Make your own e-book with Storybird

storybird-design-screen

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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!

Make your own cookbook – project

cupcakes

Everybody likes food, even if not everyone is keen on cooking. Every EFL book contains a chapter about food and it’s one of the most popular topics – favourite food, dishes we hate, weird meals people enjoy around the world etc.

Food is also quite a nice topic for class projects, because there are so many ideas you can use: design a restaurant + its menu; plan a family meal for 12 people; make role plays focused on buying food/eating out etc.

You can prepare a “mini Master Chef” project, where students prepare simple things (like sandwiches) and then describe them using nice and elaborate vocabulary (lots of fun, even with adults!).

The idea of a common cookbook sprung to my mind when I was reading “Language Learning with Technology” by Graham Stanley and I saw one of the ideas. Then I thought about my lower secondary school students and a wild idea they came up with. It was a small group of friends and we’re all quite fond of one another, so let’s say I wasn’t overly surprised when they proposed a challenge – one cake per fortnight, homemade and delicious.

The first cake was made by Gustaw (a spinach cake and believe me, it was scrumptious) and then each of us brought something to share. It was a really nice idea, it was fun, delicious, and enjoyable – we had a normal lesson, but somehow it was different because, well, everyone’s happier after a slice of cake (and raspberries, mmm…).

cake

Gustaw, a cake and a knife

Anyhoo, after reading Mr Stanley’s book and his idea of creating a proper, albeit virtual cookbook, I’ve thought I might actually give it a go with the aforementioned group – adding some educational aspects to making delicious food. Simply – make a common website where everyone can publish their recipes, in English, naturally!

You can create a website for free on Wix or Weebly  and I’m planning to do it in October. I believe this project may be valuable not only educationally, but it may be a perfect portfolio my students may use even after they finish their course.

I hope you like my idea and enjoy implementing it in your course.

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A new online course – interested?

Hiya, fellow teachers & students of English, just a short note today – there’s a new course on Writing for University Study by University of Reading, it’s free and it’s online:

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/english-for-study

If you’re interested in studying at university or college in an English-speaking country, you’ll need to learn how to write using academic English. Academic writing can be very different from other types of English writing you may have done in the past. We have developed this course to help you learn the basics of academic writing and develop your English skills for study in the UK, US, Australia or other countries where English is used.

So, my IELTS students, consider this course a nice idea (yeah, I’ve also signed up, it’s never too late to learn something new!)

Enjoy 🙂

“First writing” tips

Writing can be one of the most tiresome endeavours of a student – can you recall your own papers, compositions, etc? Surely, not the funniest part of learning 🙂 My language teachers assumed I was able to write a nice story, so they never bothered to teach me how to write. Only at university did I learn what a topic sentence is 🙂

I see no reason not to pass the knowledge further on and teach some writing techniques to my own students. I’ve realised that the sooner they get the basics, the better their writing compositions are.

I think you can start even with elementary students, doing some exercises. Here, I wrote a simple sentence and asked my students to expand it by adding words and phrases. That’s what we got:

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On my last lesson, with my pre-intermediate group of teenagers, I explained what a topic sentence is and we decided to make a short outline of a story using only simple topic sentences. That’s what we got:

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Next, we thought about what exactly we are going to include in the paragraphs. We could do it together, deciding to write one story with the same plot and details, but at that moment my students started to grow their own ideas, so we just made a general outline:

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And then, I asked them to write down some keywords and phrases. It’s a pre-intermediate level, so it’s not too crazy 🙂 but on the more advanced levels I ask my students to add 2-3 items of sophisticated vocabulary, some phrasal verbs, an idiom or two, maybe a proverb. We tend to forget all those nice words while writing (especially on a test), but planning – and writing down – ideas, before we start writing, is a really good idea.

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That’s the final outline.

Next, I asked my students to elaborate the topic sentences the way we did during these simple exercises (like the one in the first photo). That’s how I’m able to monitor their work 🙂

Writing a full story (based on the outline, naturally) is their homework.

Since I include a short essay/composition on every test, I give my students more time to deal with this part, but I ask them to write not only the complete task, but also the process – topic sentences, ideas, keywords. It helps me to observe their progress and help them in those aspects they struggle with.

I hope you’ll find the idea worth giving it a try 🙂

(Thank you, group Washington, a.k.a. LeniweBuły, for your cooperation 😉 )