6 Useful Apps for Academic IELTS Prep

6 apps for Academic IELTS

This year I’ve been preparing a group of teenagers for their Academic IELTS. I experimented with various books (like Direct to IELTS and Ready for IELTS), but when it comes to teenagers – especially those who have a lot of studying apart from test-oriented English course – you need to look for alternative sources of individual tasks, because in their case typical homework just wouldn’t work.

What could I do? Naturally, I had to follow a phrase that’s become quite typical for me, namely there’s an app for this. And indeed, you can find a lot of mobile applications helping you deal with IELTS-related issues. And since sharing is caring, I decided to present my top 6 apps that will help students practise at home and prepare for the test – links will direct you to Google Play Store where you’ll be able to download the app. You may also find most of them in the Apple Store as well.

1 IELTS Full Band 7.5+ by English Store

This app provides not only exercises, but also useful tips on test techniques. You may learn vocabulary, practise your listening skills, focus on writing or even work on your speaking. I find this app really useful if you want to work on your overall English level. You may say you don’t need such a high band (the app is expected to help you get 7.5) on your test, but I believe it’s better to prepare for the higher band. Accept the challenge and try this app!

2 IELTS Prep App by the British Council

This app focuses on listening and speaking – areas which can be surprisingly problematic for most students. You will have access to practice tests, tips, explanation of assessment criteria, videos of speaking tests and much more, so that you’ll be properly prepared for your test. You can even set up a daily reminder to monitor your progress. I believe everyone will find this app useful, as speaking test – especially its second part – is one of the trickiest I’ve ever seen.

Have you ever tried a 2-minute long monologue on your way from school to home when it’s a short walk… oh, and don’t forget to show off your linguistic potential!

3 IELTS Writing by FR-solutions

I find writing the most problematic area to prepare for Academic IELTS, especially that most essays written in a regular school look completely different (at least in Poland), an preparing students for writing a composition that is so unlike the pattern they’ve known for years may be particularly difficult. However, you may find an app to support one’s endeavours, and this one is really useful. Apart from practice tests, you’ll find lessons and samples that will guide you through the unfamiliar ways of Academic English essays. I could recommend this app for every Academic IELTS student.

4 Grammar for IELTS Test by Bananas eLearning: Professional Education

A regular course preparing for IELTS may not focus on grammar to the extent expected by the students, thus an app to encourage their in-home study. This free offline app will provide three levels of grammar study (beginner, intermediate and advanced) with 2000 questions in 200 tests.

5 IELTS 4000 Academic Words List by Hoang Minh Thang

Although there is no specific part for testing vocabulary during IELTS, there is a certain core a candidate is expected to be familiar with. This app will help you remember the essential vocabulary for Academic IELTS, presenting various tests. each word is described with an explanation, pronunciation and usage. It tracks your progress and reminds of various quizzes to test your knowledge.

7 IELTS Skills – Complete by Macmillan Publishers Ltd

This app is designed to help you develop all the skills needed for Academic IELTS. It’s filled with content by Sam McCarter (the author of Ready for IELTS and Tips for IELTS) and it’s really well-designed and useful for all test candidates. You will find there videos of speaking tests, lessons on various writing samples and possibilities for self-assessments.

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Free Online Courses in April

7freeonline coursesin April

April showers bring… a lot of free online courses. With the weather still unpredictable, it’s still a nice idea to spend windy days at home, studying and developing our teacherish skills… and not only those, as I found some courses everyone might find useful, not only teachers.

1 Teaching Computing by The National STEM Learning Centre and The University of East Anglia

Start: 16th April

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: primary and secondary school teachers

This course will help you master teaching computer science skills, digital literacy, digital citizenship and digital scholarship. It covers subject knowledge, skills and advice on planning, teaching, assessment and policy – and while it may seem useful mostly for the IT teachers, the truth is we all can study a bit of this field.

2 Academic Integrity: Values, Skills, Action by the University of Auckland

Start: 9th April

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: mainly for university and college students, including undergraduates, postgraduates and doctoral candidates

What is academic integrity and why is it so important in academic environment? If you prepare students for university (or are a student yourself), you may find this short course really interesting. Apart from plagiarism and misconduct, this course will help you develop study skills and academic writing skills.

3 English for Academic Purposes: a MOVE-ME Project Course by The University for Foreigners of Siena, the Open University (OU) and NUI Galway

Start: 16th April

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: university students taking part in student mobility programmes in Europe, and anyone following academic courses in English. A minimum B1 knowledge of English is required

If you, or, more likely, your students, consider the idea of educational mobility programmes, you might find this course useful – it will provide you with the basics of English for Academic Purposes to come up with proper written and oral academic tests. This course may be used as a great help when it comes to using forum and exchanging ideas with other participants who also think of studying abroad.

4 English for the Workplace by the British Council

Start: 16th April

Duration: 4 weeks

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

This course may be students for those who think of moving abroad and finding a career – as a teacher you may either share this course with your students, or get inspired to share some of the ideas by yourself. You will work on your CV and job application language as well as a successful job interview.

5 Conflict Transformation by Emory University

Start: 9th April

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people who struggle with conflicts in their environment

This course introduces the concept of conflict transformation and how it can change the conflict into something constructive. You will study various methods of mediation, as well as tools and ways to handle conflicts creatively into something useful. I believe this course may be useful especially for those of us who struggle with class discipline, as it may give us more ideas on how to manage unruly students.

6 Giving Helpful Feedback by University of Colorado Boulder

Start: 23rd April

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: everyone who needs to give feedback to others

This course may prove useful for teachers, trainers and DoSes alike, as giving feedback is one of the key elements of our work – and we could use some extra tips to make our feedback better and more helpful, making people more positive and encouraging them to a much greater extent.

This course is my pick of the month, but traditionally, I have something extra:

7 The Science of Beer by the Wageningen University

Start: 24th April

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people interested in beer and its history

This MOOC is developed by students of Wageningen University & Research in honour of the 100 year anniversary of the university. You will learn all about beer, including how it’s made, the raw materials used, its supply chain, how it’s marketed and the effect of beer consumption on your body. It’s not a bad idea to study this before holidays start…

I hope you’ll find a course that will suit your needs – if you pick Feedback, I’ll see you online, but I believe all the courses are equally useful.

Enjoy!

Quizizz: making tests fun (+ activity ideas)

Quizizz_ making test fun

There is no course without assessment – I’m not really a fan of ready-made tests that come along with the coursebooks, so I used to spend hours designing my own tests covering those aspects I wanted to assess at that time. Although I found it a good method, it was rather time-consuming. Fortunately, here comes that magic phrase: There’s an app for this!

You must have heard of Quizlet and Kahoot!, but today I want to share my favourite quiz-making application: Quizizz. Apart from a name (try remembering which z is doubled!), this tool is not only useful and easy to grasp, but also fun to use, both for teachers and students. Quizizz allows people to create and use one another’s multiple-choice quizzes, so they can be used live as a form of classroom competition, or as homework (with maximum 2 weeks of deadline).

So far so good – but how does it work? A teacher prepares the test, students login on their mobiles (either via browser or using an app, but unlike Kahoot! you don’t need a projector) and they may enjoy an energised quiz with bright colours, fun music and memes (truth be told, it was the memes that I paid attention to at first). The questions are randomly given to students, thus eliminating cheating. After choosing the answer students immediately get feedback, and the resulting data is compiled into a spreadsheet to give the teacher a clear visual of the students’ performance in order to analyse trends in which areas might need the most focus in the future.

The good thing about Quizizz is that you may either create your own quizzes (which may again take a lot of time) or use ready-made tests create by your fellow users… or you can teleport questions from various quizzes to make your own, which is a great thing and really saves your time.

How can we use Quizizz in the classroom?

  • Whenever the students get bored – you may prepare a short and silly test to make them laugh;
  • As an entry activity, when you want it to be a form of revision;
  • As a revision exercise, students create their own quizzes (each group works on specific unit or area), and then all you need to do is teleport their questions and have a nice, proper test;
  • As a homework activity, when students prepare tests for one another;
  • As an after-film activity: students watch film in the classroom, and then answer questions

Truth be told, possibilities are endless, all you need to do is give it a go and soon you’ll see that quizzes may be fun. If you need a step-by-step instruction on how to start with Quizizz, you may find it here:

How to Use Quizizz:
1 Go to Quizizz.com and hit “GET STARTED”.
2 If you want to use an existing quiz, you can use the “Search for quizzes” box and browse. Once you have selected a quiz, skip to step 8. If you want to create your own quiz, select the “Create” panel, then the “Sign Up” panel and fill in the form.
3 Enter a name for the quiz and an image if you like. You can also select its language and make it either public or private.
4 Fill in a question, as well as answers, and be sure to click the “incorrect” icon next 5 to the correct answer in order to change it to “correct”. You can also add a corresponding image if you would like.
5 Select “+ New Question” and repeat step 4. Do this until you have made all of your questions.
6 Hit “Finish” in the top right corner.
7 Select the appropriate grade range, subject(s), and topic(s). You can also add tags to make it easier to search for.
8 You can either select “PLAY LIVE!” or “HOMEWORK” and choose the desired attributes.
9 Students can go to Quizizz.com/join and type in the 6-digit code to participate in the live quiz or complete the homework. They will be asked to enter a name to be identified by.
10 Once the students are finished, refresh your page and you will be able to view the results of the quiz. Click the “+” next to a name to expand and get more detailed, question-by-question results. (by blogs.umass.edu/onlinetools)

Enjoy!

7 Free Online Courses in March

Starting- and finishing -an online course

I find March a perfect month for online learning – long, rainy days, still cold and grey just made to stay in and study. I have a ton of books to read, but I simply cannot resist a good online course (like Language Testing During Awake Brain Surgery, awesome stuff!), so here we are with a set of seven fresh online courses:

1 An Intermediate Guide to Writing in English for University Study by the University of Reading

Start: 5th March

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: students of EFL interested in developing their academic writing skills

Being a long-time learner of English I know that writing skills are more important than most of our students realise. Some of them believe it easy to write an opinion essay or a short business mail – well, we, the teachers, have been there, done that and know now that learning writing may be quite a challenge. This course is designed to make our lives easier, as here you’ll get an introduction to research tools, writing critically and referencing, as well as learning more about the fundamentals like essay structure, proofreading and avoiding plagiarism.

2 Sign Language Structure, Learning, and Change by Georgetown University

Start: self-paced

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people interested in American Sign Language

Being a teacher of a language means learning about various versions of a language one teaches. We study accents and jargons, but maybe we should spend some time on the sign version of English? This course will provide you with historical origins,  types of structural variation within ASL, role of visual analogy in learning ASL, and ways in which language specific variation and historical change for signed languages may compare and contrast to those for spoken languages.

3 Introduction to Multilingual and Multicultural Education by National Research University Higher School of Economics

Start: 5th March

Duration: 8 weeks

For whom: educators aware of school-related issues connected with multiculturalism

Offering equal educational opportunities in more and more multicultural world seems to be yet another challenge. This course will help you evaluate various teaching practices in multilingual and multicultural settings, evaluate various language policies, get insights to better understand the learning needs of students of various backgrounds and apply this knowledge in your own classroom. I believe this course may be useful for everyone, especially big city teachers.

4 Think Again I: How to Understand Arguments by  Duke University

Start: 12th March

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: students and people who want to work on their communicative skills

What are arguments made of? What forms do they take? Well, this course will help you learn what an argument is. You will also learn how to break an argument into its essential parts, how to put them in order to reveal their connections, and how to fill in gaps in an argument. I think this course may turn out to be a perfect choice for younger people, often striving to communicate properly.

5 Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative by Vanderbilt University

Start: 12th March

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: gamers and people interested in video games

Today learning takes place anytime, anyplace and with anyone we want – and the world of online games is one of the most common environments where non-native users of English actually communicate, practise and learn (both the good and the bad things, that’s true). As teachers, we cannot ignore this, on the contrary – we should embrace this opportunity for our students to develop and encourage them to do so. I myself have learnt English playing computer games, but if you weren’t so lucky and still need some research on gaming – that’s the course for you.

6 Designing Your Personal Weight Loss Plan by Case Western Reserve University

Start: 5th March

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people interested in improving their diet, teachers spending too much time sitting down and grading papers

The course will help you set a realistic goal weight with an equally specified plan, strategies for food shopping, sets of exercises, continuing evaluation of progress… Well everything we believe we already know, but have troubles with maintaining. The course, unfortunately, doesn’t guarantee weight loss, however it may prove quite useful if you’re a teacher thinking of getting a proper beach body (although I deeply believe every body you take to the beach is a beach body).

7 Irish 101: An Introduction to Irish Language and Culture by Dublin City University

Start: 26th March

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people interested in Irish or all those who want to celebrate St Paddy’s Day BIG STYLE

I tried to learn Irish and then I moved to Ireland only to realise Irish people in Dublin don’t really use it, which was slightly sad. However, if you feel like learning the beautiful language mostly for the sake of it, you may pick this course. Also, they course description mentions learning Irish curses and those may be something to use in the classroom…

Long March days require some support, hence a bonus course:

Wine Tasting: Sensory Techniques for Wine Analysis by University of California, Davis

Start: 5th March

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: teachers. Honestly, am I supposed to say why we need this course? 🙂

Let me quote something from the course description: ” At the conclusion, you will write a descriptive analysis of the aroma attributes you identify in a particular wine.”

For science!!!

 

How to complete an online course?

How can you complete an online course_

For a while now I’ve been sharing ideas on free online courses you can take up every month – hopefully you find them inspiring at least as much as I do. One of the comments I get is that while it’s easy to find a nice course and sign in, it’s far more difficult to complete it. Some people say that’s why paid courses are a better option as you feel the pressure on finishing something you paid for.

It’s like with season tickets to the gym – you wait until the season finishes to leave the dreadful place for ever…

Today I want to share some tips that should be really helpful to make your online courses noticeably easier to complete (and to do it on time!). So let’s start with the first step:

1 Pick your course carefully

Don’t go for a full 8 week long specialisation on Coursera as your first course. Pick something lighter, like Get Started with Online Learning on Futurelearn. You should pay attention to grading policy (if you know you won’t have much time for assignments, pick the course with in-course tests). Check the duration of the course (start with 2 or 3 weeks long ones) and the amount of time estimated for your work (2 hours a week sounds rather ok). You don’t have to choose the area connected with your work – one of the nicest courses I’ve taken was on witness investigation (I’ve learned a lot about how the brain works, I must admit).

2 Plan your learning

I mentioned that I might be slightly overly organised, but when it comes to online learning, it’s a serious advantage. Remember, that you can rely only on your inner motivation, and this may tempt you to complete most of the course at once and then stop, take a break… and forget about the course altogether. So the main rule is: hold your horses! Don’t do everything at once. The courses are divided into modules and after each module you should have a break. Like with learning a language you should spend 15-20 minutes a day learning (it’s a great opportunity for you to find yourself in your students’ shoes, teacher!). Remember about your homework, but…

3 Leave time for reflection

Don’t go with your homework activities immediately after you finish watching videos and reading articles. Give yourself some time to digest the knowledge. It’s a good idea to have a little reflective log or journal before you start learning online. You may take notes not only of the topics you learn, but also questions that arise. Like every student, you are not expected to grasp everything at once, and sometimes great help can be given by your fellow students in course chats or forums – you will get inspired and some of the people are guaranteed to change your perspective. In most courses, educators also take part in discussions, so you’ll have a chance to discuss your ideas before you send in your homework.

4 Think about a support group

You must gather your party before venturing forth.

Sometimes inner motivation is not enough – then we can count on other people! It’s always nice to have a learning buddy to support you if you don’t feel like studying or have a sudden motivation drop (happens every other day, I know). Sometimes having a learning buddy may result in some kind of competition and that’s also very useful: who doesn’t finish Module 3 by tomorrow gets us both coffee! Don’t forget that chatting online with your course colleagues is one of the ways to find new friends – and as every brony knows, friendship is magic.

5 Don’t give up!

Ever tried, ever failed, no matter. Try again, fail again, fail better. Maybe it’s not the most optimistic attitude, but don’t let one failure cast shadow over your future. Just try next time, remember the moment you gave up and try to eradicate it. Find a teaching buddy to support you, plan everything better – and don’t give up!

It’s not too late to take up one of the courses starting in February!

Enjoy!

7 Free Online Courses in February

7 Free Online Coursesin February

Long winter evenings of February may look picturesque, but if you prefer staying in, I have a good excuse for you to do so: free online courses. A lot of teachers enjoy their winter break, so if you want to procrastinate without the slightest feeling of guilt, you may enjoy one of the options I’ve picked for you:

1 Becoming a Better Teacher: Exploring Professional Development by the British Council and UCL Institute of Education

Start: 5th February

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: teachers of EFL or educators who teach in English

I believe teaching is constant learning – this course only proves my point. The course is divided into simple modules that will show you how important CPD and its organisation is. From understanding Kolb’s cycle to learning through classroom observation and peer feedback – it will definitely help you develop your reflective skills and improve your teaching practice.

2 Language and Mind by Indian Institute of Technology Madras

Start: 5th February

Duration: 8 weeks

For whom: new teachers or those who need to revise their linguistics

Some people believe language to be a social creation and language learning to take place through social interactions. Others point out biological foundations of the language. This course will try to make you familiar with relationship between language and human mind; to understand language as a special purpose cognitive ability; and to understand underlying mental computation for natural language processing.

3 Introduction to Psychology by University of Toronto

Start: 5th February

Duration: 8 weeks

For whom: educators interested in psychology

This course focuses on the brain and some of the cognitive abilities it supports like memory, learning, attention, perception and consciousness. During the course you will look at human development from the perspective of individual growth as well as the influence of environment. The final part will focus on various forms of mental illness and the treatments that are used to help those who suffer from them.

4 Tricky American English Pronunciation by University of California, Irvine

Start: 12th February

Duration: 8 weeks

For whom: English language learners who want to improve pronunciation of American English

In this course, you’ll practice the sounds of American English that might sometimes be confusing, as well as proper sentence stress. The access to all of the lectures and handouts is free to anyone, but the graded assignments and quizzes are only available in the paid version of the course. You will need to submit recordings of your own pronunciation for graded assignments.

5 Speaking Effectively by Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur

Start: 5th February

Duration: 8 weeks

For whom: educators and students of English

This course focuses on the dynamics of effective spoken communication. It defines speaking as an autonomous medium with a particular vocabulary, syntax, structure, style and register. You will start with body language and basic conversation skills before moving on to such aspects as appearing in interviews, making formal presentations and participating in meetings.

6 Storytelling for Change by +Acumen

Start: 13th February

Duration: 8 weeks

For whom: trainers and educators who want to use the elements of story to get closer to the audience

The course focuses on something that seems to be present in all aspects of our lives – storytelling – as an essential tool for changing the world because it starts with changing conversations around, what we see, hear, feel and know to be true. The course is also quite innovative as you will be expected to form a Story Team as part of this course. Story Team meetings are an important and fun part of the course. This is where you will discuss the material, practice with a friendly audience, and learn from each other. This course will consist of a mix of team and individual assignments.

7 MOOC-ED: Learning Differences by Friday Institute and North Carolina State College of Education

Start: 5th February

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: educators including teachers, coaches, administrators, or people who play a role in meeting the needs of all students

Historically, schools have approached student learning with a one-size-fits-all mentality and have struggled to adapt to changing student needs. That ends now – and this course is to help you change the way you teach and the way your students learn. You will focus on understanding learning differences, motivation etc. as the course focuses on providing a more personalised learning experience for all of your students.

I hope you’ll find something useful to enjoy over a cup of hot cocoa on a cold February night. If you belong to the vast majority of people who are eager to start online courses but struggle with systematic learning – don’t worry, next week I’ll post some tips that will help you choose, start and finish an online course.

Enjoy!

“Authentic Learning in the Digital Age” – can we connect technology and better education?

www.thatisevil.wordpress.com (1)

Traditional model of teaching may seem quite obsolete, especially when we look at technological advancement visible in all areas of our lives, including education. Even my blog reflects changes that have been influencing the whole TEFL process, most of them provoked by technological development. Even now, one of the most common questions regarding teaching focuses on technology – shall educators introduce technology in the classroom and if yes, to what extent?

Larissa Pahomov is a part of Science Leadership Academy, and the book she wrote offers not only her insight on creating an authentic learning environment, but also bears the mark of a true practitioner and some of the answers are the ones that make this book more than a guide for other SLA teachers.

“(…) Real learning happens anywhere, anytime, with anyone we like – not just with a teacher and some same-age peers, in a classroom, from September to June” (Will Richardson, Why School? [2012])

Trying to grasp the ideal learning environment, the book is divided into five core values:

Inquiry: students need to be able to ask their own questions in order to engage with their education

Research: students need to learn how to collect and interpret both data and sources of information

Collaboration: working together not only helps students to learn better, it also supports them in developing interpersonal skills essential for their future professional life

Presentation: students learn how to present themselves and their work appropriately and effectively

Reflection: a necessary part of a learning process to improve with each cycle of learning

Each part is detailed by a very organised set of information: description (how the value can transform the learning process and how a digital solution can enhance it), step-by-step outline (making the shift and various examples), solutions (many possible roadblocks and workarounds given), suggestions (how to implement the value not only in one classroom, but in the whole school) and anecdotes (mainly from ex-students, giving a very valuable feedback).

My favourite part of each chapter is the one focusing on challenges and ways to overcome them – and this is probably the highlight of the whole book. It is not very often that a publication mentioning collaboration states the most common issue connected with group projects like “my group-mates are not working as hard as me or doing what I tell them to” or a typical students’ excuse which is “we don’t have time to meet outside of school” – and yet it does and offers some insightful solutions.

I find this book highly valuable for anyone attempting to introduce technology in their curriculum on a regular basis, rather than using it as some kind of fun once in a while.
The sensible and down-to-earth approach has supported me in my DoS work to help my teachers realise the importance of using technology in the classroom and to answer their doubts and insecurities. I can truthfully say this was the most inspiring CPD publication I read in 2017 and I can only hope you’ll find it at least as useful as I have.
Enjoy!
“Currently, teachers and schools often fall into an embrace/reject dichotomy when it comes to using technology in the classroom. (…) this “digital divide” often reflects a misguided focus on the what of technology, instead of why and how. (…) adjustment means shifting away from looking at technology as an end in itself and toward using technology as a medium for all kinds of learning. To make that shift, schools and teachers need to be asking the following question: How can technology transform education?” (Larissa Pahomov)

Authentic Learning in the Digital Age: Engaging Students Through Inquiry
Author: Larissa Pahomov

Published: November 2014 by ASCD

ISBN: 1416619569 (ISBN13: 9781416619567)