6 Useful Apps for Academic IELTS Prep

6 apps for Academic IELTS

This year I’ve been preparing a group of teenagers for their Academic IELTS. I experimented with various books (like Direct to IELTS and Ready for IELTS), but when it comes to teenagers – especially those who have a lot of studying apart from test-oriented English course – you need to look for alternative sources of individual tasks, because in their case typical homework just wouldn’t work.

What could I do? Naturally, I had to follow a phrase that’s become quite typical for me, namely there’s an app for this. And indeed, you can find a lot of mobile applications helping you deal with IELTS-related issues. And since sharing is caring, I decided to present my top 6 apps that will help students practise at home and prepare for the test – links will direct you to Google Play Store where you’ll be able to download the app. You may also find most of them in the Apple Store as well.

1 IELTS Full Band 7.5+ by English Store

This app provides not only exercises, but also useful tips on test techniques. You may learn vocabulary, practise your listening skills, focus on writing or even work on your speaking. I find this app really useful if you want to work on your overall English level. You may say you don’t need such a high band (the app is expected to help you get 7.5) on your test, but I believe it’s better to prepare for the higher band. Accept the challenge and try this app!

2 IELTS Prep App by the British Council

This app focuses on listening and speaking – areas which can be surprisingly problematic for most students. You will have access to practice tests, tips, explanation of assessment criteria, videos of speaking tests and much more, so that you’ll be properly prepared for your test. You can even set up a daily reminder to monitor your progress. I believe everyone will find this app useful, as speaking test – especially its second part – is one of the trickiest I’ve ever seen.

Have you ever tried a 2-minute long monologue on your way from school to home when it’s a short walk… oh, and don’t forget to show off your linguistic potential!

3 IELTS Writing by FR-solutions

I find writing the most problematic area to prepare for Academic IELTS, especially that most essays written in a regular school look completely different (at least in Poland), an preparing students for writing a composition that is so unlike the pattern they’ve known for years may be particularly difficult. However, you may find an app to support one’s endeavours, and this one is really useful. Apart from practice tests, you’ll find lessons and samples that will guide you through the unfamiliar ways of Academic English essays. I could recommend this app for every Academic IELTS student.

4 Grammar for IELTS Test by Bananas eLearning: Professional Education

A regular course preparing for IELTS may not focus on grammar to the extent expected by the students, thus an app to encourage their in-home study. This free offline app will provide three levels of grammar study (beginner, intermediate and advanced) with 2000 questions in 200 tests.

5 IELTS 4000 Academic Words List by Hoang Minh Thang

Although there is no specific part for testing vocabulary during IELTS, there is a certain core a candidate is expected to be familiar with. This app will help you remember the essential vocabulary for Academic IELTS, presenting various tests. each word is described with an explanation, pronunciation and usage. It tracks your progress and reminds of various quizzes to test your knowledge.

7 IELTS Skills – Complete by Macmillan Publishers Ltd

This app is designed to help you develop all the skills needed for Academic IELTS. It’s filled with content by Sam McCarter (the author of Ready for IELTS and Tips for IELTS) and it’s really well-designed and useful for all test candidates. You will find there videos of speaking tests, lessons on various writing samples and possibilities for self-assessments.

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Role-Playing Teaching (Part 7: For Those About to Roll)

Role-Playing Teaching(Part 7_For Those Aboutto Roll)

The following note is a rough translation of the post Erpegi na pierwszy raz available here. The author, Michał Laskowski, kindly agreed to me translating and sharing his work. It is originally meant for people who are already familiar with RPGs, so I believe you already know enough of theory and it’s high time to start playing on your own!

Two important things before you start reading: I took the liberty to shorten the original post, so if you’re Polish and want to read more, go to the original page. Also, some of the games presented by Michał are in Polish only and I didn’t share them here, so if you’re Polish… you know what to do.

Bored, ain’t you? Wanna play a game?

(…) One of the methods of introducing new people to the hobby is persistently telling stories about it, sending links to texts and videos entitled What is RPG?, and finally making an appointment specifically for the RPG session. (…) However, you can take people by surprise, with the game that is small, free and easy to use. Suited to a social meeting over a pint, the long train ride etc. Either way, it’s important to choose the game according to the interests of people who we plan to engage into playing RPGs:

For the travellers: the game suited perfectly for chilling out and worth every recommendation is Luna by Marta Kucik Kucińska, which won Polish Game Chef Award in 2014. Attractive (for a DIY) and recommended to try for the first time before it gets too dark. Once you get the rules, you may try playing under the starry sky to experience an even greater fun. (…)

For those who enjoyed Stranger Things (and Netflix shows in general): Outstanding Heroes and Extraordinary Threats (…) that will bring you great fun with colourful yet cliché adventures. (Something many people are surprisingly fond of, me included)

For those hungover and jet-lagged: the irreplaceable Norwegian game by Tomas HV Mørkrid Stoke-Birmingham 0-0. The game where you play the most average European ever. I do not want to spoil surprises here – this is the ultimate RPG!

Time to rock!

If you already managed to break the ice in speaking on behalf of your character (I have a feeling that this is a big challenge, even for the fairly outspoken people), we can try with more games. I believe that only then can one theorise on what RPGs are? and start playing more typical systems with character sheets, dice, and a typical Game master – Players structure.

Another RPG worth testing is Lady Blackbird. It’s already reached the status of one of the canonical classics. One of the best choices for a quick RPG (there is no character creation) (…).

From an old player’s library…

I wanted to mention a few published games that were released some time ago. Many of them may seem quite forgotten. Sometimes they may require chipping in a few dollars from the players (…):

Blood and Honor by John Wick Now a classic, made for all lovers of Japan and the Samurai. One of the most interesting elements is contributing to the storytelling – test results do not indicate the success itself, but the person who determines the consequence of the action. It’s a very engaging game for the whole team, especially that you start with creating own clan.

Dogs in the Vineyard by Vincent Baker. This alternative western story about young Mormons with just a hint of fantasy. Something that you want to show your friends from a drama club to show them that your kind of fun is also “real art”.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Another classic (…), perfect for chatting and sipping beer, and looking at the fireplace during long winter evenings.

Let’s roll!

As you can see, most of these games challenge the typical image of a Game Master as a guide followed by the players. It’s not because I despise the mainstream games. It’s a matter of pragmatism. After gamemastering a few sessions in Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing Game, you will still be the one who knows all the rules of the fight, you’ll be an authority in matters of the world and the main creator of a plot during the adventure. If the players learn how to co-create the plot from the beginning, as well as using game mechanics, they will take the initiative much more easily,

Free Online Courses in April

7freeonline coursesin April

April showers bring… a lot of free online courses. With the weather still unpredictable, it’s still a nice idea to spend windy days at home, studying and developing our teacherish skills… and not only those, as I found some courses everyone might find useful, not only teachers.

1 Teaching Computing by The National STEM Learning Centre and The University of East Anglia

Start: 16th April

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: primary and secondary school teachers

This course will help you master teaching computer science skills, digital literacy, digital citizenship and digital scholarship. It covers subject knowledge, skills and advice on planning, teaching, assessment and policy – and while it may seem useful mostly for the IT teachers, the truth is we all can study a bit of this field.

2 Academic Integrity: Values, Skills, Action by the University of Auckland

Start: 9th April

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: mainly for university and college students, including undergraduates, postgraduates and doctoral candidates

What is academic integrity and why is it so important in academic environment? If you prepare students for university (or are a student yourself), you may find this short course really interesting. Apart from plagiarism and misconduct, this course will help you develop study skills and academic writing skills.

3 English for Academic Purposes: a MOVE-ME Project Course by The University for Foreigners of Siena, the Open University (OU) and NUI Galway

Start: 16th April

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: university students taking part in student mobility programmes in Europe, and anyone following academic courses in English. A minimum B1 knowledge of English is required

If you, or, more likely, your students, consider the idea of educational mobility programmes, you might find this course useful – it will provide you with the basics of English for Academic Purposes to come up with proper written and oral academic tests. This course may be used as a great help when it comes to using forum and exchanging ideas with other participants who also think of studying abroad.

4 English for the Workplace by the British Council

Start: 16th April

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: non-native English speakers who have studied English to at least pre-intermediate level (A2)

This course may be students for those who think of moving abroad and finding a career – as a teacher you may either share this course with your students, or get inspired to share some of the ideas by yourself. You will work on your CV and job application language as well as a successful job interview.

5 Conflict Transformation by Emory University

Start: 9th April

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people who struggle with conflicts in their environment

This course introduces the concept of conflict transformation and how it can change the conflict into something constructive. You will study various methods of mediation, as well as tools and ways to handle conflicts creatively into something useful. I believe this course may be useful especially for those of us who struggle with class discipline, as it may give us more ideas on how to manage unruly students.

6 Giving Helpful Feedback by University of Colorado Boulder

Start: 23rd April

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: everyone who needs to give feedback to others

This course may prove useful for teachers, trainers and DoSes alike, as giving feedback is one of the key elements of our work – and we could use some extra tips to make our feedback better and more helpful, making people more positive and encouraging them to a much greater extent.

This course is my pick of the month, but traditionally, I have something extra:

7 The Science of Beer by the Wageningen University

Start: 24th April

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people interested in beer and its history

This MOOC is developed by students of Wageningen University & Research in honour of the 100 year anniversary of the university. You will learn all about beer, including how it’s made, the raw materials used, its supply chain, how it’s marketed and the effect of beer consumption on your body. It’s not a bad idea to study this before holidays start…

I hope you’ll find a course that will suit your needs – if you pick Feedback, I’ll see you online, but I believe all the courses are equally useful.

Enjoy!

Quizizz: making tests fun (+ activity ideas)

Quizizz_ making test fun

There is no course without assessment – I’m not really a fan of ready-made tests that come along with the coursebooks, so I used to spend hours designing my own tests covering those aspects I wanted to assess at that time. Although I found it a good method, it was rather time-consuming. Fortunately, here comes that magic phrase: There’s an app for this!

You must have heard of Quizlet and Kahoot!, but today I want to share my favourite quiz-making application: Quizizz. Apart from a name (try remembering which z is doubled!), this tool is not only useful and easy to grasp, but also fun to use, both for teachers and students. Quizizz allows people to create and use one another’s multiple-choice quizzes, so they can be used live as a form of classroom competition, or as homework (with maximum 2 weeks of deadline).

So far so good – but how does it work? A teacher prepares the test, students login on their mobiles (either via browser or using an app, but unlike Kahoot! you don’t need a projector) and they may enjoy an energised quiz with bright colours, fun music and memes (truth be told, it was the memes that I paid attention to at first). The questions are randomly given to students, thus eliminating cheating. After choosing the answer students immediately get feedback, and the resulting data is compiled into a spreadsheet to give the teacher a clear visual of the students’ performance in order to analyse trends in which areas might need the most focus in the future.

The good thing about Quizizz is that you may either create your own quizzes (which may again take a lot of time) or use ready-made tests create by your fellow users… or you can teleport questions from various quizzes to make your own, which is a great thing and really saves your time.

How can we use Quizizz in the classroom?

  • Whenever the students get bored – you may prepare a short and silly test to make them laugh;
  • As an entry activity, when you want it to be a form of revision;
  • As a revision exercise, students create their own quizzes (each group works on specific unit or area), and then all you need to do is teleport their questions and have a nice, proper test;
  • As a homework activity, when students prepare tests for one another;
  • As an after-film activity: students watch film in the classroom, and then answer questions

Truth be told, possibilities are endless, all you need to do is give it a go and soon you’ll see that quizzes may be fun. If you need a step-by-step instruction on how to start with Quizizz, you may find it here:

How to Use Quizizz:
1 Go to Quizizz.com and hit “GET STARTED”.
2 If you want to use an existing quiz, you can use the “Search for quizzes” box and browse. Once you have selected a quiz, skip to step 8. If you want to create your own quiz, select the “Create” panel, then the “Sign Up” panel and fill in the form.
3 Enter a name for the quiz and an image if you like. You can also select its language and make it either public or private.
4 Fill in a question, as well as answers, and be sure to click the “incorrect” icon next 5 to the correct answer in order to change it to “correct”. You can also add a corresponding image if you would like.
5 Select “+ New Question” and repeat step 4. Do this until you have made all of your questions.
6 Hit “Finish” in the top right corner.
7 Select the appropriate grade range, subject(s), and topic(s). You can also add tags to make it easier to search for.
8 You can either select “PLAY LIVE!” or “HOMEWORK” and choose the desired attributes.
9 Students can go to Quizizz.com/join and type in the 6-digit code to participate in the live quiz or complete the homework. They will be asked to enter a name to be identified by.
10 Once the students are finished, refresh your page and you will be able to view the results of the quiz. Click the “+” next to a name to expand and get more detailed, question-by-question results. (by blogs.umass.edu/onlinetools)

Enjoy!

Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers (book review)

www.thatisevil.wordpress.com

The best thing about teaching children is that you’re working on unspoilt minds that are so eager to learn and have fun. While teens seem to be at least slightly nonchalant when it comes to their educational process, while adults are so self-aware and need to get feedback on every step, children are wonderfully easy to please and literally only ready to grow and flourish. Some claim childhood is the only period when we actually acquire knowledge with ease, others believe childhood should be mainly fun and parents encouraging their offspring to learn another language can end up as innocent victims of the predatory educational market only fishing for easy money.

As usually, I find myself somewhere in the middle, believing children should have fun being kids, but at the same time we should encourage them to learn, especially when classes include games, songs and a lot of fun activities. Trying to broaden my horizons on the topic, I read a book by Jayne Moon “Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers”. As the author mentions in the introduction, “the book will help you to build on the knowledge and skills you already have, become aware of your beliefs about children and about teaching, re-assess your practice in the classroom, provide fresh ideas and new insights (…) and deepen your commitment to and enthusiasm for teaching children.”

You will find various topics discussed, starting with students’ attitude to learning English, managing the learning process, introducing effective teacher-pupil interaction, creating, adapting and evaluating various activities, planning, organizing conducting and assessing learning and teaching etc. Apart from the book itself the bibliography looks really inspiring, as it leads you to more publications on the topic (and each chapter has its own set of books).

What I really appreciate about this book is that it not only discusses the areas I mentioned, but also provides strategies for potential difficulties and actual procedures to deal with various issues (e.g. action plan to find out how raised expectations affect children’s behaviour and attitude to learning English). One of my favourite parts is the whole chapter focused on introducing and carrying out pairwork and groupwork (as mixed-gender pairing happens to be quite problematic at a certain age) which gave me a lot of ideas and activities on how to deal with this particular problem.

Yet another useful chapter I enjoyed was on creating own resources. Apart from practical ideas, the author encourages teachers to answer some questions first, like setting up and organizing educational and developmental criteria on preparing resources, which makes it easier to not only create own materials, but also adapt the ones we observe during other teachers’ work. We are surrounded by so many online resources now, that I really loved the short checklist to make sure the material we’ve chosen is not only fun, but also appropriate and suitable.

The book is a great source of information for all those who have just started their work with children, or who have had a longer break and return to educating this particular age group. I found myself nodding approvingly over some details I once knew but now forgotten, having been teaching mostly teens and adults for the past decade. I really enjoyed revising the basics and learning new things, that’s why I believe all of you who might be in a similar situation, will find the book equally useful. After all, children and their education is the area that gives many opportunities and possibilities for all teachers, so we shouldn’t neglect it just because it’s easier to work with the adults.

I’m sure you’ll find the read quite interesting, regardless of your present teaching groups – some ideas are relevant for all ages, and being a teacher means you can’t be too sure as to what groups you’ll teach next time.

Enjoy!

Jayne Moon, “Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers”

MacMillan Books for Teachers

ISBN-13: 978-1405080026

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 6: Game Mechanics)

Role-Playing Teaching (1)

I’ve avoided this moment for as long as I could, but I don’t think I can move forward in writing about RPGs without discussing the mechanics. If you haven’t played any proper RPGs before, you probably won’t know that this aspect of games has been discussed for years, and involved: fandom wars, friendships ruined (seriously, been there) and physical injuries (OK, I might exaggerate a bit here) by almost all RPG players (minus D&D players who simply watch from the sidelines and eat popcorn 😉 ). Which one is more important – rolling dice or storytelling, element of chance or the belief that everyone should be satisfied with the general outcome of the story where a roll may often be unfair?

In case you’re worried – I’m not going to discuss those issues here – let me just admit I personally believe both aspects are important: storytelling may be the most important goal of RPGs (at least from a teacher’s approach to use RPG in the classroom as a communicative tool; as a pure game I’m convinced its main goal is to have fun), but it is the rules and rolling the dice that makes it a game.

In my previous note I gave three examples of characters’ communication and you could see that even if a simple chat or negotiation was fairly easy to act out, there were problems with finding a fast and easy conflict solution. In order to make it short and simple (my favourite KISS rule) we may simply roll a die and determine the success by the higher number rolled.

While this idea may sound good enough, it still seems rather unfair, especially when one character is an Experienced Lawyer (who spent years manipulating people), and the other is an Edgy Teenager (who simply goes with I know better attitude). Now, this exactly is the reason why RPGs use a tool called Character Sheet with basic traits and skills listed and “graded”. Usually all players start with the same number of EXP (experience points) to divide among traits, skills and abilities according to their characters’ background, profession etc. Then the roll may be modified by a point assigned to the particular attribute, so Experienced Lawyer, having higher social skills, will have an advantage over Edgy Teenager.

Naturally, you may design your own character’s sheets, but since I’ve already picked Monster of the Week as a system in which I’ll set my adventures, I’ll share a simplified MotW sheet.

Simple Character Sheet

Moves

Moves cover situations when the game rules step in to help you determine what happens, e.g. something dangerous, conflicts, unusual events. The Moves in MotW we’re going to use are as follow:

  • Act Under Pressure, used for difficult/dangerous situation
  • Help Out, used to help another player by giving them a bonus on their task
  • Investigate a Mystery, used to work out the situation the character is in
  • Kick Some Ass, used for, well, kicking ass, because in RPGs sometimes we declare a fight
  • Manipulate Someone, used in those times when Kicking Some Ass would be too risky
  • Protect Someone, used to save someone from danger
  • Read a Bad Situation, used to work out what dangers are threatening you

In MotW there are more Moves, but since we’re not really hunting Monsters (not yet), we’re good with the basics.

Ratings

In order to make abilities good enough to reflect our character, we are using the Ratings. They are added to (or subtracted from) your dice total when you roll for a Move:

  • Cool is how calm you are and adds to your roll Under Pressure and when you Help Out
  • Tough is how strong you are and adds to your roll when you Kick Some Ass or Protect Someone
  • Charm is how pleasant you are and adds to your roll when you Manipulate Someone
  • Sharp is your intelligence and how observant you are, and adds to your roll when you Investigate a Mystery or Read a Bad Situation

The ratings range from -1 to +3, where -1 is bad, 0 is average, +1 is good, +2 is really good and +3 is phenomenal. You start with 3 points, so some ratings will get better than average, some worse – just like in real life.

Now, all you need to do is roll two everyday six-sided dice, add them together and then add whatever number is written down for your character’s rating:

  • 10+ is a success – well done, you passed the test and everything’s great
  • 7-9 is partial success – well, you’ve made it BUT…
  • 1-6 is a miss – sorry, not this time…

So let’s take the conflict situation from the previous note:

Situation: You meet up on Wednesday afternoon in your favourite café and enjoy coffee and cakes.

Player A: you realise you’ve forgotten your money… again. Ah well, Player B will probably help you.

Player B: Player A seems to have forgotten money… again. It riles you up because somehow it’s you who usually pays for both of you and A doesn’t usually remember to give it back to you.

Let’s assume player A is Edgy Teenager, and Player B is Experienced Lawyer. If the discussion takes too much time you simply ask Player A to test their Manipulate Someone move. Now, Edgy Teenager adds 0 from his Charm and rolls 3 on one die and 4 on the other die. He gets 7 – partial success, Player B will treat Teenager this time, but this is seriously the last time, and their friendship is somewhat shaken…

I hope I helped you to grasp the idea of game mechanics – naturally, there’s much more to this as there are many worlds, many systems, many mechanics and their variations. The simplified version of MotW is just an example of a family of popular systems (called Powered by the Apocalypse), but there are ever so many of them, more or less complex, based on dice, cards, tricks etc.

Do you feel like learning more of them? Well, why don’t you get your own copy of a system that suits you and go on an adventure with your friends, students or both?

Enjoy!

5 applications to boost your English

5 applicationsto boostyourEnglish

After I had finished my BA, I had more than 4 months of holidays before I started my MA studies. I worked as an EFL teacher in a primary school and I thought everything was going smoothly with my life.

Little did I know – my command of English after four months of using it on primary level was, well, to put it mildly, certainly not on academic level, and it took me a while to catch up. At the moment I’m using English more often (why, even this blog started as my writing practice!), but I usually  have at least one group on at least C1 level, just to make my English actually work.

Well, I have no problem believing that some of my fellow teachers may experience similar traumas – so today I want to help everyone struggling with keeping up with English by sharing my favourite applications to learn English. You may recommend them to your students, but I encourage you to try them on your own – I do:

6 Minute English

It’s a nice application that helps you learn intermediate English through simple English Conversations from BBC Learning English Program: 6 Minute English, English At Work, The English We Speak etc. Each lesson comes with audio, a transcript and a  vocabulary list and frankly, I find it more useful to our students, however, apart from the obvious benefit of regular listening exercises we can use this app to introduce some of these podcasts to our classroom. Worth checking!

thefreedictionary

I seriously used to spend some time in bed, before I went to sleep, playing Hangman or Spelling Bee on this app, because Thefreedictionary is more than just an alphabetised collection of vocabulary items . There are interesting articles, inspirational quotes, games, holidays and even a horoscope (which always predicts something nice to happen, so I think one can trust it). If you have IWB, you can just go to the page and leave your classroom having fun with a dictionary – it’ll be so easy to convince them to use it on their own!

memrise

You can learn English with memrise and that’s OK – it’s an app designed to learn languages in a creative and fun way. What I do, though, is learning Spanish through English. It helps me not only learn a new language, but also revise the one I already know. It’s also a great idea from a neurodidactical point of view – you create more connotations which boosts your learning abilities. It works for me!

LearnEnglish Grammar by the British Council

Sometimes I start to suspect my grammar is not what it used to be back in my university days – and just to prove I can still do an exercise or three on C1 level, I find no better application than the one by the British Council (in fact the BC has a lot of cool apps and I strongly recommend you to try them all). We might be teachers, but it’s useful to practise grammar once in a while, isn’t it?

knudge.me

This is my favourite application at the moment – spaced repetitions, adaptive learning, infographics, gamification… and practising things up to C1 level! And not only vocabulary – you may decide to work on phrasal verbs, common confusing words or idioms. I downloaded this app just to test it, and here I am, using it more and more actively everyday as it’s not only useful, but pretty and witty, and it definitely got me.

I hope you’ll like my ideas – if you have your favourite apps, please, share them in the comments, I’ll be happy to test some more.

Thanks!