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?


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!

7 great free online courses to take in May

7 free courses in May

Teaching is learning, sure thing – but with so many sources to study choosing something suitable may take us more time than an actual course! Not to mention increasing greed-like feeling “oh, yes, I’m enrolling here… and there… and I totally have to find some time for this course!”

No need to panic – being quite an experienced online learner, I’ve decided to make a list of courses you may partake in this month, and possibly enjoy them at least as much as I do. I’ve got some ideas for both teachers and students of EFL because there are some options you may not really want to participate in, but share with your pupils or fellow learners as well. For example:

1 IELTS Academic Test Preparation by  the University of Queensland, Australia

IELTS Academic is the most popular exam for people who want to study in an English-speaking country, and from my experience of a person who’s been preparing others for this test for 5 years, it’s impossible to pass with a decent band without an earlier preparatory course – so if you think about studying abroad – take a look at this course!

The four-module course will take you 8 weeks of an estimated 5 hours/week. Level of English is rather low, and all the videos are subtitled.

2 Designing Assessments to Measure Student Outcome by AACTE (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education)

The course starts on the 1st of May and takes 3 weeks (estimated 3 hours/week). It focuses on creating tools to measure student outcomes. It may be quite useful for teachers who struggle with assessing their students’ progress or simply want to develop their understanding of this area.

Its three modules consist of building assessments, surveys and rubrics.

3 Understanding Autism by University of Kent

As teachers, we’re bound to meet an autistic student sooner or later. This course focuses on living with this lifelong developmental disability affecting social relations and communication. I believe every teacher should learn at least a bit about this spectrum condition.

The course starts on the 1st of May and takes 4 weeks (estimated 3 hours/week).

I’ve already enrolled.

4 Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching by Lancaster University

I already finished this course and I can recommend it to any teacher who struggles with understanding what dyslexia is and how terrifying it may be to our students to try and learn a foreign language – the course explains the nature of dyslexia, but also gives some solutions we may use to help our students.

The course started on the 24th of April, but you may still enrol! It takes 4 weeks of roughly 4 hours/week.

5 Teaching Your Subject in English by Cambridge English and Cambridge International Examinations

The course is perfect for teachers who teach regular school subjects and are planning to do this in English. The course consists of modules covering language needed for motivation, guidance, management and monitoring. It may be useful for CLIL teachers as well.

The course starts on the 1st of May and takes 5 weeks of roughly 3 hours/week.

6 Tricky American English Pronunciation by University of California, Irvine

Here you’ll have a chance to practise American English with all its trickiness – vowels, consonants and their sounds. Unfortunately, access to all of the lectures and handouts is free to anyone, but the graded assignments and quizzes are only available in the paid version of the course. Apart from enrolling, you may easily recommend this course to your students, as the linguistic level is suited for the beginners.

The course starts on the 8th of May and takes 4 weeks of a 3-4 hours/week.

7 History of Rock, Part One by University of Rochester

This is the course worth taking part not only in order to develop English, but also to get the a greater grasp of cultural knowledge – after all a huge part of rock music is connected with English-speaking countries! I am going to share this with my students, especially teenagers, who are linguistically ready to start learning on their own, but all they need is a nice course focusing on something they find interesting – and I’m sure rock music will be a good choice.

The course starts on the 22nd of May and includes 12-24 hours of videos and quizzes. It’s in English, but subtitles are available in English, simplified Chinese and Serbian.

I hope you’ll find at least one of the courses recommended by me interesting. Let me know when you decide to pick something and enrol – I’ll be happy to exchange experience. And maybe we’ll meet somewhere trying to Understand Autism?

Enjoy your learning!

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:


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.


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.


Halloween with a zombie apocalypse? Sure thing!

With Halloween approaching, a teacher has to come up with some entertaining ideas. I’m not a fan of classes dedicated directly to the occasion, I prefer running a normal lesson with a little twist. Some time ago I tried storytelling with Scaredy Cat by Heather Franzen (I still love this cute little story and regardless of how murderous students I teach, I find them appreciating these activities as well), but this year I’ve decided to go with something new — namely, the apocalypse.

Zombies have become a rather common topic in my classroom, especially on Mondays, when some of us look somewhat zombified. Somehow, the apocalypse is also quite a popular topic (all those environmentally-centred lessons in ESL books are rather pessimistic, admit it) — so when my ex-DOS found a book called English for the zombie apocalypse I simply had to buy a copy. Was it a good purchase?

Well, it depends.

The book consists of 10 lessons describing a story of a man who tries to escape zombies in his city — he finds a girl and her brother, they all escape to wilderness, the inevitable happens (one of them gets bitten and slowly turns into an undead) and finally the survivors ride towards the setting sun. Classic.

Each lesson starts with a dialogue introducing the situation, some follow-up questions and — what’s most important — some useful conversational phrases and drills with a short role play scenario (“you’re running away from zombies and meet a stranger. Introduce yourself and ask for possible help”).

Overally, I think the book is targeted at students around pre-intermediate level, and I’d rather recommend it for young adults and students who watch TV (The Walking Dead series proves to be really popular) and are pop-culturally aware, otherwise the purpose of the book makes no point. Truth be told, communicative exercises are useful not only in zombie-centred environment, but if you have a group of students who don’t get the zombie apocalypse theme, I’d rather not risk introducing the book. Unless they feel like giving it a go, of course.


Using the book in the classroom:

You can use the book in the classroom either using all the units at the same time (it can take one or two classes) or just the chosen ones (focusing on giving the directions or making apologies for example). While Halloween may be a good excuse to simply focus on the idea of a zombie apocalypse, you may also use the lessons throughout the course, showing your students that communicative skills can be vital when the undead attack.

You can make a project lesson with your students trying to come up with further lives of the survivors – students may write a story, record a video or simply create a lesson similar to the ones in the book. Naturally, you may also use the book as a basis for a lot of speaking activities focusing on survival and countless ‘what-if’ situations.

Hope you’ll enjoy your Halloween 🙂

Tenses review – a quickie


Having started teaching adults again, I faced a serious problem – forgetfulness 🙂 Especially, on the more advanced levels I meet people who used to learn English, and they can speak fluently, but when confronted with ‘let’s review perfect aspects today, eh?’ they go suspiciously silent. Well, it doesn’t really surprise me, as it’s really simple – if you don’t use more complex grammar every day, you’re bound to forget the rules and no wonder you’re not in the mood to deal with Future Perfect Continuous 🙂

So, just to make my – and my students’ – life easier, I’ve decided to make a cheat sheet for all the tenses & aspects, their uses and syntax. I’m happy to share it, but I’d also appreciate your insight – is there anything I have missed? Maybe I should add some details (was thinking about typical time expressions but decided against it, after all).

Anyway – you can find the cheat sheet here: Tenses review and I hope you’ll find it as useful as I do 🙂

Being a teacher = being a learner (HQBL: 1)


They say being a teacher is being a learner too, and I quite agree with that! So, when I saw a new course on coursera focused on Blended Learning I’ve decided to give it a go. Yay!

As the course is going to take 6 weeks, I’ve thought of sharing the ideas on the blog and give some examples of how they could be implemented in the EFL environment – I’m planning to experiment on my teenager groups who have already agreed and are surprisingly excited about it 🙂

So, let’s explore the idea of High Quality Blended Learning!

Blended Learning: Personalizing Education for Students by Brian Greenberg, Rob Schwartz, Michael Horn

First of all, let me remind you what blended learning is. Basically, it’s a program in which a student learns at least a bit through online learning with some element of control over the learning process (its time, place, path and/or time), but is supervised by a teacher. Both classroom and online learning complement each other.

Now, the lecturers define High Quality Blended Learning (HQBL) with the following aspects:

  1. personalization (a very learner-centered approach)
  2. mastery-based (focused on student’s achievement, not time)
  3. high expectations (student should have a clearly defined goal)
  4. student ownership (student is in control of their education)

The lecturers present three different HQBL models along with real-life examples:

Station Rotation Model

Here students rotate on a fixed schedule between different learning stations, and at least one of them is online. Other stations are usually small groups work, group project, individual tutoring, pencil-and-paper assignments etc. KIPP: LA is an example of this model.

Lab Rotation Model

Here students rotate on a fixed schedule between a classroom and a computer lab where they study online; the classroom is generally reserved for other activities. The example of this method is Navigator Schools.

Flex Model

Here online learning is the backbone of the course. Students have customized schedules, but the teacher still provides face-to-face support (small groups or individual, depending on a type of the model). Summit Public School is an example of this approach.

Now, you probably think what I’ve been thinking: if my students were to work on any of the programs above, they wouldn’t know what to do! People used to typical school education (learning for tests, not for real life) may have problems with HQBL simply because they don’t always have their goals defined (a typical educational system does not require that) and, well, not all of them know how to be in control of their own education.

So, before I jump with both feet into HQBL, I’ve decided to start with something smaller: Flipped Classroom. Here students rotate on a fixed schedule between a) face-to-face teacher-guided practice in class and b) online delivery of content after school. Seemed easier for my students to grasp the idea of HQBL and somehow try to control the way they acquire information.

In order to move on, I’ve used one of my previous posts – a homework for B2+ students. In the original homework, I wanted my students to write a composition, but to make it more interesting I want to change it a bit and adjust to something reminding Station Rotation.

The students are still to find information about the incident, but I divide them into groups: the official-government-statement followers, the conspiracy theory supporters and the reporters. When they collect information (online) and decide in their group (see, groupwork) on their line of belief, they are to take part in a panel discussion (this form of discussion is extremely popular in Poland at the moment due to political issues). The reporters ask questions to each group (and dig into their theory, looking for weak spots) and finally every group makes a report of the discussion (online or pencil-and-paper).

Huh, seems like a lot of work, eh? I think it can be easily done in a 1.5hr classes and since I have the opportunity to do it next week I’m definitely going for it. For homework they would have to read about the incident. The stations would be as follows: online (to check more complex issues), small groups discussion (line of presentation / making questions as reporters), face-to-face teacher consultation (to check linguistic correctness).

Will it work? Hopefully 🙂 I’m going to update this post next week and write another one about the HQBL course.

Wish me luck!