20 October 2014

With a Byte of Help for ESL/EFL

Alba Soler Photography via photopin cc

I consider myself fortunate to work with so many amazing teachers, but there have been times when I needed immediate help/inspiration for plotting lessons. So, where does an individual ESL/EFL tutor reach out for help? Other than great sites like the Teaching English by the British Council on Facebook (already mentioned in this blog), teachers can connect on Twitter, Edmodo and other networks. They can also reach out to Off2Class

Off2Class is free, has a blog where different issues on ESL/EFL are discussed and includes resources for teachers.

What other sites do you use for help in ESL/EFL? 

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16 October 2014

Creating Websites

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When I began this blog,  I had my (then) current students in mind as a potential audience. Since then, this blog has changed, gone through different phases, and it's likely that this  may happen to everyone who shares in blog formats. For me, that is natural in the sense that blogs are organic, changing as oneself learns and grows professionally. 

As a result,  I sometimes wonder what recommendations I could possibly give when others begin their own blog. In regard to learners,  maintaining a blog is a great way to have an E-Portfolio ready to present whenever necessary, let alone an opportunity for practising and developing digital literacies. For others, it has become increasingly easy to set up a blog as there are plenty of videos and sites which readily offer tips, guidance and encouragement. 

However, there is one question that is not always asked - Why open a blog? Is it only for the aspiration of creating a space for dialogue and interaction among a certain circle of friends/colleagues?

Answers will inevitably vary tremendously, according to the many contexts and aspirations that may be embedded in blogs.  For anyone who wishes to start a blog, these are some alternative websites to develop blogs.

Strikingly  is mobile friendly and free to start with.

Once you register, there are different templates to choose from, according to one's purpose:

Jimdo also offers different templates for different purposes in mind. 

Until now, Jimdo is free, with the option to upgrade to JimdoPro and JimdoBusiness.  Here you can compare the differences.

Webr, is another free web builder, which is easy to use in 4 simple steps.

As the others mentioned above, there are different templates to choose from and it's also mobile friendly.

Urban Woodswalker via photopin cc

Blogging, like marking, may be done for different purposes. Marking is usually justified by how teachers need to give students feedback for their writing - which is quite logical. However, marking is more for teachers to have a clearer notion of what still needs to be revised, presented again in class and consolidated with learners. The emphasis is that whatever results from the marking load, is for the teacher to then decide what needs to be done in class, rather than learners actually "learning" from their mistakes (and no, I won't ask how students really look at the feedback and act constructively on it).

But, coming back to blogging and websites - there are choices, both for one's purpose, type of blog and platform.

Do you have a favourite platform for blogging (other than Blogger, Wordpress, Edublogs)?

Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

Further Suggestions:

Blogging Platforms Around the Block

Visual Blogging and Surveys

Sailing the Shift in 2012



Keep it Simple, Stupid: 7 No-fuss Online Tools for the Lazy Blogger

16 Blogging Platforms that Won't Distract from Your Writing

19 Ways to Use Blogs with Students  - Starr Sackstein

A Collection of Blogging Resources

Blogging as Conversation - Steeve Wheeler

Educational Blogging - Stephen Downes

The Question Should be:  Why Are You *Not* Blogging - Alan Levine

Why are Academics (still) NOT Blogging - Lawrence Raw

13 October 2014

Soundbites for the Classroom

In a time-stressed world, it seems that soundbites are all we have time to pay attention to.  On public transport, in the media, and yes, even in the classroom. 

One of my regular routines is to project soundbites (or more commonly referred to as quotations) on the board as students walk into the classroom and settle down to a lesson. In other contexts I have used music, these days however, I tend to use visual images to indicate a different space, a change of pace, a moment to transit from the outside world into the rhythms of practice and learning. Sometimes there is a nudging to remind students that success is a result of dedicated work; other times, an image with words can turn on smiles and lighten up the burden of having to sit for another hour and focus on learning.

If you use a LMS such as Edmodo, you can also post quotations to the group and ask students if they agree/disagree or what else they would add. As students become accustomed to these images and short texts, why not ask them to create their own quotes/soundbites to share with their group?

Quipio is a free app and quotes can be shared publicly or privately. 

Cover Quote is simple to use and offers different kinds of formats,

which can then also be shared on different platforms.

A final example of the quote on the right, will look like this:

The user can tailor the quotation with font, colour and background image before sharing the final quotation.

Quozio  is another online tool which creates quotes, for which it is practical to sign up to.  It is essentially based on text and includes the author of the quote. You can see a sample collection here .  

With Pixteller you can create posters and quotations with images. (you need to sign up and have an account). 

My two favourites continue being Muzy  and Canva:

Having learners create their own quotations lets them not only develop ICT skills (reading the screen, knowing what to add and where), but also empowers them in sharing their values and thoughts - and possibly, even opening up discussions which they are interested in.

Learning doesn't have to always be a boring affair.

Learning happens.

When one least expects it to.

Further Suggestions:

Posters, Images and Metaphors

Greetings, De-Motivators and Visual Searches

Drops of Creativity

An A-Z of Business Quotations: Innovation

Live Life Happy - Inspirational Stories, Life Quotes

55 Inspiring Quotations 

QBox - A free quotes game

Subzin - Movie Quotes

QuoteSecret - Quotes with Inspiring Questions


Canva now has an App for iOS as well!

12 October 2014

Inspiring Creativity with Storytelling

AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

It is so simple to say that the young, digital generation lack imagination. However, how many ask the question of whether they are given the chance to actually engage their imaginative minds within educational contexts without being smothered by exam procedures and statistics?

The truth is, rarely is the gift of imagination fostered in educational settings (other perhaps than in writing classes or foreign language classes where the main focus will be to repeat a certain grammatical structure). Developing creativity demands time, nurturing and encouragement. Sometimes an individual will have the drive (or need) to delve into their imaginative reign without being prodded to from the outside world. But this does not happen to all, nor do all children have this encouragement at home.

A fun app for young learners to use their imagination to tell their own story is Imagistory.
With images to prompt story telling, youngsters can tell different stories and even record their stories to share with others or listen to their own stories again.

Another way for younger learners to tell stories, is to create their own book with My Storybook.

The storyteller can select visuals to include, draw their own pictures and even upload their own images. They can select which colour they want to write in as well as the font.  Also simple to use is adding pages, creating a new story and choosing a new background.

Creating a storybook is especially rewarding for beginners in foreign languages as it blends digital skills and the target language, giving learners something tangible to share and show their friends and parents.

For older students, Story Wars 
takes reading and writing to another level where participants read a story which is being written and add the next chapter. The best part for the participant is how they may receive feedback on their writing (always much more interesting than only the teacher!)

These suggestions may not, of course, be appropriate or practical for all classroom scenarios, and as always, when introducing digital activities one needs to think of the purpose and aim of the activity. Nevertheless, there are plenty of ways to stimulate imagination and creativity in classrooms -

one only needs to open the door to inspiration.

Further Suggestions:

Our Story - Free App

9 October 2014

Visualizing Time with Timelines

Where does time go?

Rather than dwell on the disappearance of time and how each week blitzes away into vague memories mixed with marking, grading and prepping, this post is about tools which allow students to create timelines. 

Timelines are great for visualising events and trying to make sense of them, be they historical events or personal experiences. They can be used as a skeleton of an essay (i.e. an outline), a brainstorming activity or a summarising task.  Whether individually or in collaboration, timelines make interesting visuals when focusing on the past. 

RWT Timeline  is a free app designed by Read Write Thinkan excellent educational site which offers interactive lesson ideas  (mentioned before in this blog) and includes different apps  for students. 

timerime is easy to use, may be used in English, Dutch and Spanish, and is simple to embed (as shown in the example below).  There are different types of accounts, including one for businesses and another for education, as well as a free account. You can include both videos and images and it lends itself to collaboration between students. 

myHistro displays stories on maps and also has a free app 

Another timeline creator is WhenInTime, 
creating timelines with images and a time slider at the bottom of the time presentation.  The images of the timeline can expand, which is helpful if students are making a presentation to the class. 

TimelineJS is an open-source tool, media can be collected from different sources and then once the timeline is completed, may be shared on Social Media or embedded in a blog.

How do you  make sense of time?

Further Suggestions:

ChronoZoom - Interactive Infographic 

Chrono Zoom - Information about the project

Deep Time (includes support materials)  with Evolution 

Preceden - for creating timelines

Writing Skills, Diaries and Timelines

Timelines and Visual History


Timelapse - Satellite Images of Climate Change

TimelinesTV - History, Documentary and Video Online

30 September 2014

Documentaries for Learning


Using short video clips and movies, is undoubtedly a great way to entice students' attention to learning. Though Vimeo and YouTube offer many short and long clips to choose from, there are other sources as well. 

Two sites which have recently caught my attention are Newseum and Docurama.

Newseum offers free resources including interactive activities, videos and lesson plans which are geared mostly for history and journalism but can be tailored to a teacher's lesson.  It also includes a page which helps teachers check the content and standard of English. 

Docurama offers a wide selection of documentaries - as the title of the site suggests.  It has recently come out with an app
as well, making it even easier to use if you teach with iPads.

And now, if you pardon me, I'm off to watch some movies!

What other sources can you suggest/share for movies and videos that can be used in classrooms?

25 September 2014

Reading Between the Lines

~Matt LightJam {Mattia Merlo} via photopin cc

In the midst of social change, between challenges and transformations, frustrations and successes, it seems that it is  educators who must bear the responsibility of all that goes wrong in education. Never mind that teachers are often the ones who spend their time seeking new ways to engage their learners of new generational habits. Never mind that teachers spend their free time doing professional training and updating their professional skills. And no, don't even mention how a teacher's job is ever done, for the load of marking, grading, filling forms, prepping lesson, designing new materials, and an increased responsibility of administration duties can all be completed in a regular working day, leaving plenty of free time to pursue hobbies and looking after one's family.... 

As for those who know everything about education and how to "fix" it, my question is simple - when was the last time you were actually teaching? How did you really engage students and capture their imagination for learning? When was the last time you received a pay rise? When was the last time you earned respect for being an educator?

When I ask those simple questions, I receive no answer. The only ones who are able to understand and reply are teachers themselves. Teachers who are in classrooms every day, enticing learners, bridging facts, figures, stimulating the desire to learn and succeed, making a syllabus come alive with meaning. Classroom teachers are the ones who challenge themselves to  make a syllabus more interesting than the instant gratification of Instagram, more necessary than the flood of messages and texts which demand immediate attention from the part of the student. 
Valentina_A via photopin cc

An education is so much more than the ability to click on a like button and send a smiley.

An education is so much more than being able to use a calculator or search engine.

And educator's job is so much more than delivering a syllabus.
1Q78 via photopin cc

If we are to make any positive, constructive, peaceful progress in this fragile world of ours,
it is through education.

And by the way....if you are reading this today, you too have a teacher to thank.

** RCB ** via photopin cc

Today's suggestion is The Teaching Channel  - an example of a site where teachers can dip into for inspiration. With videos on current educational topics and concerns, it offers ideas and a platform of discussion for educators.