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.

 

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!

twinklbutton

 

Make your own e-book with Storybird

storybird-design-screen

oupeltglobalblog.com

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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projectcomenius.weebly.com

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 🙂

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Enjoy!