Make your own e-book with Storybird

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When I was a teenager (ghastly times) my English lessons were mainly focused on following the book with a sprinkle of additional exercises (unforgettable drills by Thomson and Martinett). If I were to admit why I got to like this language I’d have to say a huge thank you to my primary school teacher who decided I should take part in an English contest and spent long hours teaching me actual communication. I didn’t win, but it was enough for me to look past the boring school classes and remember there’s more to learning a language.

I’m really annoyed by the fact that classes today – in ordinary schools – happen to look pretty much the same. It’s probably one of the reasons I gave up on the state educational system and decided to work with language schools, where I can experiment, bring new ideas, broaden horizons (both mine and my students) and put actual fun into our classes. This year I’ve started using Padlet (so far so good!), but there’s a tiny little project I’m planning to use once my students feel bored and will need a spark of creativity – Storybird.

I came across this website and just thought ooh, looks nice, I’ll give it a go… and disappeared for a few hours just to come back with a picture book about cats (duh, obviously). How come I haven’t seen this wonder earlier? This is my own story. Not about me, mind, I just saw some kitten pics and, well…

I might look lonely – enjoy 🙂

Naturally, the curse of a teacher made me think of how I could put Storybird into good use in the classroom. Here’s what I came up with:

Traditional use: Let’s Make a Story! – we can use the platform as an individual or group project when we’re discussing things like storytelling. Students register on the platform and make their own story. The great advantage here is that an account is free both for students and teachers, but there is an option of adding parents so they can observe progress their prodigy make. We can also start a story in the classroom, students will come up with its development, then choose the best one – we put the chosen one as a continuation, read it aloud and ask students to continue, and so on – to make it more of a class project.

Parental control may be a great thing in My Own Dictionary project – here Storybird is a tool for students to make their own dictionary of the words/phrases they tend to forget. Ideally students would add a word or two after every lesson to make it a really nice thing (let’s say, one page of words would be one month of learning). The best thing about this project is the possibility of printing out their dictionaries as a form of a course accomplishment.

The last idea I had about this adorable site was using it as a form of a webpage – choose a particular theme (cookbook? short stories? urban legends? favourite things?) and, as the whole group, collaborate by writing one page about the topic given. It’s a nice way to practise traditional writing – definitely looks less boring!

Also, in my next post I will give you a nice idea which topic you can choose to make a nice book – stay tuned!

I hope you’ll like these ideas, and if you want a short tutorial on how to work with Storybird – here it is.

Enjoy!

How do we learn (and how can we use Padlet in the classroom)?

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I don’t even remember how I came across Padlet, but since one of my vices is being overly organised (I’ve realised I’m overly organised when I noticed how many people laugh at me or stare in disbelief once they see me do admin work), that was love at first sight – and obviously, as a properly infatuated teacher, I’ve decided to share my ideas on making Padlet an awesome tool in teaching both inside and outside the classroom.

This year I’ve decided to start my classes with a very important topic, which is learning itself – I have observed how many people simply don’t know how to study efficiently (my junior high class), how to find time for extra study (my high school class) or simply forgot how to study at all (my adult class). As a proper master I came to help and created the padlet below to use in class and show my padawans the Way of Learning. You can see the padlet below (yes, it’s a tiny one, if you feel like adding your own links here I’d be more than happy!).

CLICK on: How do we learn?

I started my classes with showing this adorable drawer full of highlighters and post-it notes and we had a chat about our ways of learning etc. Then we moved to discussing types of students and identifying ourselves, trying to get 2-3 learning methods that would work with us.

We made a circle and got a visual of our daily organisation and discussed the possibilities of learning in non-traditional situations (audiobooks while commuting? Memrise while waiting for a sports club?). We also had a chat about morning routines and how we can make them as pleasant as possible (if it’s possible at all, huh).

I put emphasis on note-taking and presented it as a main focus this season (one of my observations being that especially young people have problems with proper note-taking). We talked about doodling in the class and how we actually can change it into far more productive note-taking (embellishments, pictures, short comments etc.). There is a theory that once you copy draft notes into a neat and proper note within 9 hours after classes it’s much more effective than doing it later (or not doing it at all for that matter).

We discussed tips, elements of learning online and I was really pleased as my students seemed really into adding this board into our lesson – so I’ve decided to make it an all-year project. I prepare a board before the lesson and use it with my class (the perk is, students only scan my QRcode instead of googling stuff and have all the materials ready). I find it really nice with younger students as they love using mobiles in the classroom and Padlet is a really user-friendly mobile app, they can add their own ideas and I don’t have to print photos, articles etc.

With my adult group, however, I’ve decided to go full Flipped Model – I give them a QRcode to the next class and they have to read articles and cover vocabulary before the lesson. It motivates them to prepare for classes and I find it a better way of making them do something outside the classroom rather than giving them boring homework 🙂

How long will we work like this? I’m not sure, but if you want me to write about it, let me know 🙂

And if you liked this post, follow my page on Facebook for more useful stuff.

Enjoy!

“Language Learning with Technology” by Graham Stanley

Summer, chillout and sun – it means I finally have time to stay in and read! When my school bought a bunch of nice CPD books I snatched the one by Mr Stanley who’s one of the people I truly respect (I even wrote about his IATEFL plenary three years ago) and would love to read everything he’s written. I was sure I’d love the book…

…and since I’ve just finished it I’m happy to confirm my presumption.

The subtitle is quite promising – “Ideas for integrating technology in the classroom” and I’m delighted to confirm that this is exactly what the book consists of: ideas, examples, useful links and everything I love about a good “how to teach” book.

We have 11 chapters here, from integrating technology and building a learning community through particular skills, project work, finishing with assessment and evaluation. Each part includes several activities with examples and useful links. I’ll just mention the few of them I’m really eager to try:

Digital camera scavenger hunt (vocabulary):

Prepare a list of items to be found and photographed around school, divide the class into teams and give them 10 minutes to find and take photos of the items. Lovely warm-up for classroom vocabulary.

Learner-generated quizzes (vocabulary):

Ask your students to create quizzes for one another, looks like great fun and it may be even better when you make it a pairwork activity. The sites you may use are Quia, Quizzlet or Vocabtest.

Memory posters (vocabulary):

Pretty much like mind-maps, only your students may work in groups to create their posters which is way cooler and more interactive – just have a look at Glogster or Mixbook. It may be a great idea for a project work as well!

Authentic word clouds (grammar):

Paste an authentic text into a word-cloud creator (e.g. Wordle) and give the word-clouds to students before reading, so that they have to connect the words into a coherent idea. After some time you may help them by writing a title of the text.

Coded message trail (reading):

It’s like treasure hunt, only you create clues and use a QR code generator to code them. Next, you place the codes near the places you’ve chosen for a trail, make sure your students have their mobiles with a barcode-scanning app (at least one per group) – and enjoy one of the best activities, especially in the summer (in the city). You can find all instructions at QR Code Treasure Hunt.

Story Starters (writing):

I’m not going to describe the activity here, I’m simply going to leave a link to this magnificent activity and let you enjoy its endless possibilities (groupwork, homework, maybe a written composition for a test?).

Crazy tales (writing):

One of my most favourite activities – at least for my students – which I used to do myself. What you do is simply write random words in specific categories and then put them in a story creating a completely crazy, but usually hilarious, tale. I’m really happy I don’t have to come up with them by myself anymore, now I can use MadTakes or Crazy Tales. Yay!

Translates to SMS (writing):

My students crave for natural English and translating “normal” English into a text message is not only educational, but also highly enjoyable. I used to bring handouts, but now I can use Transl8it.

Phonetics apps (pronunciation):

I’ve always found it most problematic to help my students with pronunciation development, I usually recommended Spelling Bee you can find at thefreedictionary.com, but there are some useful apps my students can use: Phonetics Focus by Cambridge, Sounds Right by British Council and my favourite Sounds by Macmillan.

 

But wait, there’s more! No, seriously, there are loads of useful activities and if you’re into technology I’m sure by now you’re fairly convinced to get the book. But I guess the book is also for those teachers who don’t feel comfortable with technology, aren’t really sure what to do. I’m sure you’ll find here something you like – like I have.

Enjoy reading and implementing Mr Stanley’s ideas and if you liked this post, please, follow my fanpage on facebook for more useful stuff!

Facebook in the classroom?

Have you ever felt tired with your students checking their mobiles and Facebook updates in the classroom? Maybe you’re annoyed with their “I was just checking the word in the dictionary” when you perfectly well know they’re simply messaging their Facebook friends? Well, what can I say: if you can’t fight’em, join’em!

Naturally, I don’t encourage any teacher to ignore the students and focus on their own mobile during the lesson (though, sometimes, it may be a good tool, pretty much like pretending to be bored or annoyed with their whining). I’ve been using Facebook in my teaching style and here are some ideas I’d like to share.

Teaching sites

I love Facebook reminding me of new stuff the British Council publish on their wall (they have so many sweet profiles – for teachers, young adults, teenagers and people into English Premier League). There’s something new and inspiring every day, well, but since most of you found me via BC’s Facebook page, you probably know this. There are many sites you can use to get an easy access to materials, ideas, new friends and tutors.

IATEFL – a group for EFL teachers focused mostly on conferences, meetings and basically CPD. Highly recommended if you’re into this kind of thing (there’s going to be the big conference soon, with most presentations streamed for everyone to see, lovely thing).

Messenger

I find this communicator the best way to get to my students and vice versa: I often receive messages like “I’m sorry, I’ll be late”, “Forgot my books,  which pages should I copy?” or “Could you give me some additional exercises on…”. The key is to set your profile so that everyone can message you without adding you as a Facebook friend.

Groups

I’m pretty much into blended learning, so I usually experiment on my groups. With the group I share a flex model course at my language school I decided to try using a closed group on Facebook. At first I was sharing materials, presentations etc., but now my students share their ideas, photos, experiences not always connected with English, but always in English. I do realise such activities depend on the group, but I recommend giving it a go.

Own page

Having your own blog or website is a nice idea anyway, but linking them with your Facebook profile makes more people notice you and opens more possibility for discussions and cooperation. I’m planning to make my blog’s fanpage soon enough because on your page you can share things difficult to put up as a blog post – popculture news, posts of fellow teachers, some song, TED presentations and, last but not least, cats 🙂

Truth be told, once you get into using Facebook in your teaching/learning process it is difficult to leave it – there are so many options, ideas and possibilities you could literally spend days browsing, learning, discussing and chatting. So my advice is: give it a go, but watch out as it’s a real time-consuming monster – our students know something about it!

Enjoy 🙂

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!