Sunday, 18 September 2016

50 Activities for the First Day of School - A Review

The first day of school is always stressful for me. I believe this is true for most teachers. During the school year, we try to adapt to our students' needs and expectations and to fine-tune our teaching to help each individual student make progress. We find out about their hobbies and interests and try to provide materials that will keep them motivated. We lack all this vital information about them on the first day. We don't even know their names. In return, they know nothing about us.

So, we use icebreakers. Icebreakers serve multiple purposes - they can help you learn their names or assess their English in an informal way. They also relax the students and create that group spirit which is so important.

It is that time of the year again and warm-up activites are very important during these first few weeks of school, which is why I was really happy when Walton Burnes asked me to review his new book, 50 Activities for the First Day of School.

The book is divided into three sections: Getting to Know Them, Assessing and Evaluating and Setting the Tone. The first section is devoted to activities aimed at helping the teacher learn more about the students and helping the students learn more about each other and the teacher. The first few activities help with learning the names, such as Name Chain and Memory Chain for example. I like Going on a Picnic, which combines name learning with a nice vocabulary revision. Like most other activities in the book, this one can be modified to suit your current teaching needs and I believe it can be used later on in the course too, with the accent on vocabulary recycling, rather than on learning the names. There are activites which help the learners find out more about their teacher, such as Ask the Teacher or the more unusual Tell Me about Me. There are some activities which promise to be madly fun, such as Snowball Fight or Snowball Texting, those that focus on their hobbies and areas of interest, such as Expert Game, old classics like Desert Island Choices and Simon Says. I love Walton's version of Time Capsule, which focuses a lot on the language.

Assessing and Evaluating, as its name says, is there to help you assess their English in an informal way. Label the Classroom is a simple activity that is great for learning or recycling vocabulary. Classroom Scavenger Hunt requires a little more preparation on the side of the teacher, but is very much worth it.  You will again meet some old friends here, such as Sentence Auction Assessment, or Needs Association Survey, but they will always come with a new idea for using them. There are a lot of suggestions for how these activities can be modified to suit each teacher's individual situation. Complete the Sentence and Goal Setting are also very useful and adaptable.

The final section is Setting the Tone. It is there to set and negotiate classroom rules, give advice on how to learn and introduce them to the book and the syllabus. My favourite is the Rule-Breaking Role Play, which will definitely generate a lot of laughter in the classroom. Two other activities I recomment are Study Habit Myths and Syllabus Scavenger Hunt, which are both interactive and fun, while at the same time they introduce the students to the course and teach them how to study.

I give this book five stars. I feel privileged for the opportunity to review it on my blog. The book is inexpensive and affordable. You can buy it in paperback or as an ebook. Go to this page if you would like to buy it or just take a closer look at it. On the book page you will also find some sample activities, advice for the first day of school, as well as a collection of resources and a great Pinterest board to follow.

And if you try some of the activities from the book, please feel free to write about how it went in the Comments area. 

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Let's Map It Out

By Nicoguaro - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

This is my "moderator post" for Week 3 in eTextbook Teachers (#ebookevo). This is where I will offer some advice and support. I will try to be useful, I know you have a lot of work to do. Week 3 is going to be the week in which you map out your ebook chapter and make a final choice of the publishing option for your ebook.

I will focus on mind mapping here, simply because I already wrote a blog post about publishing last year.  Feel free to read that too, even though most of what I wrote about there refers to Week 4.

And, if you are wondering which publishing option I will choose, it will be FLIPHTML5. I used it last year and I was happy with the result. It looks like a digital book and you can embed videos, links and images. There is also the option of enabling PDF download, which is perfect if the students want to print your book or read it offline. FLIPHTML5 can be used online, or downloaded to your computer. And it is free.

So, mind mapping. Why should you do it? I can think of three reasons:

1. Mind mapping will help you think and brainstorm. I literally brainstormed my ebook chapter into my mind map this year. I started with two separate ideas. Idea 1 was that I wanted this chapter to be about learning vocabulary. I wanted my upper-intermediate students to learn some new vocabulary and I wanted them to become more effective vocabulary learners. Idea 2 was that I wanted to use a poem and create some activities connected to it. This second idea came to me thanks to one of the #ebookevo participants, Mary Hillis, who suggested it to me in the first week of our workshop. The poem is called When I Am Old, I Shall Wear Purple. So how do I connect a poem about old age and learning vocabulary? Here's what I came up with:

2. The second reason is that mapping it out will help you organise yourself better once you start writing your chapter, by providing a visual reminder about what your chapter should contain. Of course it is not final, you can keep adding to it. And, by creating it, you are not committing yourself to everything that you have included. You are still in the brainstorming stage and you are allowed to change your mind.

3. Last but not least, a mind map is a beautiful visual. You can use it at the beginning of your chapter to let your students know what it is going to be about. You can use it at the end of the chapter to remind them what they have learnt, or as a benchmark. You can even invite them to add their own comments and visuals to the map.

There are many mind mapping tools and they are mostly easy to use. It all depends on your preferences and the device you are using. If you want to create it on your phone, you will want a phone app. I have used my Windows tablet and Nova Mind was my app of choice. It is relatively easy to use and the Lite (free) version is quite decent. You can save the map in a variety of formats and they even provide a free cloud for your maps. Here's what mine looks like online, in the cloud. And here's the one I created for my last year's chapter.

I would love to hear about other ways you use mind mapping in TEFL, as well as your experience with other mind mapping tools you have tried. Please post the comments here in the blog, or in our Google+ group.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

EVO 2016 - Week 1

It's the busiest time of the year. EVO sessions have started. I am one of the eTextbook Teachers (#ebookevo) moderators, but I wasn't too busy last week. I am moderating Week 3, which means that I am warming up right now (expect another blog post really soon). In Week 1 I re-introduced myself to the community, caught up with some old friends and met a few new ones. We have 100 new members! This promises to be another great year for #ebookevo.

I have joined three other sessions: Media Resources and Emotions (a fascinating topic), Teachers as Designers and Class-Based Research. I have also signed up for ICT4ELT. I take this course every year simply because I like to be a part of the community, but I don't always participate. Last year I decided to take a refresher and to devote my time to doing the exercises. I collected the badges and received the certificate. Which means that I will not be participating so regularly in ICT4ELT this year. I did sign up and I'll check in from time to time. One of the reasons I want to do this is to support my BFF Sneza, who is a first-time moderator this year. I am so proud of her.

In most courses this was the intro week, but we also learnt a lot. In Class-Based Research we watched this video and read this text about action research. Some of you may remember that I did action research in 2012 as a part of my Oregon Webskills course. It was really useful and it helped me grow as a teacher. Reflective practice does that. It was also very useful for my students to participate in this project, which lead to this presentation later on. I would really like to do action research one more time. I have a vague idea that I would like it to be about how my students learn vocabulary, but I am still not very clear about what I want to do.

I always attend four or five EVO sessions and people often ask me how I manage. Now, here's my secret: I focus on a single thing that I would like to do (for example a question or a problem I would like answers to) and do it from different perspectives in different courses. Or I focus on a single group of students and their needs. It works, believe me. This year my question is: How do my students learn vocabulary? To make things easier, I will focuse on my B2 students. I have two B2 groups - one is doing a general English upper-intermediate course and the other one is preparing for the Cambridge First exams.

In Teachers as Designers Week 1, we did something called The Dream Bazaar. Here's mine:

Now, this was what I came up in Week 1. In the meantime, I have had other ideas. Why limit the project to just one type of vocabulary-learning activities? Why not give the students a taste of various activities to choose from? And why not ask them which ones they like best? And why not put all of these activities into an ebook chapter, which is my Week 4 #ebookevo homework?

Stay tuned and let's see how this idea evolves.

My Blog Is Eight Years Old

Su Dokube Number 8
Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

My blog was born on January 22nd, eight years ago. There have been ups and downs and I don't update it as often as I used to, but it has been an incredible tool for personal and professional growth. It has provided reflective practice and served as a learning eportfolio. It has helped me connect to other bloggers from my niche and grow, both as a teacher and as a writer.

Happy birthday, blog. 

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Looking Back, Looking Forward

First of all, Happy New Year. I hope it is a great one for all of us.

2015 was a really good year for me, professionally. I know I didn't update this blog much, but I was super busy elswere.

The highlight of my year was the British Council Trainer Development Course, which took place last spring and which I completed successfully. So, I am now a teacher trainer and I have got a shiny new certificate to prove this.

It was a great course, though very hard physically. We all learnt a lot and we formed lasting friendships. The best thing of all was that we had a fantastic teacher. She supported us every step of the way.

I will never think of this course without thinking about my teacher, Danijela Serafijanovic. And I will never think about this course without a sadness in my heart. For, we lost her. The illness was sudden and it took her away quickly.

I don't know how to talk about this, or deal with my feelings. And, when I get stuck on something, I tend to write poetry. So, here's a poem I wrote for Danijela.

The Certificate

You are standing on the corner,
in your best clothes,
holding a piece of paper.
It is pink and crisp.
You are careful not to bend it.
You turn around,
but you are all alone.
Suddenly you have forgotten
how to cross the street.
It is your first day at school,
but no one came to pick you up.
You don’t know the way home
and there is no adult to take your hand.
Then you remember
that you are the adult now.
She left, but not before
she passed it all on
to you.

It is hard to lose a teacher. I hope I can pay her a tribute every time I give a workshop, or present in public. Maybe even through blog posts.

There is one other thing that kept me busy last year (and will keep me busy in the year to come as well), and that's SEETA. SEETA is short for South Eastern Europe Teachers' Association. We are an NGO now. I first got involved with SEETA through courses and workshops they organised, then there was a webinar on blogging, which was followed by a blogging forum I moderated. Last year our Chair Anna Parisi was kind enough to offer me a place in the SEETA Board. I am a Volunteers Manager now, which basically means that I coordinate volunteers and deal with any issues that might arise connected to SEETA volunteers. I am also a member of the advertising team and I post to Facebook on new SEETA activities.

SEETA community is very supportive and I am grateful for the opportunity to give something back to it. If you have never attended a workshop or a webinar on the SEETA Moodle, I suggest you give it a try and I am sure you will come back for more.

And then, there are EVO sessions. Last year I was an EVO moderator for the first time. I moderated EbookEVO and it was a great experience. Guess what - I am doing it again this year and it starts on Monday. Please join. You will learn a lot about creating and curating your own e-textbooks, and this will empower you in the classroom, by giving you more control over the materials you use with your students.

There are a few other EVO sessions that I would like to attend, but more about that in my next blog posts. If you are a reader of this blog, then you know there is always more activity here during EVO then during the rest of the year. This year, I am hoping to change that.

I miss this blog. It is the place where I used to come in order to clear my mind and make sense of things. The writing process was never easy here, but it was so useful. I feel that I have grown as a teacher just by writing occasionally in this blog during the last eight years. Since I started my poetry blog some two years ago, I started coming here less and less.  I have always loved writing and my poetry blog gave me instant gratification - I would spend up to an hour on a poem and that was it. Nothing like the laborious process that went into creating posts on my teaching blog.

I am not big on resolutions, especially the unrealistic ones that most people create at the beginning of each year, only to abandon them a couple of weeks later. I believe in seizing the moment and playing it by ear. And doing it all year round. Or, if you must write down your resolutions, keep the bar low and the goals achievable. Still, there is one resolution I made for 2016 which concerns this blog. I am going to write at least one blog post every month. Yes, I am keeping the bar low. And the goal is achievable. Let's see if I can find the discipline to do it.

I have got other plans for 2016. I would like to present at a conference or two. And a longer teacher training workshop would be a nice thing.

Besides that, we will see. I will just play it by ear, as usual.

Monday, 23 February 2015

EVO Week 5 - Saying Goodbye

Another EVO is over. It was my eight and all I can say is that I still have a lot to learn. I was very lucky this year with the sessions I chose. They were all great. I managed to finish five and I moderated one of them. I learnt new skills - how to make videos, how to help students with pronunciation, how to create lesson plans for a flipped classroom. I took a refresher course in ICT4ELT and I managed to collect all five badges. Above you can see the badge to Week 5. And here's my ICT4ELT certificate:

In Flipped Learning, we said goodbye to the session and migrated to this Ning for more flipping.

The moderators of Teaching Pronunciation Differently shared their YouTube channel with us.

In #ebookevo, we published our final chapters. One of the weekly tasks was to create a cover for our ebook. I used PicMonkey to create mine.

Then I played around with this tool and created a 3D version of my cover.

After trying out multiple tools and platforms for my chapter, two stood out for me. One is FLIPHTML5. I really like the way my ebook looks on their platform:

I know I am being a traditionalist here, but my second favourite is Microsoft Word:

It is downloadable  and editable. It is easy to navigate through the document and it has a clean, simple look. I had originally embedded the videos, which is possible to do in the offline version of Word 2013, but then I replaced them with hyperlinked snapshots, because the videos wouldn't work in Word Online.

If you prefer PDF, you can download it from this link.

I experimented with several other formats and you can see all versions of my ebook in this wiki page. I created the wiki to record my progress through this year's EVO and it contains all my EVO 2015 artifacts.

Once again, moderating #ebookevo was a great experience. I hope to do this again next year. Which is why I am a very proud owner of this certificate of appreciation:

I am grateful to Shelly Terrell and the moderator team. Special thanks go to the EVO Moderator group, especially to Nina Liakos and Elizabeth Anne for supporting us.

And, of course, I am grateful to EVO for being there for us. See you next year, EVO.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Week 4 - Evaluate, Moderate, Train

                            Coffee vector designed by Freepik

Week 4 in EVO is over and we are well into Week 5 by now. It was, in many ways, an exciting week for me professionally.

First of all, it was the week I moderated #ebookevo. It was my first time as a moderator. I was nervous to start with. I shouldn't have been, because I was moderating a group of enthusiastic, creative teachers.  I had the privilege to look at some chapters in making. I learnt a lot about new tools and resources. We discussed ways to engage learners and have them contribute to our ebooks, as well as technology elements that support learners. I will be forever grateful for this learning opportunity. I am officially an EVO moderator now.

                           Heart vector designed by Freepik

In the meantime, my trainer development course started on Saturday. I am really excited about it and, hopefully, it marks a new beginning in my professional career. Of course, I will have to work very hard to get the certificate.

In Teaching Pronunciation Differently, we explored sounds. What left the strongest impression on me this week, however, was this short video. In the video Roslyn Young teaches French sounds to a group of English-speaking teachers. Around 2' 37" she starts talking about "the subordination of teaching to learning" and something she calls "post-paration" (as opposed to preparation). Great stuff, don't miss it.

In Blended Learning we did Moodle workshops and the pedagogical focus was on peer-reviewing. We were asked to pretend we were B2 students, marking our peers' essays. The rubric we were given focused on the content and on how well the student completed the task. The first thing I noticed as I was "peer-reviewing" the papers was how difficult is was for me to ignore the language problems of one of the students and to focus only on the rubric. The student had done the task quite well, but there were numerous language mistakes. I believe it is important for us to teach our students to focus only on that one thing that we want them to review and leave everything else to the teacher. As teachers, we too can learn a lesson here. There are several different categories for grading writing, the student might do quite well in one, while having problems in another. We focus on the language too much sometimes, to the point that we ignore everything else.

Peer evaluation was something we did in EVO Fipped Learning as well. Our task this week was to view and comment on at least 1 or 2 other participants’ lesson plans, referring to these 11 indicators of flipped learning. I looked at the lesson plans of Jose Antonio Silva    and Yu Jung Han   and I was impressed by both. Then I went back and reflected on my own lesson plan. I started thinking about what we all have in common and, instead of analysing all activities one by one, I believe I started seeing the bigger picture. What our lesson plans had in common was that, once the students came back to class after watching the videos, they went straight to complex tasks where they were independent of the teacher. I know it is probably obvious to seasoned flippers, but to me this is a revelation. No scaffolding in class from easy reproductive tasks to the complex creative ones. That part happens at home. If you are not sure what I mean, you can watch classroom videos of a seasoned flipper and a truly great teacher, Khalid Fethi. Here's the first one, and then you can proceed to Part 2 and Part 3.

I would like to finish this weekly journey by saying a couple of words about ICT4ELT. This was my favourite week, because I got to play with various interactive quizzes and exercises. I discovered new ones, such as Learning Apps and Educaplay and rediscovered some old friends, such as Hot Potatoes, Quandary and Survey Monkey. You can see the quizzes and polls I created this week in this wiki page and, who knows, maybe you can find some use for them in your teaching.

OK, I'll sign off now. Next week, you can expect one more "official" EVO update from me. After that, I am planning to go back to the session wikis and explore some tasks I missed. I'll keep you posted.


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