Wednesday, 27 July 2011

What to do with words that elude you

This may sound flimsy to a native speaker but there are words in English which do not stick around no matter how hard you try memorizing them.

Let me give you an example. Here are a couple of words which took years to settle down in my memory - procrastinate and serendipity.
Procrastinate has always sounded ominous and evil to me and for a long while my brain could not accept its simple and mundane meaning. I could not believe it is such an insipid word.

Serendipity is a word which up to now has not found a verbal equivalent in my native language. Well, even the English cannot define it properly, they need to use a sentence to reveal the essence of this cunning word. Serendipity, for me, is a whole paragraph, not a word.
There are words which sound plain ludicrous like pundit, and again I took pains to learn its meaning but I still find it funny, probably because it reminds a Latvian word pundurītis which means a dwarf, gnome.
Guru is not much better though.

Students encounter the same problems. Difficult words (gosh, most of them are difficult!) are a challenge to everyone and a perpetual cause of failed tests and bad marks.

Here is a method I used with my 16 year old students last year. They approved of it and we decided to use it next year again.
We picked the most difficult words that we came across at the lessons and placed them in certain spots around the classroom. Thus we placed according to on the green plant that grows in the front right corner of the classroom. We put the word diligent on the window-sill. We sat the word consequently on the OHP and every time I asked them the word (or they chose to use it) they would look up at the ceiling and remember it. Surprisingly, it was great fun and it helped too.
One guy was especially good at this game. He proved to me and his classmates that he could recall most of the complicated words correctly because he had placed them all around the room and he just had to take a look at the spot and the word would come to him.
This should work perfectly for visual learners but I am not so sure about the others.

How do you deal with difficult words?

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Using advertisements to develop speaking skills

An easy way to hold students' attention and develop their speaking skills is the use of advertisements.

Hide the text or other objects which reveal the identity of the product advertised in the picture. Display the ad on the whiteboard / screen and ask your students to take a look at it. Give them a few minutes to get an overall impression and then start asking your questions to provoke a discussion.

What do you see in the picture? Where does the action take place?
Who are the people involved in the situation?
What exactly each of them is doing? Why?
What do you think is advertised in the picture?

You may ask the students to provide details seen in the picture to review the vocabulary. Elicit shelves, shoes, shoe boxes, chair (sofa?), laptop, red, blue, purple, orange, yellow, black, sit, stand, watch, try on, fit, choose, observe, interested, eager, bored, excited etc.

When you have run out of ideas, show the advertisement and let those who guessed the product cheer.

Here is another pair of pictures of an ad which I have loved for years and consider brilliant. See if anyone can guess the product. I bet the image will lead them astray!
(click to zoom)


Thursday, 14 July 2011

Glogster takes the routine out of your lessons

Glogster is a multimedia tool which we all inevitably set about using - sooner or later. I did it later. I am glad Glogster came to my mind when I was trying to make up a CLIL lesson combining geography, history, music and English, namely Liverpool and the Beatles.

Glogster lets you put all the lesson components in one place - an interactive poster - which you display on the screen and show your students the lesson in a nutshell.

How to use this glog?
  • Take your time watching the video about Liverpool with your students.
  • Ask them to do the worksheet about the video, discuss their answers.
  • See the pictures of Liverpool and tell your students what YOU liked about the city when you visited it.
  • Read the piece of text about the Beatles craze and discuss it.
  • Watch the Beatles video.
  • Ask them what they know about the Beatles, give them some additional information. 
  • At the end, ask your students to give feedback about the lesson and evaluate the digital poster you made for them.
  • Ask for volunteers who could make a glog for the next topic.

Download the worksheet to use with the video about Liverpool.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The evolution of a twitterer (aka tweeter or tweep)

  1. You come across the word Twitter in some blogs you have started reading.
  2. You hear that Twitter is a site where everyone publishes what they eat for breakfast or where they are sitting at the moment.
  3. You decide - no, that's not for me.
  4. You catch sight of the word Twitter again mentioned by the people you respect. You start wavering.
  5. You go to the website and register.
  6. You discover that you are totally at a loss about what to do next.
  7. You read Help and calm down, now you know what to do.
  8. You spend 3 hours on creating a fancy background for your Twitter page.
  9. You are puzzled by the #s and @s and different abbreviations - a totally alien coded language - people are using and get determined to find out what everything means.
  10. You learn that you can follow the people who you know from your professional field.
  11. You start clicking frantically on Follow.
  12. You discover that you are following 200 people while 10 are following you back. You get a little sour.
  13. You rack your brains about what you could post.
  14. You read the witty, facetious and loaded messages others are posting and realize that you with your English being the third language you've mastered cannot be eligible to the title of everybody's all-time-favourite tweeter.
  15. You decide to focus on posting useful links from the sites and pages that you keep finding on the web.
  16. The tactic works, people who share your professional interests start following you back.
  17. You are overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.
  18. You are thrilled to see your first mention or a retweet.
  19. You learn that you can acknowledge your favourite tweeters with Follow Friday sign #FF. The first time you are hurt when you follow-friday an army of people and get 3 #FFs back.
  20. You spend hours surfing the web to find more and more new pages to share on Twitter. The number of your tweets per day rockets.
  21. You discover that retweeting the posts of very popular sites is pointless, everyone has already tweeted / seen them. You don't get any response.
  22. You are hurt when you see that the same links you have posted are ignored but are retweeted if posted by popular, fave people.
  23. You are hurt and stop retweeting blog posts from people who never ever say thanks to you for popularizing their blogs.
  24. You go to the You follow list and unfollow the users who do not post anything of interest to you or who have come into your list by plain chance.
  25. The next day you see that the number of your followers has decreased considerably. (Because of your unfollow? So you ask yourself - WHY were they following me?)
  26. You have established a tiny group of people who actually TALK to you sometimes. You want to hug them every time they write something for you personally.
  27. You have realized that Twitter is an endless stream of bits and pieces of useful information which you can use for your development - professional and personal, and you are content and happy that you are a twitterer.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

On-screen timers for classroom use

Teachers often give their students classroom tasks, quizzes or tests with a time limit and in such cases online timers or stopwatches which you can display on the screen are indispensable. Here are some of them out of the surplus of available online countdown timers.

One of my favourite timers is a countdown timer here. You can show it full-screen, set any time you need and use Pause if you see that more time is needed. When the time is up, it rings like an old-fashioned alarm clock and the display starts blinking.
The site has a large variety of timers and you may try several before you know which you like best.

Another simple timer is here. You can choose the background colour of the screen, the size of the digits (which is this timer's best feature if you want to use it in a big room) and set the time limit. However, you cannot set your own time, you must use the pre-set time intervals. Not a big problem though, there is a choice of any number of minutes up to 1 hour.

 E.ggtimer can be found here and it shows minutes and seconds written in numbers and letters like this - 1 minute 20 seconds, not a clock face, which is boring if you ask me. On the other hand, if the students are busy doing their task, they will not pay much attention to the screen. The good thing is that the e.ggtimer gives a beep and shows time expired on the screen.

If you want to bring some fun into the lesson, you may choose a fancy alarm clock which does what it says - it wakes you up. It works like a true alarm clock - you set the real time and choose what sound you would like to hear - cockerel, classic clock, electronic, military trumpet or slayer guitar (impressive!), then forget about it and jump when it starts ringing.
You can read about one more countdown timer which I have described before. Check it out here.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Easy classroom management tricks

While reflecting on my work during the school year that has just ended, I went through different classroom management methods I had been using in my lessons and found that some of the most efficient ones were the following:

  • Secret student
The teacher writes all the names of the students on separate cards. At the beginning of a lesson the teacher picks out a card with a student's name but does not reveal it. The rule is that this student will be observed during the whole lesson and he will be given an evaluation of his work at the end of the lesson. The thrill of this method is that no one knows who has been picked and everyone tries to behave and do lesson work.

This works well with younger students because they are still naive enough not to guess the "victim" although with time they learn to read the teacher's mind and eyes.
While it is still a new game, it works perfectly. Just don't overdo with it!

  • Sit down
At the beginning of a lesson all students are asked to stand up (which I am usually not very particular about) and the teacher asks a question, e.g. Who had a boiled egg for breakfast? The ones who did, sit down.
Questions should be asked until everyone is seated. The teacher has to be rather ingenious to come up with the right question if there is one student left standing not to embarrass him / her.
What surprised me at first was that the students did not cheat but apparently waited for the "right" question to be able to sit down.

Some of the questions I have used are Who rode a bike to school today? Who took the dog out this morning? Who is wearing something new / red / leather... today? Who watched (the name of the movie) yesterday? Who went to bed after midnight yesterday? etc.
The questions I ask depend on the students' age of course.