7 Ideas for Engaging Homework Online

Ideas for Engaging Homework Online

Everything in moderation, including moderation, of course – that’s my motto when it comes to the idea of homework. There are those who believe in the magic of Thomson and Martinet, there are also people who prefer to teach without any homework at all. Maybe the key to success is not limiting homework or getting rid of it, but changing our approach? What about adjusting homework to our students’ needs and interests?

Teaching EFL seems much easier – at least in terms of homework – than other subjects. Students (schoolchildren and adults alike) usually understand the importance of learning the language, especially now, with the opportunities of travelling abroad, with more and more people working or studying abroad, with online games forcing people to communicate… All we, as teachers, need to do, is to shift our mindset; we live in a world where literally everything and everyone encourages people to learn English, even more – students themselves realise its importance and are mostly keen on learning after school. We must not spoil it with dull grammar drills on paper copies that are so easy to be forgotten, lost or ignored.

I believe we should share our enthusiasm, our true passion for not only teaching but using English and adapt homework to our students’ needs, styles of learning and interests. Homework assignments may be yet another way to personalise our approach and show our students the benefits of taking responsibility for their own educational process. Today, when there are many tools online ready to use, we can share them with our students, enabling them to study on their own and develop not only their linguistic skills, but also broaden their horizons.

1 Online grammar exercises

There are many useful websites for students to do their drills and doing them online may give them result immediately after they finish, without waiting fr the teacher to correct their work. You may create a padlet with all the useful exercises and tell your students your next graded test will be based on those exercises, thus motivating them to work after class.
Examples: englishgrammar.org, perfect-english-grammar.com

2 Videos

Everyone likes watching videos as homework – so why not use it more often? You can pick an interesting video summing up the lesson or introducing the next topic, you may also ask students to write a composition referring to the video. Here you may base on your students’ interests, changing boring homework into fun activity.
Examples: ed.ted.com, www.ted.com, youtube.com, truetube.co.uk

3 Listening

Listening exercises aren’t very varied in the classroom, mostly referring to the coursebook content, so we may assign a song or a podcast as an interesting homework activity – this may be their contact with “real” English, not the somewhat strict classroom environment.
Examples: lyricstraining.com, elllo.org

4 Mobile applications

Asking students to use a chosen application on their mobiles on a regular basis may prove to be a true homework of a 21st century. We may ask the whole group to use the same application in a manner of year-ling competition, or adapt various apps to our students’ individual needs, enhancing individual approach.
Examples: memrise, knudge.me, 6 minute English, various applications by the British Council

5 Tests

Apart from having fun in the classroom, you may assign a test as homework – be it a ready-made grammar test or a self-designed vocabulary check. There are many various online test applications, however for teenagers I recommend quizizz as it’s free, funny and you can use various memes.
Examples: quizizz, kahoot, quizlet

6 Class blogs

This form of a schoolyear-long project may be a great idea for a focused class of students who are already familiar with self-assessment. You may decide various topics the blog should be written about – school life, books, film, celebrities etc., but why not design a blog on classroom notes from English lessons? That would be a great help for absent students, not to mention general help before tests.

7 HiNative

This application is designed for students learning foreign languages (not only English). You may ask questions about language and culture to native speakers around the world – and get the answer, and what is even better – you may be asked questions about your native language as well. This may be a great tool for students who want to learn more about culture, or those who need to try communicating with native speakers but are somewhat shy.

It seems quite obvious, that with such availability of online sources, we should feel encouraged to use them on a regular basis, not only in the classroom, with the help of IWB and other tools, but also as homework activities, giving our students the chance not only to feel more at ease with the idea of extra activities, but also actually enjoy them.

The full post was first published in “The Teacher” nr 5(159)/2018

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How to Organise Phrasal Verbs? (book review)

How to Organise Phrasal Verbs_ (book review)

One of my most vivid memories from summer schools in England is the Arrival Day, when new students were picked up by young and happy people (usually 18-22 year old native speakers) from the airport and transported to school. Often it was an experience baffling for both parties – foreign kids couldn’t understand English teens and the latter couldn’t understand the fact someone didn’t get them. They thought they were perfectly understandable, but for those kids “alright, pick up your stuff and move along” was not the English they were used to.

Admit it, teaching phrasal verbs isn’t the most pleasant experience in the classroom. First of all, there are so many of them, they tend to be so illogical and a different preposition changes the whole meaning of the sentence. It makes learners believe the best way to deal with the wretched phrasal verbs is to avoid them, but we know that won’t do.

We need to be brave, though – we, the teachers, are meant to teach not only the adorable Present Perfect or crime-related vocabulary, but also the phrasal verbs. And if you – like yours truly – are not the greatest fan of those expressions that seem to be randomly mixed words with an extra weird meaning, I have a great solution for you!

Phrasal Verb Organiser is a great book written by John Flower who had apparently seen too many students suffering because of this ridiculous phrasal-verbish-conundrum… or maybe he had seen too many teachers struggling? Whatever inspired him to write the book brought us one of the most useful books ever.

Who is the book for?

Originally the book was designed for students, especially those who learn English on their own (“it is better to do a little at regular intervals, rather than a lot at one time, and then nothing for weeks”). However, I got myself a copy when I was a teacher and I found it a great help when teaching students on B2 level – it has helped me to provide the appropriate amount of phrasal verbs to help them move beyond the learning plateau.

How is it organised?

Surprisingly, you don’t start with the exercises – first you get started with the whole idea of a phrasal verb, with some sweet lies like “it is often possible to understand what a phrasal verb means by looking at its particles”.

As if I didn’t know that phrasal verbs are fragments of an ancient ritual of summoning demonic creatures from the deepest abyss of hell!

And then you may enjoy nine chapters titled e.g. verbs with down/up/off/out/two particles etc. Then you may enjoy common verbs (be, get, go etc.), phrasal verbs with nouns or adjectives and even phrasal verbs by topic (business, feelings, travel or even colloquial expressions). If you’re not sure about the meaning, the book provides a useful mini-dictionary.

How can I use it in the classroom?

Each chapter has the same organisation – you start with matching verbs and particles so that they can be used in sentences; there are also funny pictures illustrating some of the verbs. You can always check your answer with the answer key, so no worries! If you need a greater challenge, after each chapter there’s a summary where you need to use one phrasal verb matching a couple of sentences.

You can simply use it in the classroom once in a while, bringing in random chunks of phrasal verbs (“this week we’ll work on the verbs with up“).

Ideas for extra activities

But wait, there is more! If you want to create a real combo, you can use one of the ready-made tests (seriously, tests on phrasal verbs – that is evil!). You can also use the verbs in some classroom games (bingo?) or races. I found the topic-selected chapters really useful for my adult students, but I guess you might use the book in many creative ways (using a meme generator and making one meme per day with a phrasal verb sounds like a great idea for a competition!).

Recommendations

The book practises over 700 phrasal verbs with more than 1000 meanings. Truth be told, I don’t think I would be able to recall all of them, so I admit I still find it useful, not only for my students, but also for self-study. If your students are just a wee bit too formal, or if you feel your language skills are soon going to be used by the BBC – go for it!

And have a blast!

7 Free Online Courses in October

7 Free OnlineCoursesin October

Finally – summer is over, we can enjoy autumn with its colour, winds and long evenings! I love long, dark evenings which I can spend with a book (have just finished Hellboy series) or a controller (Persona 5 at the moment, a really nice game). My September was the most hectic month ever – I travelled the whole country training new Disney English teachers, so now I’m ready to enjoy some rest and, well, online courses.

As usual, I picked a set of nice courses for you to enjoy during October evenings.

1 Ignite Your Everyday Creativity by the State University of New York 

Start: 1st Oct, 2018

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: people who want new and better ideas for professional and personal lives

If you look into the details of the course, you will find its description as creative as the subject it introduces. Look at it Another Way, Visualize it Richly and Colorfully, Enjoy and Use Fantasy – these are the techniques used throughout the course to practise own creativity. If you’re already tired with your school duties, you might enjoy learning a new viewpoint!

2 Teaching Impacts of Technology: Workplace of the Future by University of California, San Diego 

Start: 1st Oct, 2018

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people who want to explore the impacts of the technology on the workplace

The course will explore fundamentals behind database storage and access that helps match people to possible jobs. You will also see that technology and the Internet are changing not only what kinds of jobs we can get, but how we can stay trained and train for new jobs our entire life, something that may be useful not only to you, but also to your students.

3 Negotiation and Conflict Resolution by the MGSM

Start: 14th Oct, 2018

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people who want to improve their negotiation decisions

Being a teacher means solving conflicts on a regular basis, be it among your students or during parent-teacher meetings. This course will show you a range of negotiation strategies, label different phases of a negotiation and demonstrate what to do in each phase. It may be a good course for those who have just started teaching younger students.

4 Race and Cultural Diversity in American Life and History by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Start: 15th Oct, 2018

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people interested in the ideology of race and cultural diversity in America’s past and present

The primary focus of this course is on the historical and social relationships among European Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Latino/as, and Asian/Pacific Americans. You will learn about how race, ethnicity and cultural diversity have shaped American institutions, ideology, law, and social relationships from the colonial era to the present.

5 English in Early Childhood: Language Learning and Development by the British Council

Start: 22nd Oct, 2018

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: parents and educators

The way children acquire the language is different to the educational process by the adults. This course explores how young children learn inside the early years classroom. If you have just started working with young learners, this course may be a great idea for you.

6 Preparing to Network in English by the University of Washington

Start: self-paced

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: those who want to expand their business network and professional connections

Research shows that many jobs aren’t officially advertised. Many companies rely on connections with people, which makes networking so important. This course may be a nice idea not only for you, but also for your students, especially when you teach a Business English class, or when they plan to move to another country and want to learn how to catch a dream job opportunity.

7 Creative Problem Solving by the University of Minnesota

Start: 22nd Oct, 2018

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: people who want to to develop multiple ideas and concepts to solve problems

This course will help you understand the role of creativity and innovation. You will be prompted to challenge your own habits and routines in order to understand that creativity is based on societal norms, and that by its nature it will be discouraged by society. Starting with “eat something different today” you will be encouraged to question your way of reasoning.

I believe at least one of those courses will prove a good companion during those lovely autumn evenings.

Enjoy!

7 Free Online Courses in September

Seven

I believe you’re not as ready for school as you wish you were – I myself was far more excited with September as a student than as a teacher. But after two years of teaching in a primary school I quit and ever since my little ritual on the 1st of September has been drinking coffee on the balcony, watching children and teens slowly going back to school and revelling in their misery.

I’m not Evil Mistress in the World for nothing.

However, September mood makes me feel like studying – so here I am with my monthly list of awesome and free online courses you may enjoy this month:

1 English for the Workplace by the British Council

Starts: 3.09.2018

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: non-native English speakers who have studied English to at least pre-intermediate level (approximately A2 on the CEFR)

This course may not be challenging for you as a teacher, but it may be perfect if you want to show your lower-level students that they can actually learn not only English but also IN English. I’m sure this course will be a great confidence boost to your students and will keep them motivated for a long time! And those of your students who think of looking for a new job will certainly enjoy it.

2 Fundamentals of Graphic Design by California Institute of the Arts

Starts: 03.09.2018

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: all the teachers creating their own materials

Creating own materials is quite common, and this course will teach you the fundamental principles of graphic design: imagemaking, typography, composition, working with color and shape… foundational skills that are common in all areas of graphic design practice. Applying the knowledge you’ll gain during this course will make your self-made materials absolutely stunning. Sounds great? Definitely for me!

3 Inclusive Learning and Teaching Environments by the University of Southampton

Starts: 3.09.2018

Duration: 3 weeks

For whom: teachers and educators interested in inclusive practices

This course is designed for people working with students with disabilities. You will explore the barriers experienced by disabled students and learn how to overcome these barriers through inclusive practices. This course will help you learn about different aspects of inclusion and digital accessibility experienced by students, teachers and support staff. I think this may be a really valuable course for everyone.

4 Indigenous Canada by University of Alberta

Starts: 03.09.2018

Duration: 12 weeks

For whom: people who want to know more about Canada

I love Lucy Maud Montgomery and her PEI stories, but obviously there’s far more to Canada than her books – and this course explores key issues facing indigenous people focusing on national and local Indigenous-settler relations. Topics include the fur trade and other exchange relationships, land claims and environmental impacts, legal systems and rights, political conflicts and alliances, indigenous political activism, and contemporary indigenous life, art and its expressions.

5 Understanding Research Methods by University of London, SOAS University of London

Starts: 03.09.2018

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people who require an understanding of research approaches and skills

This course is about demystifying research and research methods. It’s perfect for all students as they often have to do some research, but I believe each of us, living in the times of post-truth, may find it extremely useful. The course focuses on what makes a good research and a good researcher, various approaches to literature etc. In 2015, the course was nominated for the prestigious Guardian University Award for its innovative approach to online learning.

6 The Art of Photography by RMIT University

Starts: 09.09.2018

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people interested in photography

Photography is becoming more and more popular – a lot of teens are interested in it, so you can either take this course yourself or recommend it to your students. You will learn about photography as a visual art practice, explore the work and concepts of various artists, and learn some of the practical skills required to explore photography in exciting and creative ways. The course will also help you grasp some ideas connected with post-production knowledge and techniques.

7 Teaching Adult Learners by Central Institute of Technology

Starts: 09.09.2018

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: teachers who start working with adults

If you’re to change your teaching environment, you may find this course particularly useful. It focuses on the importance of working in a safe and accountable learning environment. You will learn how to examine the working factors of teaching adults, identify elements of instructional design and evaluate your experience.

I hope you’ll find the courses really useful and have fun learning something new.

Enjoy!

How To Teach for Exams (book review)

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One of the best groups I’ve ever taught was an IELTS preparatory group of teens who consider studying abroad (best of luck, mates!). I was lucky to teach this particular group, as exam-prep courses have a justified opinion of the most boring classes. While I believe a lot depends on the coursebook (I used Ready for IELTS by Macmillan and can happily recommend it), there is also a specific approach an exam-oriented course requires. I’ve found my first exam-preparatory course quite challenging (it was a group of people after the Callan Method course who wanted to pass FCE – and yeah, I was too young to know better), so when I got a book on proper teaching for exams I read it immediately and I can recommend it to everyone, not only those teachers who start their adventure with exam-oriented classes. Let me share the review of How to Teach for Exams by Sally Burges and Katie Head.

Contents

The book starts quite promising with the chapter on “How to be a successful exams teacher” and the following chapters take you through the course planning process (along with choosing materials), teaching particular skills for the exam and – something I find quite important as not many publications cover this aspect of teaching – teaching for low-level exams. Moreover, the book includes the Task File so that you can use it as a form of exercise, either to think about on your own, or to discuss with your fellow teachers.

I’ve read some books about teaching for exams, but I must admit this is one of the most user-friendly one – the language is simple and the organisation seriously inspires the reader to stop after each part and reflect on the ideas (e.g. three short paragraphs about differences between the weak class, the average-to-good class and the strong class gave me quite some food for thought).

Questions… and answers

What I enjoy immensely when it comes to book organisation is that on the margins you have questions and catchphrases, from the most common (“what is special about teaching an exam class?”), to more complex ones (“encouraging familiarity with genres”). All of the chapters are divided into logical parts, with theory, examples, conclusions and some additional food for thought you can find in the Task File.

What makes it even better is that all the cases are really down to earth and highly relatable (“how to help learners do their best on the day? Imagine that a close friend or relative of yours is taking an exam tomorrow. What advice would you give them?”) or great ideas for overcoming the stress factor during listening exams.

Task File

Each chapter, which focuses on teaching a particular skill, contains examples of activities and lessons that are designed to help teachers introduce the exam-oriented approach, however,
undoubtedly the most valuable part of the book for me was the Task File.

The exercises relate to the topics discussed in the book, and while some of them require a definite answer, some are useful as inspirations and topics to discuss. You can photocopy the exercises, so if you are a DoS who needs to train teachers before they start the exam-prep classes, this book may be perfect for you.

Some exercises are good to think about before you start actual teaching (e.g. “make a list of differences between exam classes and non-exam classes” followed by some interesting questions “if a student fails an exam, is it the teacher’s fault?”). Others are really useful when you want to focus on the particular skill (developing task and strategy awareness for reading or developing coping strategies for the exam room during speaking exam).

Recommendations

I don’t think I need to recommend anything written by Sally Burgess, but in case you wonder whether you should invest some money and buy this book: yes. Whether you are an experienced teacher, or a person new to the job, you will definitely find something useful.

You may be a person who’s taught exam classes for years and still find some inspirational ideas (e.g. linguistic and cultural contexts as factors influencing exam course planning).

If you begin your adventure with exam classes, you will love the chapters on teaching particular skills as they not only briefly revise various kinds of tasks, but also discuss abilities that are measured during the tests (e.g. in which tasks you need to apply skimming or scanning etc. along with useful tips on improving reading speed or a great subchapter on developing sound discrimination skills).

Overall, I believe every teacher should at least browse this book – one soon realises that “right, I’ll take a quick look just to revise some stuff” attitude changes into “Ooooh, I didn’t know that!”. And, last but not least, the book is full of tips on training students to become independent learners – something that gives exam classes more purpose than just preparing for the test.

Enjoy!

Burgess Sally, Head Katie “How to Teach for Exams”

Longman, 2005

ISBN: 978-0582429673

7 Free Online Courses in August

7 (2)

With a disastrous heatwave one must reconsider the idea of summer walks and sunbathing. I myself am a creature of the night – and August is a perfect month to admire night skies with the Perseid meteor shower (in my place it will be the night between 12 and 13 August, you may check your place here). But apart from stargazing, August is the month that gives you “back-to-school” feeling. I used to love it when I was a schoolgirl, it meant friends, longer evenings to whisper your secrets, bonfire time and calm. Alas, I grew up and there are no longer summer holidays for me – but August makes me feel somewhat eager to learn.

Let me take you on my journey through the interesting online courses where you’ll certainly find something interesting for yourself!

1 Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life by the University of Edinburgh

Starts: 6.08.2018

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people who are looking for the truth Out There

If stargazing is a trifle too conventional for you, this course will be a perfect choice for you, as you will study the Unknown, the prospects for life on other planetary bodies in our Solar System and how do we go about searching for it. You might start looking for a good old E.T. and end up with finding the Funghi from Yuggoth, so be careful what you wish for…

2 Improve Your Intercultural Competence  by Purdue University

Starts: 6.08.2018

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people looking to improve their intercultural skills

Being the teachers, good inter-cultural communication and an understanding of cultural differences are very important in our work. This course will help you develop the skills and acquire the knowledge needed to meet the global challenges. You will also learn to succeed in a diverse workplace and appreciate the value of cultural differences. It’s a great course not only for us to study but to pass it on to our students.

3 Presentation skills: Speechwriting and Storytelling by National Research Tomsk State University

Starts: 6.08.2018

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: people who want to make their presentations and speeches coherent and logical

This course takes a systematic approach, focusing on the content of a presentation. You will learn how to structure your ideas, facts and data into a logical convincing story using a narrative structure. This course covers fundamentals of scriptwriting, packing, argumentation and language. If you think of joining TED-ed with your students, this course may be a great help.

4 Study UK: a Guide for Education Agents and Counsellors by the British Council

Starts: 6.08.2018

Duration: 3 weeks

For whom: people counselling students looking to come to the UK to study

If your students consider studying in the UK, you may find this course particularly useful. You will learn about the UK education and training system, student lifestyle issues, welfare and support for international students or application processes and entry requirements. You will also see different tools to support you as a counsellor.

5 How to Write Your First Song by the University of Sheffield

Starts: 13.08.2018

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: people who want to sing a brand new song to welcome their students in the classroom 🙂

If you’re one of those people who have always played on the guitar trying to come up with an own song – here’s you chance to give it a go! You will explore the whole process, starting with setting words to music, working with melody until arranging your song. It may be a great idea not only for you, but also for your students!

6 The Music of the Beatles by the University of Rochester

Starts: 13.08.2018

Duration: 7 weeks

For whom: Teachers of EFL. Seriously.

If you’re not into songmaking, but still appreciate great music, this course is for you. There is probably no band or artist that has had more written about their music than the Beatles – and while the focus will be on the music, you will also explore the culture of the 1960s. You might not like the Beatles, but their impact on music and culture in general cannot be underestimated.

7 Introduction to Psychology: The Psychology of Learning by Monash University

Starts: 27.08.2018

Duration: 2 weeks

For whom: people interested in psychology

This course will help you understand how people learn different behaviours and how biology affects our ability to learn new things. You will explore the difference between learned and instinctive behaviours as well as learn about operant conditioning (learning behaviours based on positive or negative consequences), and observational learning (watching other people and imitating their behaviour). Sounds great for every teacher!

I hope you will like my recommendations – I know most of you is still enjoying the summer break (lucky you!), so I tried to find nice and light classes, but I’m sure they will prove useful and keep your brain challenged before September.

Enjoy!

Edward de Bono “Lateral Thinking” – how to make your life more creative (book review)

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If I were to name my favourite things in the classroom, that would be triple C – creativity, communication and Cthulhu. Lateral thinking is something I really enjoy – thinking out of the box is fun for students, but for teachers it’s a necessity: how can you survive teaching the same stuff over and over again without being repetitive and, even worse, without getting tired of the monotony that goes with it?

For our own sake we should set our mindshift on the change, on creativity, on new ways of approaching old problems – that is how we will adjust our classes to various groups and students and ultimately make our lessons more varied and personalised and ourselves better professionals.

A short yet very inspiring book everyone should read is “Lateral Thinking” by Edward de Bono, who created the term lateral thinking, wrote the book Six Thinking Hats and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools. Naturally, for people mad about the research the fact that there is no bibliography in de Bono’s book might be somewhat disturbing, however it is an inspiration worth reading.

The book, as every good book, starts with a story – a riddle about a small black stone and about a fresh perspective on a problem. It’s a good tale and it shows you various ways you can use a new approach to tackle an old problem. Obviously, it is quite difficult to start thinking creatively, so de Bono explains the way people conceive ideas in a surprisingly understandable manner, presenting visual element to explain quite difficult theory.

For example, de Bono declares the “obvious” solutions as the “dominant” ideas – and he proposes to put them aside while tackling the problem. We cannot blind ourselves with the obvious, if we want to achieve a more creative and uncommon idea. The danger of such thinking is that we may end up stuck with the obvious because there is no certainty of finally coming up with a new, fresh idea that will prove as useful as the old one.

De Bono mentions also the importance of the doubt and of the accident – sometimes it’s one or the other that inspire us to creative thinking (like the Isaac Newton and the famous apple that fell down from the tree right to the field of physics). The thing about lateral thinking is that in a way we let our mind wander trying to find something that will help us solve the troublesome issue. However, there is nothing certain about this process and yet, sometimes a random encounter may help us see a new and wonderful idea.

Why do kids stop playing, asks de Bono and answers: because the world stops being a new and wonderful place full of discoveries and adventures. Leaving dominant ideas and practising lateral thinking may help us enjoy the process of thinking as truly creative, enjoying the new challenges our life gives us – and make everyday problems part of extraordinary life.

If you look for inspirations – you may start with this book.

Enjoy!

de Bono, Edward “Lateral Thinking”

Penguin Books Ltd., 2016

ISBN: 9780241257548