7 free lifesaving apps for classroom fun

7 free lifesaving appsfor classroom fun

I don’t really like making copies with grammar exercises, at least not when I’m teaching people on B1+ level of English. The school I’m working with is promoting communication and, frankly, most people just want to speak a foreign language before appreciating the exquisite grammar complexity that we, teachers, enjoy so much.

As if.

My classroom policy is very simple: communicating in English and having fun. And whenever I feel less creative, I use one of my favourite free applications on my mobile phone to bring in some fun and discussion – it works every time, so I’ve decided to share seven of those that never let me down. I usually use them as warm-ups or cool-downs, but they’re also helpful when the students are somewhat bored or tired and you want to wake them up with a fun activity.

Story Dice

I wrote a post about physical Story Cubes I use in my classroom (click!), but why not use an app for the same activities? Original application isn’t free, so I found something similar so that you can try out and see if it suits your style of teaching. My personal favourite is Star Wars mode, of course. You can pick any number of dice you want and ask your students to make short stories based on the pictures.

Table Topics

You have 80 topics to use for random conversations – and to add a bit of fun, you may create a list of your students and they will be randomly assigned a topic to discuss. I usually do this with my adult students, when I use the app generator to pick a name + topic and give the student 45 seconds or a minute to do an impromptu monologue over the topic. It’s fun, it’s a challenge and it helps people to switch into English very quickly. It is also a great game for students who prepare for exams, as oral exams usually require them to make a short speech.

Stories: Party

I really like lateral thinking games (you may find my note here) because they’re very communicative (for the students, I, as a narrator, can only say yes, no or irrelevant – which is perfect for limiting my talking time, something I struggle with) and brain-teasing. Perfect for warm-ups, when they’re tired and discouraged after a hard day at school/work and it helps them to chill out, practise the language and – last but not least – revise the construction of questions in English.

4 Padlet 

I love padlet (find out how much: click!) and it’s my app of the year, definitely. I use it to make a base of interesting topics (How do we learn?) or a list of music quizzes when my students are really, really tired and I just want them to smile a bit. I can keep it on my mobile, so whenever I feel I am in need of something creative – here it is! Even better, you can ask your students to create padlets together or simply read materials collected by you and then make a lengthy discussion (I did that with my C1 teenagers on Stanford Experiment and it went really well).

5 What am I?

Simple riddles (oh, ok, maybe not that simple), perfect for warm-ups and brain-teasers. You may use an IWB for such games, but I’ve tried dictating riddles from my phone and asking students to guess the password, and it proved to be fun as well. Some of the rhymes are funny, some of them are really complicated and, frankly, you can use it as a typical party game with other teachers and native speakers!

6 Trivia Quest: Books

Similarly to What am I?, this app may be used both with IWB and with mobile phones (you need to dictate questions and click answers, though). You may wonder whether your students are bookish enough to take part in such activity, but questions range from Harry Potter to the Odyssey, and I’m sure everyone will find something for themselves. Just divide your class into groups and start a quick trivia show – perfect for cool-downs! Just remember to celebrate with winners: maybe give them a candy or a motivational sticker?

TheFreeDictionary

You may wonder why I recommend an app that’s a dictionary – but for me that’s the dictionary, something I ask my students to install on their own mobiles, because it’s not only far better than this abomination called google: translate, it has games (hangman, spelling bee with three levels of difficult, wordhub, synonym match…), grammar quiz and lesson, idiom of the day, quotation of the day, articles… oh, right, and a dictionary. You can pick your own features and use it everyday. In the classroom it may bring you a topic to discuss (use the quotation or the article of the day), a new word every lesson, or a nice discussion about today’s holiday – you won’t believe things people celebrate worldwide!

Here they are: 7 free apps which saved my classes more than once. If you have other lifesavers – share them with me, will be happy to test something new!

Spring poems – lesson plan

It's a smell of grass in dew...

I’m not a fan of ready-made lesson plans. I used to be, but the more apps I use, the more into games I am, the less ready-made lesson plans I follow. I appreciate them immensely, though, when I need to cover one of the topics I quite dislike, namely, environment.

I don’t know why, really, but, ecological as I try to be, I simply can’t stand the topic. I think everyone has their quirks – and having class about environment usually bores me to death.

Thinking about death, now, give me topic about crime and I’ll give you a great lesson on the go!

Fortunately, the book we’re covering with my teenage group (Activate B1) had the chapter about environment scheduled for the end of April, so I decided to mix it with Earth Day (22nd April) and to try to come up with something interesting – both for me and my students. So I got inspired by Twinkl and went with writing a poem, especially that it was a nice revision of vocabulary connected with senses (something we had covered a while before) and reminded them of the time we started writing poems together.

I don’t usually share lesson plans, but I want to show how combining two various sources may help create something unusual and bring some wow effect to the classroom.

Botanic Garden by Ola

Aim: to revise vocabulary connected with nature, senses and to practice comparative and superlative forms

Level: B1 and higher

Time: around 45-60 minutes

Materials: I used Twinkl and its Earth Day Amazing Poetry Activity Pack, although I only chose two sheets (MA and HA).

Task: As a warm-up activity I chose HA sheet and used it to revise vocabulary connected with nature and senses, which took about 15-20 minutes of pairwork and comparing the results.

Then I used MA sheet to practice metaphors and comparative structures. I gave some examples and asked students to work in pairs and come up with their own metaphors filling in the blanks in the sheet, which took another 15-20 minutes.

To my students’ surprise I asked them to write their own poems about nature – I shared some ideas like water, morning, snow, forest etc. I let them work either individually or in pairs, as I realize not every teenager feels like being a poet – for the same reason I only gave them 15 minutes of writing. I don’t think they realised that they would be able to write something creative and even vaguely reminding a piece of poetry, so they were really surprised when I collected their projects and read them out loud: it turned out they actually wrote quite passable poems!

It was one of those breakthroughs when learners of a foreign language realise they can achieve something they never would have even dreamed of. They were pretty proud of themselves, so I decided to make a souvenir to celebrate the occasion.

As a surprise, I rewrote the poems into nice Canva projects, printed them out and decorated school with them. My students were surprised in a really nice way, and as cherry on top there was our parent-teacher meeting which I could brighten even more by showing artsy stuff the kids were working on – come holidays, I’ll give the posters to the authors as an example of things they’ve achieved this year.

Alternatively, I would encourage students to make their own Canva projects and share them with me, but I think they’ll be more willing to do this after they’ve seen how cool their project work may look like.

Lightning by Franek and Kuba

Bro, do you even canva?

teaching is a journey

Robert Greene said “creativity is a combination of discipline and childlike spirit”. I know, believe me, as I spent my May mini-break making various Canva projects and my head is spinning with more or less motivational quotes.

In my case: motivational quotes that I change into de-motivational quotes, I’m the evil teacher, after all.

Canva is a perfect tool to make your own projects, posters, postcards, Facebook graphics and whatnot – the only limit is your own creativity. And the best thing about it is, naturally, the fact it’s mostly free.

What you do is simply create an account – and the rest is easy. You start with choosing appropriate design – may it be a card, a poster or a Facebook post (what’s important here is a general layout). You can explore e-books, presentations, blog covers etc., but if you need something particular, you can also create your own design.

Once you’ve decided which design suits you best, there are some layouts you can get inspired with (i.e. pick a ready-to-go option and simply change text). It usually takes me quite a lot of time to browse through all those projects – some of them are free, some of them cost around a dollar or two, but the price is more of an issue connected with the background. However, choosing a layout may take some time, but if you’ve already taken some time on Pinterest, you’ll know when to stop.

Now, the background is useful when you decide to use a photo (again, free, one-dollar-per-photo, or, the best option: uploading your own). You can choose from a variety of background ideas, however, unfortunately, most of them require payment (1 USD, sure, but still). The good thing is, you can upload your own background and proceed with your project.

When we have our design or background+photo chosen, it’s time to put some text inside – be that motivational quote by a superhero (“Hulk smash!”) or a simple “revise irregular verbs for the Monday test”. I’ve always admired those neatly arranged menus and witty quote boards in those hipsterish cafés I never openly admit to visiting… and hurray! Canva gives me ready layouts to put my words into arrangement so lovely they somehow look more impressive.

Try uploading Hodor’s photo and finding a great text layout for his unforgettable quotation “Hodor, hodor hodor. Hodor…” – behold the power of design!

You can add a finishing touch by choosing additional elements – photos, icons, charts etc. and you can admire your artwork. It’s beautiful, easy and ready to download: and before you do it, remember to pick the most suitable file type (e.g. for Facebook you’ll need a jpg, as pdf doesn’t go well with it).

I’ve already used Canva for my blog and my Facebook fanpage, but I’ve got some ideas on how you can use it in your classroom:

  1. As a group project (e-book cover with a blurb, presentation, birthday card etc.)
  2. As homework (recipe, magazine article, letter)
  3. As an element of a lesson:
  • menu project when you’re talking about food and restaurants
  • business card when talking about making first impressions
  • flyer when making plans for holidays
  • Facebook event cover when planning a future party – etc.

As you can see – possibilities are endless! Naturally, you can try available software like Photoshop to create similar, if not better effect, but simplicity of Canva and the fact it’s an online tool gives you the possibility of engaging students for the whole lesson and at its end present their final project (+15 to their sense of accomplishment).

The only problem is that you need computers or laptops – Canva works neither on tablets nor on mobile phones (shame, I know).

If you’re still not sure how to use Canva, next week I’ll share a plan of the lesson I enjoyed with a bunch of teenagers on intermediate level only two weeks ago – we tried to lure spring by creating poems and although so far we haven’t succeeded, at least we had some fun.

 

7 reasons for going to teachers’ conventions

zlot-metodykow-logo-2_orig

edunation.com.pl

I spent the last weekend in Warsaw where edunation ladies had organised an event for Directors of Studies and proper teachers. It was the first event of its kind and it reminded me a lot of fantasy fans’ conventions I used to coordinate *sniff*. Good times…

I made new friends and learnt a lot of more or less useful things, but the most important thing about this weekend is the sense of empowerment and motivation that only comes after intensively spending time with people who share your passion – exactly like fantasy fans’ meetings.

Only the teachers take shower more often, I guess.

I don’t think you get a similar feeling after those typical free teachers’ conferences organised mainly by publishing companies and focused on their products – and nothing’s wrong with that, but the event I had opportunity to take part in was focused on CPD and continuous growth of DoSes and teachers.

It makes me think of the greatest benefits of attending such meetings (either fantasy conventions or DoS-cons*):

1 Learning

Since you’re supposed to take part in lectures and workshops this point seems rather obvious, but there are more ways you can obtain knowledge apart from listening – you can always talk to lecturers after their presentation and from my experience they’ll feel really appreciated and will probably share useful books or articles worth reading. Moreover, there are many publishing companies around – it’s a good idea to check their new CPD books and check new textbooks.

2 Asking questions – and getting answers

There is no better place to share your concerns without being judged – your fellow teachers will be eager to help and at least brainstorm all possible solutions to the problem. Naturally, you can share your doubts on the Internet, but there aren’t as many trolls and haters when you reveal your weakness offline.

3 Gaining perspective

Problem sharing isn’t usually one-sided business, so it will probably lead to other teachers referring to their own troubles – which is just great as there’s nothing better than learning from the experience of others. Moreover, you will be able to get invaluable feedback and, equally important, perspective. I wish I had the opportunity of talking to more experienced and understanding teachers those thirteen years ago when I started teaching…

4 Networking

If you feel like sharing your professional experience there’s nothing better than going to a conference full of people who are genuinely interested in what you want to say. You can meet someone who suddenly becomes your inspiration – in my case it’s Beata Topolska who gave a great lecture about blogging and managed to put my ideas into proper frames. You’ll see my blog change very soon and I must say all I needed was Beata who gave me the push.

5 Meeting people

It would be really tiring, if you only met people who inspire and motivate. Fortunately, there are lots of attendees just like you – people who love their job and want to develop and grow, who have their successes but also problems – and who, just like you, sometimes feel simply overwhelmed. You can meet people who listen and talk to you, who understand you and don’t blame you for professional doubts.

You can make real friends.

6 Having fun

Apart from lectures, there are workshops and networking sessions, and many activities you may try just to have fun. The event last weekend had a photo booth with lots of funny accessories, a make-up stall and a massage spot! Didn’t make it to the last point, but I had a stunning make-up and was ready for a party. Because yes, there are parties – teachers and parties are like a house on fire after all!

I’m not going to elaborate that point, though.

7 Food

Well, honestly, you don’t always get cupcakes with logos on top, but the mere chance of having at least one should prompt you to take part in such events.

FYI, my CUPcake (gods, forgive me this flat pun) was scrumptious.

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Are there any more benefits you expect from going to teachers’ conferences? Maybe you’re tempted with freebies, or maybe it’s the unlimited amount of coffee you may drink without anyone noticing your addiction?

I want to send a big THANK YOU to Monika and Gosia who were the best companions I could wish for – you’re awesome, girls!

 

*if there was not a term coined, there is now, what else would you call a convention for directors of studies?

Twinkl Imagine – check, communicate and chill out

Some time ago I decided to join Twinkl group for bloggers who test this platform and share their ideas. In case you don’t know what Twinkl is – it’s a mine full of jewels like lesson plans, resources, interactive activities, presentations, posters and loads of ideas for teachers, parents and caretakers. Oh, and homeschoolers.

I’m not going to write the usual – you need to log in and enjoy the massive amounts of materials by yourself. To be honest, I feel like a child in a sweet shop – there are so many things, in so many languages, you need a moment to cool down. But once you do (and stop downloading every second thing you click on) you’ll find more than “just” teaching resources.

One of the features I loved immediately was… a calendar. Seriously, there’s a Teaching Resource Calendar with ever so many events and lesson plans ready you can actually have a lesson ready for everything (including Stilton Cheese Rolling Championship [May 2nd] which is something I absolutely feel like popularising as I really love Stilton cheese).

The tool that caught my attention, however, is called Imagine. It’s a creative resource with a new image every day which you can use as a stimulus to discussion, learning and teaching. If you don’t like “image of the day”, you may choose another from a great selection of topics (apart from fractions and rainforests, you can pick dragons or fairy tales, yay!) – and each topic has more than one set of ideas! But what you are offered is far more than just a photo.

First, you may choose your students’ age – either KS1 or KS2. In the first version, we have topics adjusted to children’s level, the latter option gives us more activities – and activities we have galore! We’ve got such varied options as think (as a warm-up), solve (a little bit of Maths to wake you up), discover (nice questions prompting students to do some research), respond (which may be used as a composition), discuss and reimagine (which adds a bit of design and art approach, perfect for making visuals).

But wait, there is more! You can get some awesome cross-curricular ideas and resources which may be a perfect opportunity to change your EFL lesson into a proper CLIL experience. So, in a topic “colour” you can implement some Maths (Venn diagram, for instance), Geography (Holi Festival in India) or Music (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Andrew Lloyd Weber).

Not enough? Very well then – apart from activities and cross-curricular ideas, there’s also a “book, text, film” section where you can get even more inspirations on the topic – perfect not only for a teacher, but also for a student who wants to read more about the theme of the classes.

Now, I do realise I sound pretty hyped, but I think Imagine may be a perfect solution for those days when I feel pretty zombified and have no idea for a nice warm-up – all I do is log in, show a photo and off we go! Or in case of sudden need of covering for another teacher – I may simply find a nice topic (I’d certainly go for Myths) and have a proper lesson, discussion and even a nice homework!

By the way, when you look for various sources in Twinkl try using InspireMe – it’s a really funny search tool, but it works like Pinterest, you may spend ours getting inspired, again, and again, and again…

Enjoy!

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Pure nonsense in the classroom

nonsense-quotes-8

My ultimate goal in teaching is, as I’ve probably mentioned it already, having fun – you can’t seriously expect me to be prim and proper at all times, now, can you? It’s rather difficult to keep a straight face when your students make you cry from laughter, and that’s something that happens to me only too often (bless my students!). With April Fools’ Day writing about humour is inevitable – especially that I don’t really like pranks and yet bringing humour to the classroom is surely one of my favourite aspects of teaching.

Don’t we enjoy comedies in English, especially famous British humour? I’m lucky to teach EFL as I can introduce students to my ever-favourite Monty Python (The Parrot Sketch kills me everytime), Top Gear specials (US Special is the best for English classes) or Jay and Silent Bob (for mature students though). I remember one of my tutors at university – I mean, I don’t really remember the classes, but I remember fun we had when we were watching Fawlty Towers or Clerks in the classroom. Good days.

Naturally, I can’t show a funny video on every class but I can make my students comedians on their own right by bringing in pure nonsense (in moderate measures, otherwise one can easily get confused). I do realise not everyone feels comfortable when it comes to being a class clown and a teacher at the same time, but from my perspective presenting yourself as a person with a healthy distance to oneself helps students being more relaxed and distanced to their own learning failures. After all, mistakes aren’t always “just wrong”, sometimes they’re also hilarious.

Pure nonsense may be perfectly used during explaining grammar rules, when you can create great sentences to reflect the theory. For instance, instead of using the absolute classic “If it rains, I will stay at home” as an example for the 1st Conditional, you may use something your students were chatting about. In my case, as a result of a lengthy discussion on the role of alcohol during teenage parties, an example created by my students was “If you drink Jack Daniel’s in Scotland, people will look at you with mercy”. It doesn’t look funny unless you’re in the group, but for them it is the sentence that connects grammar to the real life and quite funny moment of the lesson they probably won’t forget for a while (also they’ll hopefully remember that apostrophe).

Another way of using pure nonsense as a means of teaching a language is picking an optionally fictional character and using it as an example for grammar rules or vocabulary. I have to confess that a character chosen by my young adult group is a prominent and slightly paranoid Polish politician who’s undergone rather gruesome adventures in ours classes (“Antoni M. will have organised seven military units before the beginning of the war” – to show Future Perfect… and you don’t want to know the story with “infrared” and “outer space”).

Yet another idea of using nonsensical humour is quite specific and very much dependent on the students you teach – if they’re into fun, you might use their names as examples, naturally exaggerated and somewhat distorted, so you must be sure you won’t hurt your students’ feelings. For example, I have a student who used to eat lots of sweets and once came with sugary powder. It took us a minute to start teasing him about drug dealing etc. He took it as good fun (he was a new student who thus got a status of personality in the group), so for months it’s been a running joke. Once in a while someone says “I’m so knackered today, must’ve been Karol’s new drugs” – we also use the character of Karol the Teenage Drug Dealer while making sentences etc. It’s really great fun but, as I mentioned, you need to be absolutely sure you won’t offend anyone. You can start with yourself: “When Monika’s students read this post, they’ll probably call a lawyer to protect their intellectual property”…

What about you? Do you like using nonsensical humour in the classroom? If not, maybe you’ll get inspired to give it a go?

Enjoy!

English for _very_ special purposes

Last year I got hooked on Stranger Things – a great TV series, especially for geeky 80’s kids (like yours truly, I guess, can’t wait for s02). I guess zombies, aliens, demogorgons and all supernatural things have been quite a thing for a while, and thanks to Netflix we can binge on tv series (btw, thanks netflix for ruining my social life) and it would be a real waste if we couldn’t incorporate it into our classes.

I love creating lessons around tv series (I’m not a whovian, but “Blink” is a great episode to use in the classroom and “Yellow Fever” from Supernatural is simply hilarious – just to name but two) as it shows quite natural language and speech flow, brings some cultural references and is a nice way of learning by fun (which is my favourite way of acquiring knowledge).

Apart from creating lessons around fantasy and sci-fi tv series I’m really glad when I see proper books directed at low-level students, allowing them to be part of the supernatural hype:

alien_20cover

English for the Alien Invasion is written by the same team who committed English for the Zombie Apocalypse (a really good book for pre-intermediate students, I wrote about it here). This time the threat is from the outer space, cunning and intelligent. Beware, it’s not for the light-hearted 🙂 The story focuses on the boy called Dani, Captain Black, Doctor Green and a bunch of aliens, of course. Unsuspecting Dani meets an alien and befriends him only to be lured to the spaceship – will he be able to run away? Will Captain Black manage to inform the President about the danger? Will Doctor Green be able to help? Will humanity survive?

The book is divided into 10 units (from Making Contact to Saving the World) and two sets of flashcards. Each unit makes a 45min PPP-type lesson with similar stages: warm-up, listening exercise followed by reading comprehension, working on important phrases and production phase – creating own conversation or role-play. There are also various ideas how flashcards can be used in the classroom (learning vocabulary, short tests, memory game and story game). I find organisation of the book way better than the previous one and apart from being well thought of, there is still some space to put teacher’s own ideas (fragments of Close Encounters of the Third Kind maybe?) which is always a good thing.

EAI is perfect for elementary students for more than one reason. First and foremost, it’s a lot of fun. Who hasn’t seen at least one episode of The X-files? We can put a lot of fun into English classes and it’s as important for beginners as for any other level. Secondly, for people who have just started learning a foreign language, each attempt of communication in English is like talking to (and listening to!) aliens. We can add some humour into our classes by pretending “aliens” are native speakers of English – not only will it relieve some stress, but it may also be a great pretext to talk about cultural differences and cross-cultural communication.

I hope you’ll get inspired by the idea – it’s always good to be prepared for the worst! And if you are interested in the book, you can get it here.

Enjoy!