10 lifesaving websites for ESL teachers

Lisa has asked me for some recommendations regarding useful sites for EFL teachers and I’m happy to make a little compilation of the places I visit most often to find ideas, inspirations, betimes lesson plans if I feel exceptionally lazy (The Liberation of the Garden Gnomes by Peter Vahle is just shiny!) and share them with you.

So, here we go – my ten favourite websites:

  1. onestopenglish.com: lesson plans, ideas, inspirations and useful tools – you can spend a whole day browsing this site even without registering;
  2. teachingenglish.org.uk: British Council and loads of CPD resources – you can spend days browsing the site (they also have awesome research papers and publications here);
  3. Teaching English/ British Council on YouTube is a variety of channels and playlists you can use either in the classroom or for your own CPD;
  4. Teaching English/ British Council on Facebook is something I’ve been subscribing for a while and must admit is the continuous source of inspiration (I don’t even have to look for anything all the good stuff is on my wall, yay!);
  5. Breaking News English: it’s not the best designed site ever, and the lesson plans have the same structure, but I find it a never ending source of real English, interesting news and ideas for discussions;
  6. Teach-nology: a great site with various games, printable materials and my absolutely favourite – word search maker (a perfect tool for vocabulary revision + warm-up);
  7. Puzzle-Maker: you can make your own word search, crossword etc. – perfect for a personalised vocabulary revision, test or as a great warm-up;
  8. ESL Partyland: a really nicely organised site with all the help a teacher might need for different classes plus my favourite – trivia, useful expressions etc.;
  9. Webquests: a repository of various webquests on different topics and levels which you can use either in the classroom or as a homework (or as a way of introducing your students to BlendedLearning model) – I personally love the Orient Express;
  10. Online Newspapers: a site full of newspapers (some of them in English) which may be a perfect tool for many projects in the classroom as well as self-study materials;

Hope you’ll like my choice and give these sites a go. I must admit, my life as a teacher is WAY easier thanks to those wonderful people contributing there, but I also appreciate their influence when I see my own teaching style spiced up with different inspirations and ideas – I feel motivated to change, experiment, develop, to make my classes as interesting as I can.

Enjoy the recommendations I’ve shared and if you know some interesting sites, please, share them with me as well.

Enjoy!

So – you’d like to teach online?

I love teaching online – I’m lucky to work with a good online school as well (good online school is a school that provides you with training, shares teaching materials with you and has supervisors ready to help), and I’ve been asked by some teachers how I actually got into online teaching and if it’s like teaching via Skype. And since I guess it’s slightly more complicated than “tutoring via Skype”, I’ve decided to reflect on my journey so far – I know I have much more to learn, but things I’ve covered so far make me quite prepared to online teaching.

Before I went full online 🙂 I had become really interested in Blended Learning. To tell you the truth, I’m still trying to put some of the BL ideas in my standard classroom, but fortunately my school implemented some aspects of Flex model into the curriculum making me really happy 🙂 I still think that trying BL methods before you go full online is a great idea, because BL helps you to reflect on the student/teacher roles that are different to what we experience in a traditional classroom. Once we understand how important mastery-based and student ownership ideas are, we must realise that online environment is far more complex that “teaching via Skype”. And it’s simply vital for us to understand it, because we have to explain the new approach to our students. And it may be difficult for them to understand that I’m not their “tutor” anymore, I’m more like a companion on their way to understanding English.

You can read about Blended Learning in the British Council publication but there are plenty of other, free courses. I can recommend several I’ve joined:

Blended Learning: Personalising Education for Students by New Teacher Center, Silicon School Funds and Clayton Christensen Institute

I took the course a while ago and wrote about my experiences and provided an experimental lesson plan using Station-Rotation model; the ideas of HQBL are explained really well – I guess it’s the best course to understand what BL actually is and how to approach it, however, it’s focused on the American school environment and I found some parts somewhat irrelevant (like planning a budget).

Blended Learning Essentials by University of Leeds

I’m participating in this course at the moment and I must say I’ve found a lot of interesting ideas and sources, but the course is focused on vocational teaching and training, so you’d have to adjust some ideas to TEFL approach.

Understanding Language by University of Southampton

It isn’t a course focused mainly on online teaching, but I found some of the ideas introduced there quite helpful.

Once I got familiar with some BL approaches, I tried to introduce them in my classroom, by either preparing whole lessons using BL models or just by taking some key elements from BL. Then I simply applied for a teaching job in an online school, got accepted (and yes, my interview did include questions from BL area!) and – here I am, fully online and loving it 🙂

This year I’ve been working in a traditional classroom, with a BL model and online only classes (both with school-designed curriculum and my own FCE-oriented one), and I must say it has helped me a lot to compare, to switch between different models, to use different teaching/learning materials and to open my mind to the online world and its teaching possibilities…

Which are endless 🙂

 

Remember, remember…

Remember, remember

The fifth of November…

With another November the 5th it’s difficult not to be reminded of Guy Fawkes. And although I don’t think it is the best idea to mention him in the classroom as a man who tried to blow up the Parliament due to religious beliefs, there is something about the date that makes me feel… a little rebellious.

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I usually focus on young learners here, but this time I’ve got something suitable either for adults or for simply more mature students: V for Vendetta, a masterpiece of pop culture by Alan Moore (writer, wizard, mall Santa and Rasputin impersonator).

I don’t know whether you are allowed to watch a film in your classroom – if yes, I strongly recommend watching this one; if not – I would use it as a homework.

V for Vendetta is a dystopian and post-apocalyptic story of an unnervingly near future, with Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman (yes, the film scene of her hair being shaved is for real) and Stephen Rea as protagonists. V is an anarchist freedom fighter in the neo-fascist regime of the United Kingdom that exterminates its opponents in concentration camps. Evey is a working-class girl, saved by V and becoming his protege, while Stephen Rea portrays the detective who tries to stop V, but discovers the truth behind his actions.

If you can get the graphic novel, and if your students are adults, I’d rather use this option – the novel is far darker and deeper than the film, so I’d make sure my students are mature enough to understand the book. (Also, if you haven’t read it yet, don’t start late at night, once I just wanted to check something and finished reading the whole novel at 2 a.m… again.)

How to use V for Vendetta in the classroom:

Since I’m not too eager to watch films in my classes, I asked my students to watch the film on their own, just to prepare for the lesson. After some questions to check the comprehension (especially about V’s background and the bio-weapons experiments at Larkhill, also the importance of St.Mary’s virus is crucial for the story), I used the film for what it’s actually made for – discussion.

It’s not too difficult to observe that we live in interesting times indeed, and according to Los Angeles Times, “with a wealth of new, real-life parallels to draw from in the areas of government surveillance, torture, fear mongering and media manipulation, not to mention corporate corruption and religious hypocrisy, you can’t really blame the filmmakers for having a field day referencing current events.”

I believe that we, teachers, are supposed to teach not only vocabulary and grammar, not only cultural backgrounds and context, we should also show our students how to express their own opinion in a heated discussion. Some people believe that we should avoid controversial topics – and this title IS controversial itself – but I disagree. If we know our students long enough, we can estimate if a discussion on politics, religion etc. is a good idea. (I usually teach Poles and we’re always ready to discuss such stuff.)

The topics that may help you to trigger the discussion are, for example:

Is mass media manipulation a serious issue nowadays? We have access to lots of sources of information, so why is media manipulation so widely debated?

Are medical experiments on humans ethical? What if they might save the whole population? (You may refer to the film by Fernando Meirelles, The Constant Gardener)

What is more important: freedom of speech or freedom of an individual? When does freedom of speech become slander?

Is anarchy a solution to corrupted and overpaid governmental systems?

Are we afraid of the times and places we’re living? Is war (local or global) a real possibility?

Besides, sometimes fiction becomes reality – and this is also a good issue to discuss: do you remember ACTA protests?