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!

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!

Digit-all-love

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Have I mentioned I’m a big fan of blended learning? I have even signed up for a course on coursera.org! Hope I will manage to finish it 🙂

Anyways, I was thinking about a nice topic for my blog (I want to put up a post per week, arduous work indeed) and I’ve come up with quite a controversial issue – mobiles and smartphones in the classroom… and my amazement when I learnt that a lot of teachers actually forbid the students to use them. Now, I’m a teacher who does that only during the tests and I rather encourage my students to use their phones in the classroom on a regular basis. And teach them how to use their phones to help them learn.

You see, the generation of 14-16 year old people is called digital natives, as opposed to us, digital immigrants, people who lived without the Internet. They are claimed to feel as comfortable in the virtual world as in the real one – but I find it quite hard to agree. I think being born in a particular environment makes you a native – but doesn’t necessarily make you feel comfortable about it.

I’ve played computer games ever since I remember and find common background with some of my students – but a huge difference is, when I was their age I played far more games than they do, while now they have a far greater variety of choice! The girls usually play the Sims, boys – MMORPG, CS or Minecraft (and now GTA V, I believe), and what about many beautiful games they don’t pay attention to? See, they are played by the people of my generation (30+), by digital immigrants who are still playing new games. Ask people in the game industry – the best target in the game market are not children, not even young adults. It’s us, digital immigrants. Fancy that, children 🙂

It’s the same with a smartphone/mobile phone/anything with Internet access and the classroom. They’ve had those devices ever since they remember but it doesn’t mean they know how to use them efficiently. I believe we – the teachers – shouldn’t forbid but we should teach them how to use their devices in a classroom and in a learning process. Let me present a couple of ideas focused on using mobiles/smartphones in the classroom – I’m not going to advertise any apps, just give general ideas.

  • Dictionary

The easiest thing is – they have access to their own dictionaries. That’s pretty good, especially that more and more children have problems with traditional dictionaries due to their lack of knowledge of the alphabet (it’s not funny, it’s the ugly truth). The more advanced the group, however, the more I recommend using English-English dictionaries (my favourite is thefreedictionary.com) and since from a +intermediate group I require explaining vocabulary in English, the students simply have to use them 🙂

My absolutely favourite tool. Sometimes I happen to make a quite well-known cultural reference and some students don’t get it. ‘Ohh, just google it, please‘ – is all I say. Or when we have a nice debate but we get puzzled over a fact-or-hoax issue. Let’s google the answer instead of stopping the discussion 🙂

  • Camera

Now, that’s a great tool! Making and recording roleplays, creating commercials and weather forecasts, etc. and any interview is better when recorded! Not to mention a delightful homework: ask a stranger how to get somewhere + record it.

  • Music

Sometimes a nice award for a good student is to let him play a song he loves most so that we can all listen to it (and then say what’s the song about). Sometimes it’s just a nice idea for a break – to listen to a song. Or sing something, especially around Christmas (just not Last Christmas…).

  • Films/Presentations

The role of films – and youtube in general – may be a blessing in a classroom without an interactive whiteboard/ projector. It’s quite easy to tell the students to watch a short film focusing on a lesson’s topic. But we may also show them some lovely presentations on slideshare or some inspiring videos on TED.

  • Pictures

Apart from ‘you’ve got a new pet? show me, show me!‘ – we can use pictures students take in a classroom, especially in the exam-preparation courses, where the students will have to describe a picture on their oral part. A nice idea is also to take a picture of an everyday object but in such a weird way the rest of the class would have to guess what object it is.

Well, you don’t need a smashing new iWhatever to have fun in the classroom. This a nice step to bring the language to their everyday life and have both extreme fun (will never forget some films my students made!) and real learning – because when using their devices it’s THEM who do the job. And that’s the proper way of teaching, isn’t it? 🙂