily available. So what about our students? Were they familiar with the digital context? Yes, you say? After all, they are the ‘generation Z’ generation and they are certainly familiar with learning from online resources. Well, that’s not entirely true.. Most of my young learners do use tech tools like ‘YouTube’ for leisure learning i.e. learning everything about how nothing at all, but they weren’t at all used to online digital classroom learning. One of the first observations I found that some teens, especially, had to come to terms with feelings of being exposed in front of their peers in an online classroom. Which was strange because their classmates hadn’t changed. This led to some having their web camera closed calling on technical problems as a reason. For them, they felt that they were being exposed and if they had to communicate that would put them in the spotlight. Saying that some other students, as Nikos Sifakis said in his vlog (Sifakis, 3.47) , did have an initial excitement and were eager to engage with us in an online learning setting, but as he warns this initial excitement will be lost if we as teachers don’t adjust to this new teaching medium.

I have to admit, in our first online lessons, a lot of effort was put into the presentation of new material, having students passively listening and allocating homework. This felt safe for the teacher, but we knew immediately this was not an effective way of teaching and was leading to the rapid demotivation of our students. Yet, it did buy us some time to learn more about how we could go about making our lessons more proactive.

And this all boils down to the correct use of pedagogy and as all teachers know is the method and the practice of teaching. Keeping your online lessons alive means having a sound lesson plan which has been well thought out to work online. That means think of an activity you have used in class and rethink of it for use in an online setting. There is bound to be a workaround. If not consult your personal learning network, they’ll know what do to. And another thing, give them more talk time, keep teacher talk time to a minimum and get them actively involved in what you are doing. give them control over what they are learning because if you don’t, this goes especially to the tweens and older teens, they’ll be thinking or doing something else which is much easier to fool you in a digital class than it is in a physical class.


Gamification in your School: Design, Plan, Execute -41st TESOL Greece Convention

Here’s my talk notes on gamification from my presentation at TESOL Greece Convention back at the beginning of March 2020. It was my last conference before the Coronavirus lockdown. I think I purposely waited two weeks after my presentation in Athens to make sure everything was ok.

Slide 1
Hi everyone and welcome to 41st TESOL Greece Convention and specifically speaking welcome to my workshop titled “Gamification in your School: Design, Plan, Execute”.

Slide 2
Just before we endeavour into the area of gamification, I just wanted to know how many of you in today’s workshop have practically used gamification before?

Now that’s interesting. Most of you here today say they have used gamification before.

Slide 3
Let’s have a look at today’s agenda. I’ve broken this workshop into two parts. Firstly, I’ll dab into some terms about the area of gamification and its background research.
Then we’ll have a look at how and why gamification works.

And lastly, I’ll end this workshop with some slides of how we have implemented our gamification system.

Slide 4
Which of the following is gamification?
A digital reward system
A loyalty program
an engagement tool
Using games in your classroom

Gamification is middleware for motivation
Points, badges, and leaderboards are just ‘signpost’ on the way of achieving their own individual goals. Not organizational goals. Success is where they overlap.
Gamification is about digital motivation. It’s a digital engagement model. All the other elements have been around for a long time scouts. Army. Uses badges for hundreds of years

Slide 5
Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and to engage audiences.

Slide 6
Game thinking is the product of three-generation gamers. Kids today are growing up today with games as their principal forms of entertainment and that multigenerational exposure has simply affected the way that they think. Game thinking is about solving problems and engaging audiences.

Slide 7 Game mechanics
Which of the following are connected to game mechanics?

Slide 8
What’s at the heart of this gamification loop system?
At the heart of the gamification system is the point system. The things around the point system are called game mechanics. Points, badges, leaderboards. Things that can be used to engage users around a point system. Often it’s hard to communicate to somebody exactly how much money you have. So signalling is very important to show other students at which level you are. We use badges.

20200307_0727419. What is status worth?
There are people that are either playing games on tv or following these types of programs. Like master chef or GNTM, 16:07 What do these people play those games for?
“They play for attention, they play for power, they play for status” [Zichermann]. They don’t play for the cash. The bottom line is that If you don’t have a good status system in exchange for their behaviour, you need to give them cash or (a prize). Buy one get one free? Discounts on tuition fees, small group numbers, enrolment gifts..are just a few I could come up with…

Signalling (Status) is an important part of this kind of interaction. Sometimes it’s not always about the points it’s about the status signal.
10. Why is it difficult to engage students?
One of the things that science has learnt from games is that fun and the theme of the game is not connected. The theme is a lure to bring people into the engaging experience. And that has important implications.. If we can make farming fun we can make anything fun or anything work, depending on its design. It’s a switch that we can use to make anything engaging.

Slide 11.
In gamification, we use a term called “The Spoon full of sugar effect|
The premise of that song is if I make the medicine sweet enough, you won’t know that it’s medicine and you’ll take it.
Marketers sometimes use this to describe this phenomenon they call this loyalty program.
Loyalty programs are intended to get users to take any action in your favour when all competing options are mostly equal.
Loyalty is about status and signalling!

Slide 12.
11. Which of the following gets people to unforcefully take action against their self-interest in a predictable way?

Games are the only force in the known universe which get people to take actions which are against their self-interest in a predictable way without the use of force.
Increasingly students are faced with a set of choices that are basically distinguished between work and leisure choices but increasingly they are compulsory and optional choices. These are replacing fun and work. “Once we get into optional time, users are naturally going to gravitate to the experience that they find the most rewarding” [Zichermann]. By definition, games have a big advantage over just about anything you might be creating in your spare time. Especially the ones that are designed explicitly to maximize reward. For example.

Do kids not read books today because they don’t understand why it is important? No, it’s because they have the choice of stuff that is way more interesting than books. They’re choosing something that is more interesting to them.

Slide 13
Games have a profound effect on your brain
How significantly are games rewiring your brain?
Games have a profound effect on your brain. Through the process of Intrinsic reinforcement. Anytime you challenge yourself to something and you achieve that thing, your brain secretes a little bit of magical chemical called dopamine. Challenge achievement mmm that feels good. The more you succeed the more you want to succeed. Dopamine testosterone actually affects the way your brain is structured.
They don’t have to be good… in the real world, we get this dopamine release very infrequently. but, in the game world, we can achieve that more and more which is a little series of accomplishments.
Take deliberately the idea of games and apply them to the real world and you get creative.

Slide 14.
Would you like to play a 145-word list game?
Gamification is about motivation. (Transactional level experience) Extrinsic rewards are not enough for a sustainable effect. Intrinsic motivators have three essential elements.
1.Autonomy- the desire to direct our own lives for optimal wellness and performance.
2.Mastery – the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters.
3.purpose – the morning to do what we do in service of something larger than our selves.
(Intrinsic rewards engage people at an emotional level).
[Dan H. Pink]
1. Autonomy. They make choices about how they will perceive there learning goals. Players have a choice to discover their path.
2. Mastery. Is a journey… there is never an endpoint… there is always another level. Gamification is about always getting better at something.
3. Purpose. Must start and finish with a purpose. A goal much larger than themselves.

Don’t mistake business goals for player goals. By breaking that goal into a series of manageable steps and encouraging people along the way..
The goal is not a problem. It’s the path to achieving that goal is the problem.

One of the key problems of many gamified solutions is that they are focused on achieving the organization’s goals and not the players’ goals..

Gamified solutions must put players goals first and make them the primary design objective” [Zichermann]. Every design decision must be focused on motivating them in achieving their goals. Designers need to understand players needs and ambitions.

Slide 15.
Will you accept the ‘Gimkit challenge’
Make kids believe that they are doing something for a reason for a purpose.
Make kids feel that they have a choice and a reason.
They feel that they have no choice all the time. – Scott Herbert
In today’s globalised, digital age, young people are continuously bombarded with information through multiple channels, and the pace of social life has been intensified by social media in an unprecedented manner.

Slide 16.
How do we use rewards to engage our students?
Reward early, reward often, try not to go negative (in rewards) Give benefits for advancing levels. Show status.

Engage them in a deeper and more meaningful level. Encourage them to progress through level engaging them on an emotional level.

Slide 17.
What is fun is the new power metric mean?
The new metric consumers are looking for in games is fun and engagement. This is slowly going to become more important in students’ lives and as we advance we will be compared to how fun and how engaging is our schools.

Loyalty programs don’t engage emotionally.

Our expectations have changed irrevocably, we can never go back. Consumer expectation is rapidly shifting. The tide is turning from the consumer point of view and increasingly is fun and engagement. And this will increase more and more.

Every single touchpoint is an opportunity to draw in another user.

Slide 18.
The game always favours its creator… no matter what game you play the house always wins… there is no way to beat the house
You have a choice I’ve either being the house or be played…. The sooner you get gamification into your school the sooner you get a bigger cut in happy students.

Google – managing millennials. All the frustration. You’re taking the smartest fastest tinkering most socially connected most ethically grounded in history generation in history, dismissing them because you can’t figure out how to manage them because you don’t know-how. Let me tell you what will happen, they’ll switch off… disconnect and learn English mostly by themselves… But at a standard balanced threshold level whereas you could’ve taken them to a much higher and advanced level.

Driving licenses example because of tweeting and Instagram

Slide 19
Theme and fun are not connected
Fun and work can merge with games
Status, not cash is the best incentive
The gamification loop is your guide
Fun is the new metric
Games favour their creators

Slide 20.
Exit poll.



Gamification by Design

by Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham | 30 August 2011