Friday, 3 May 2019

Miss Homophone

I created the image above during the April 2019 NaPoWriMo/ GloPoWriMo challenge. If you are unfamiliar with GloPoWriMo, the purpose of the challenge is to write a poem a day and the participants are provided with a new (optional) prompt every day. This is the seventh GloPoWriMo I have completed. If you would like to read my poetry, it is in my other blog.

I wrote Miss Homophone on Day 14, when the prompt was to use homophones/homographs/homonyms. It is a silly little poem, but I wrote it with my students in mind. Then I decided to share it with other teachers, which is why I have created this handy shareable image and equipped it with a Creative Commons licence.

There are several ways this poem can be used:

1. to teach the students the concept of homophones (which is why I have given the lady this very unusual surname)

2. to teach them some of the more common homophones

3. as a dictation (OK, this could be a little cruel, I admit)

These are just a few ideas. I am sure you can think of more ways to use this poem with your students.


Tuesday, 11 September 2018

The Tree: Some Viideo Activities

I am republishing one of my old posts here. I believe The Tree is a great clip for those first classes when your students are getting to know each other and you want them to learn how to work as a team.

The Tree is one of my favourite short videos of all times. It always puts me in a good mood. You can read the story behind this clip here.

How would you use this video in class?

Here are some ideas:

1. Why did the boy try to move the tree? Surely he knew he wasn't strong enough for that?

2. Why was the boy first joined by the children? Why did they look so happy?

3. Discuss: "The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” How would you define the boy? A born leader? A crazy kid? Or just someone who felt that he had to do something?

4. Why did the people join the boy?

5. Give the clip a new title.

6. If you had to define the force that moved the tree, what would you say? Was it the boy's initiative? Or the team spirit of everybody else? Both? Something else?

7. Can we always change the circumstances in which we live, or are we sometimes helpless? Discuss.

8. How important is team work in today's society?

9. How important is team work in a language classroom?

10. Do you feel that you are a part of a team in your classroom? Why/not?

Now retell the story in the first person singular, pretending to be one of the people you saw in the clip.

What would you do with The Tree in your classroom? Please add your ideas in the Comments section.

Image of the fallen tree: By Mary-Lynn from Taos, NM, United States (Fallen TreeUploaded by Vux) [CC BY 2.0  (], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Keep Your Online Learners Motivated

Another round of EVO sessions ended some time ago and this post has been sitting for some time in my Drafts folder, so it's time I finished it. You can see here which sessions were on offer and, if you want to keep up with EVO all year round, you can join our Facebook group, or our Google+ community. EVO is a great way for teachers to learn new skills and to connect. EVO 2018 was no exception and the discussions were lively.

This year I took Nelly Deutch's wonderful Moodle for Teachers session. It was the only session I took, contrary to my habit to multitask, but I was more than busy. In Week 4 we created collaborative courses and I teamed up with my BFF Sneza Filipovic and Kim Z. to create a teacher training course on Moodle. My segment of the course was called Keep Them Motivated and in it I revisited a topic that is very dear to my heart - student motivation. I focused specifically on the motivation of online course participants. I believe this topic is very relevant, so I would like to present it here as well.

What I tried to do was examine common reasons for high dropout rates in online courses and explore the use of icebreakers, forum discussions and badges as ways to engage and motivate our online learners.

As you may be aware, creators of MOOCs and free online courses in general often complain of high dropout rates. When you join an online session, you are often guided by your natural curiosity only and that sometimes makes it hard to stick around until the end. I myself have dropped out of more free online courses than I can remember, but I did get hooked a couple of times. I am addicted to online learning, and I looked at the topic from the point of view of a learner, rather than that of a teacher. And, while I don't have any magic solutions, I did come up with a couple of things that might help.

Most of the students who drop out of an online course apparently do so during the first week. Again, a large number of dropouts will be those who never even logged in. Those people might be lost as course participants, unless you are willing to write a personal email to each and every one of them (which might not be very practical in a MOOC). One way to prevent this might be sending an email with instructions on how to join and how to use the platform before the course starts. Or you might try one of the solutions I offered in this short tutorial:

Icebreakers are very important during the first week and they can serve both to introduce the participants to the platform and to each other.

I looked at icebreakers in more detail here:

If you have managed to get your course participants to join and introduce themselves, you are off to a good start. If you want to keep your learners engaged, however, you need to prepare well before that first week. I think the battle for participation is won or lost before the course begins and that's where course design plays a vital role. Still, even if you have designed a most wonderful, most engaging course and survived the first week, don't sit back and relax just yet. A lot of people disengage soon after the first week and again, as a learner, I have done this many times. Some of the courses I dropped out of were really great and I am sorry I didn't persevere, but, you know, life happens.

In my second PowerPoint presentation I looked at some ways you can keep your learners engaged in later weeks and some measures you can take if things don't go all that well:

And I apologise for the way that video ended abruptly. I was using the free version of Screencast-o-matic back then. I have upgraded in the meantime and I hope to write a separate blog post about this great and inexpensive tool. I also hope to write a blog post about badges. I love badges as a learner and I find them very motivating, but they deserve a separate blog post.

There are no easy answers to how you motivate your online learners. The fact that you have created a great course and offered it for free should be enough to make you proud. Online learning is different from face-to-face learning and we shouldn't expect the same level of commitment from our online participants that we get in our classrooms. Besides, if the course stays online and if it stays open, people will keep returning to it, the way I returned to this post after almost two months. I would love to see more online courses that stay open for participation year-round and where people can keep connecting to each other and to the instructor whenever they decide to.

Monday, 22 January 2018

My Blog is Ten Years Old

I started this blog ten years ago on this very day. I had just bought my first internet-enabled computer (back then the digital divide was a real thing and Serbia was really lagging behind other countries). The whole wide world was opening before my eyes and that's when I joined my first two EVO sessions. One of the sessions I had joined was Blogging for Educators and, with the help of the moderators, I started this blog. It was January 2008.

I have always liked writing, so I quickly became passionate about blogging. Back then, many English teachers were. There was a whole network of bloggers and we supported each other. Then, one by one, we got a little tired. A lot of us started blogging less and less often. To me, this happened gradually and I was in denial for a long time. No, my blog was doing fine, no, I was still passionate about blogging, I just didn't update as often any more. Several times I declared that my blog was out of hibernation, that I was back. Then, some two years ago, I had to admit it to myself: I had given up blogging, maybe for good.

This wasn't happening to me only. Others were giving up blogging and some blogs I enjoyed reading were no longer being updated. I am talking about English language teaching blogs here and I am not generalising. The blogs I have in mind are the ones that originated around 2008, more or less at the same time as mine. We were just tired, I suppose.

Then, about a month ago, Janet Bianchini brought her blog back to life. Janet and I have been blogging buddies for a long time now. We have encouraged each other with comments and kept each other going. When Janet stopped blogging, I told myself that it was OK to stop too. But now her blog is back and thriving, so I have no more excuses not to do the same. I have promised Janet I would get back to blogging. Also, I believe if a blog has been online for ten years, it deserves to be treated well. So, here I am. EVO sessions are back and I always have so much to say during EVO sessions. I have some other ideas too (I have basically planned my next few posts), but more about that later. I even have an idea about another blog I would like to start (maybe next summer, during the holidays) and it will be something completely different from what I have been doing so far. I will say no more except that this new blog will not be about English language teaching at all. And, of course, there is always my poetry blog, which comes to life every April, during the GloPoWriMo challenge. So, once a blogger, always a blogger, I suppose.

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.


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