Brainbox games in class

10-minute speaking game. Language level B1+. I used it in my C1+ class.

This game is for native speakers of English aged 5-7+, but it’s kinda hard for young learners of English of the same age.

What I got out of it.

Reading and pronunciation practice and some listening and speaking skills.

Rules of the game.

The game is quite simple. A student gets a card and a dice. They have 10 seconds to memorise the pictures on the card. Then they roll a dice and get asked the corresponding question to the number on the dice.

What I did for my older players.

I found the game rather simple for my older students so I altered it a bit. My objective was to confirm the pronunciation of some diphthongs and silent letters and have them use their listening and speaking skills.

Steps

I gave the 1st player a card (the card has a letter and 4-5 words). They read the words aloud on that card and then they had 10 seconds to memorize the pictures associated with the letter on the card. The card is given to a student who reads the questions on the back of the card. The player has to answer the questions using whole sentences. The questions are easy, but the vocabulary words are challenging. For example, it had ‘knickers’ instead of ‘underpants’. Overall they enjoyed the game and I learnt what deficiencies they had in pronunciation of some diphthongs or problems in pronunciation of some words! No more than 15-20 minutes because it gets tiring.

Reflection

C1+ students playing a game made for young students.

The gameplay was very simple, so my participants enjoyed playing.

I liked how I made them read aloud the words to double-check for pronunciation features.

I made another student read the questions one by one and the participant had to answer all the questions so they can get used to answering easy questions in a meaningful way.

Positive feedback was given by my students as to the words they picked up from the activity and the fact some wrongly pronounced words were talked about and corrected.

Using #inclassflip in a hybrid teaching situation

So I was just thinking about this morning’s routine in which on a typical Monday morning I usually finish planning for my afternoon lessons; what I was truly thinking when I first sat down was, ‘is it really a typical Monday?’

This is the first week back after our Christmas break. For us in Greece, we are heading towards the peak of the Covid 19 variant Omicron and most people are concerned for the safety of their children and their own. State schools have opened today for students who are either vaccinated or have been self-tested and all wearing masks. For my school, we too ask for all students to have with them their self-test certificate or the vaccination certificate and of course, the compulsory use of masks. So I was wondering, with all this uneasiness going on for the next two weeks at least, can I really assume that I will not have an issue with colocation? What this means is that can I assume that I will have all my students in class at the same time or will I have some online on our school platform and a few face2face students too, in other words, a hybrid situation? And if so, how can I best plan for these types of situations?

For me, teaching is about having students who are actively involved in constructing their own knowledge. I assume that students come to class with their own knowledge of things and can learn to collaborate with others to make new connections on various topics. I also believe that a growth mindset plays a major role in successfully carrying out these types of teaching sessions and that students can learn to self-regulate and self-teach themselves and others. Also, I am a passionate supporter of Flipped Learning and when I can avoid direct instruction in class because I know that in this day and age, all students won’t be ready to take in what I want to teach them at that given moment.

Flipped learning presumes that direct instruction is done in the individual space or for homework before class and group space or class space is best used to actively apply and extend this new knowledge. Well, for Christmas, I don’t really give homework, because as I needed rest, I wanted my students to rest and take in quality family time. So, the best solution I thought of was the use of #Inclassflip approach which was first introduced to me by Martha Ramirez and Carolina Buitrago.

The Inclassflip approach is where direct instruction is incorporated into class time in different forms and then practice time is actively carried out in class. There are a number of ways you can try Inclass flip whether you use Station work with a sequence, loop, half-n-half stations or the choice of mixed stations or Non-station work as a Solo, Duo or Group ordering. However, you still need to think of the Essential questions or the big ideas you want students to know, understand and be able to do and how you would like them to prove what they have understood.

Given that I wanted to start a new module from the course book which has to do with students understanding environmental problems, environmental jobs and qualities and endangered species, I assume that students have been looking at this topic from a very young age and do know quite a lot about this topic already. So, I wanted them to brush up on their knowledge of environmental problems. Learn about types of jobs connected to the protection of the environment and learn about general vocabulary around work life.

To implement this, I chose the non-station layout of the Inclass flip in the form of solo, duo and group work which basically means instead of students moving around stations the stations will move around to them and they will work in pairs – duo, by themselves -duo or as small groups – group. I do keep a time limit for each task to help students stay focused on the task at hand. I have digitised access to the video from the coursebook and will use it as the flipped station work. The practice stations will include work from the coursebook, and it will also have group work in which each group will need to create some sort of product presenting an environmental problem they investigated. I do have an independent station on hand for early finishers which will include the use of the Quizziz app and vocabulary building skills work.

I designed a total of 7 tasks in solo, duo and group format which I will write and reflect about how it went in the my following post.

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:

https://songactivityfactory.com/2020/06/14/how-to-use-songs-to-teach-english-18-song-based-lesson-plans-for-cambridge-english-first-fce/

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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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?

 

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

Mock exams, are they worth it?

“You can learn more in one hour of taking a test than in one hour of studying”, I haven’t only seen this in my students myself, but it has been proven by science too[Belluck, 2011]. I learnt so much about my students on Saturday after they took their first mock exam for this season, most of them were from the B1 Level but it does apply to all of our Cambridge assessment English language examinations.

Some background information before the mock. During the past week in our lessons, we set a date to meet up at our school on Saturday morning. The date was set at 10:30am. When I arrived at school early (10:07am!). I found the photocopier broken and I had to fix it. That’s not something that is unusual at our school but the problem was that this lost us time from when we were scheduled to start. This made students uneasy and as students, they became quite restless which in turn would lead them to have difficulties in focusing on what they came to class to do…take the exam! Most of the students ended up starting just twenty minutes later in time than what was planned originally. I have to admit, ‘just’ here is not used properly because this was one of the main factors that caused early tiredness and unfocused students in the end.

Continue reading “Mock exams, are they worth it?”

First week of class and we created vision boards

End of the first teaching week for 2020 and it’s time to reflect for us teachers. We had a great first week welcoming back our students at our school. A lot was discussed and a lot of aims and goals were set.

Continue reading “First week of class and we created vision boards”

We have to make the art of writing more meaningful for them…

I had a really nice discussion yesterday with my C2 students who are sitting for their exams in two weeks. You know, the typical discussion teachers have with their graduates at the end of the year where we get to say to them how proud we are of their achievements in being proficient in the language and that they will be missed (which is true 100%!) and that even though our sessions together will stop, learning is never-ending and that they as pledged life long learners now, should continue to evolve as English language learners. At that stage, they normally agree with you about missing your lessons (so touching). Yet, express the fact that the time gained from not coming to English class will be time spent on other academic endeavours in high school and life.

As a teacher I suggest reading novels in English, going over the occasional newspaper online, always jump at chances to come into contact with the language whenever they can and finally, I always stress the importance of keeping their vocabulary notebooks alive by jotting down new words they encounter from anywhere and took a liking to. 

So what was different in yesterday’s session was that one of my students – Dimitra a lively bright young teenager turned around and said enthusiastically, “and no more boring essays to write – I’ve finished with writing those..”. Now that hurt. I suddenly realised that all that teaching, about proper writing, about important communicative achievement, organisation of thoughts, and using rich language was suddenly, for nothing. nought, zilch and zero. This student after eight years of lessons did not understand the beauty of expressing thoughts in writing and what perks it will offer you in your day to day life. What have I done, I have failed them.

And then it hit me. We have to make it more meaningful, relevant and purposeful for them. I’ve been hearing these buzz words a lot at seminars in the last few years and it has echoed in me for a while. So what can we do to make writing more meaningful and more real? Writing letters could work but the rate of snail mail isn’t that fast in a school year. What’s next…keeping it real. The only real and meaningful reasons to write nowadays is a blog! I guess we could start with a blog! I’m a blogger, I reflect (not that often though…this should change!) and hopefully, that would make it a lot more meaningful for our students. The only question is what kind of a blog and what kind of posts and information will it have? Should it be a class blog?  Should it be a school blog or should it be an open blog where any student can contribute to it by submitting any writing piece or even what is published controlled by student moderators? Maybe I should get the actual students to decide? Maybe we should involve them in the design of such a blog – project? Well, this is getting interesting now… I wonder where it will go from here…

Featured image by:

Nick Morrison

Train your students to love creative learning.

I’m probably writing this because in class my students got me frustrated again. Supposedly, a small-class size should lead to a full class of motivated and happy students. Yet, there is always going to be this one student that always sets you back and lets you down. Does this scenario seem familiar? There is always this one student that is keeping you back from full class success. This one student that you feel that if they weren’t in your class your class would do much better. Everyone has got at least one of those such students. So what do you do when things get out of hand in your class? When you can understand no matter how meaningful you think the material you have prepared is, they seem to show absolutely no interest? Continue reading “Train your students to love creative learning.”

A demotivated classroom in which most learners are happy to not change…

After a short time period that I had to be away from my noisy and lively first-year junior-high school classroom, I returned only to find them with my substitute teacher being quiet and focused, almost like they were either completely immersed in an activity or in a state of trance.  At first, this sight of my class completely to themselves hit me like a ton of bricks because I thought, just maybe, it was my fault that I had made them into a noisy and active bunch not adhering to my classroom management choices, whereas the substitute teacher had them more under her control using more effective classroom management techniques.  Consequently, this got me thinking that I was the teacher with classroom management issues and couldn’t control class as good as other teachers did. Continue reading “A demotivated classroom in which most learners are happy to not change…”

Cultivating book reading in young learners

I recently had a teacher meeting at my school. However, before I begin with that, I really should say that I run a small language school situated on Lesvos island targeting young learners and some adults. Most of our classes are general English and we do have some EAP small group work or privates too. The most difficult part of having the school is CPD for myself and my staff. The distance between our island and mainland Athens is really translated into a cost which makes it difficult to travel often, without appending the cost of leaving the school and your family. Continue reading “Cultivating book reading in young learners”

TRUTH OR DARE (EltCation)

I’m a sucker for new activities, especially for activities which are engaging for students but do have learner outcomes. Truth or Dare is another one of those activities I would like to try in my new classes for this school year. Truth or Dare was a game we played at teenage parties, so I do have fond memories of this activity. I like to repost articles which interest me because there are many I read but few that I end up trying. Experience has shown that If I repost the activity I do end up trying it in class and eventually reflecting upon it.

ELT-CATION

Truth, dare, double dare, love, kiss, promise…You may have played and enjoyed this game as a teen. I sure did.

I stumbled upon this version of Truth or Dare shared by from Yulia in her Discover English Teaching  group the other day, and I loved the idea of using it in the classroom.

I am sure this fun game will work really well with teens.

Yulia kindly agreed to share it here.

How to Play

🗣 The players are grouped together sitting or standing in a circle.

🗣 One player (or the teacher) at a time has a turn to ask another player the question ‘Truth or Dare?’

🗣 The player should choose between Truth or Dare. Choosing neither or both options is not allowed.

🗣 If they choose Truth, they will have to answer any question relating to their life, hobbies, habits, past or any other question. The player must answer the question honestly…

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