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!

Commercial Christmas or Christmas commercials?

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It’s not easy to come up with Christmas-themed lessons, especially when you teach the same bunch of students yet another year and they’ve already had enough of Christmas at school (be it their own or their children’s). This year, I accidentally went for a pretty nice Christmas theme inspired by commercials and a fellow teacher’s blog post.

The theme of my Christmas-related classes is its commercial aspect. For some people it’s the most dreadful thing in the world, but for me the season starts with John Lewis’ TV spot (my absolutely favourite is the 2013 one, the Bear and the Hare with Lily Allen’s nostalgic voice in the background). It’s quite easy to run a short debate on commercials and their influence on our lives, and then it’s just perfect to use the film I found On The Same Page (it’s just brilliant! thank you!).

After watching these inspiring ads I initiate a discussion about the commercial side of Christmas – how annoying it is to go into a shop fully decorated for Christmas right after Halloween, how some commercials can be real tearjerkers (yes, I still want to share some cheesy Christmas spirit even if I’m the Evil Empress of the World in the Making). I’m sure everyone has at least one spot they’ll watch whenever it’s on (like We All Need Warmth by Quechua, awww!).

You may pick some commercials from my padlet here. (Please do not hesitate to add some if you know any nice Christmas-themed commercials!) Each video may be used to ask some questions connected not only with commercials, but also with social issues – mostly family and friends, but also animal care etc.

The last Christmas commercial I have in mind is the one that already went viral – made for Allegro, a Polish auction website.

The discussion that follows this short film may be connected with various aspects. With elementary levels we may talk about difficulties we have while learning, with pre-int students we may talk about our own learning methods, with intermediate+ levels we may discuss the difference in learning (or language acquisition) between younger and older students, and more advanced groups can talk about the impact of migration on family lives and the decisions migrants face.

I hope you’ll have fun with the commercials – and enjoy your Christmas classes!

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!

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!