Bonus Round – More Activities for the First Day of Class

Let's make this a colorful and resourceful ESL Carnival! (Photo by Striking Photography - CC License)

The next ESL Blog Carnival will be hosted by Eva Buyuksimkesyan (@evab2001 on Twitter) in her wonderful blog  “A Journey in TEFL“, and it will have as a theme Warmers and Fillers for the First Day of Class, since most teachers are starting a new academic term/year soon.

I shared some activities I did on my first classes for the term that I have just started on a recent post (“A Post About Firsts“), but there are so many other activities I have used over the many years I’ve been teaching, I decided I should share some of those in another post. :-) So here we are!

1) The Profile:

You start this activity by asking the students what does the word profile mean. They may come up with many definitions or just one of them.  If they don’t come up with both, the teacher can elicit or explain – it depends a lot on the students’ language level. I find 2 of them essential for this activity.

The first essential definitions is:  “An outline of something (especially a human face as seen from one side)”. The second is: “Biographical sketch” , or information about a person, to give an idea of the person’s personality and life.

After the 2 definitions have been shared, the teacher explains they will do their profiles – in more than one way. The teacher should then proceed to model what students will be expected to do. Get a big piece of blank paper (I usually use A3-sized white paper), stick it to a wall and give a volunteer student a marker. The teacher should place her face on the paper sideways and ask the student with the marker to use it to outline the teacher’s profile on the paper. The profiles always look funny!

Give each student a big piece of paper and a colored marker and have them pair up and outline each other’s profiles. When you have all the papers with profiles (including the teacher’s!) stuck to the walls around the classroom, tell students they should write questions on everybody else’s papers, around the outlined profile. These questions can be just short ones (such as School? or Hobbies?) or complete questions – it’s up to the teacher to decide. Personally I like the short ones, because it gives more space for the student to elaborate on the topic/question). I usually play some background music at this point too, to set a cheerful, happy vibe. The students then go around the classroom, writing questions on all the papers but their own.

After all the profile papers have been filled with questions, the teacher should once again serve as a model, take her own paper down and use it to talk about herself by answering the questions written in it. The, ask the students to take their papers down and introduce themselves.

I find this activity to be fun and allow students to ask whatever they would like to know about the teacher and their classmates. It also works for both groups of students who haven’t studied together before and groups who have been together for some time – they can ask things they don’t know about each other. As a follow-up the teacher can ask students to use the profile paper as basis for a written bio.

2) Getting to Know Each Other With Candy:

Colored candy in exchange for bits and pieces about the students! (Photo by Oh_Savannah - CC license)

Before the class starts, the teacher should have a bowl of candy somewhere of easy access to the students. It’s important that the candy come in different colors – at least 4. I usually use M&Ms for this, leaving a stack of plastic cups (the ones normally used for coffee) next to the bowl and a spoon in the bowl. As the students starts coming into the classroom, the teacher tells them to treat themselves to the bowl, but to wait before they eat – the students should take as much candy as they want, but should wait for the teacher’s permission before eating them.

After everybody has taken some candy and sat down, the teacher should then put up a poster with the color/information equivalence. Each color of candy (or each type of candy) corresponds to one type of information. For instance, the equivalence can be something like:

  • Green: Something about my educational background
  • Red: Something about my family
  • Blue: Something about my likes and dislikes
  • Yellow: Something about my objectives & future plans

 Then the students should take turns and say something about themselves for each piece of candy they have taken, according to the color they have. There is a variation of this activity using a roll of toilet paper, where students take as much as they want and they have to give one piece of information about themselves for each piece of toilet paper they have.

3) Fill in The (Funny) Blanks

Before the lesson, the teacher should prepare a poster (or word document if a projector is available) with a little bio about her. But the text should be funny – important, key information should be substituted by crazy things. Here’s an example:

My name is Cecilia, and I am 104 years old. I have 2 bunnies: Gabriela is 10 and Felipe is 6. I have been teaching juggling for 35 years. In my free time I like jumping off airplanes and jumping around on one foot. I don’t like eating books but I love eating butterflies. (…)

Then ask students to get together with another student (or pair them up if you prefer) and tell them they should discuss and decide which bits from the bio are not true and come up with what they think are the correct words to substitute them with.

After a few minutes the teacher asks students to share what they think and gradually give them the correct information about herself.

These are some of the first day activities I have used – and still do. I hope you enjoyed them! And as usual I’d love to hear any feedback if you use them or adapt them.

Wishing everyone great first classes and a wonderful new term! :-)

Some Ideas on How to Use Web 2.0 Tools for Alternative Assessment

Apples and oranges... Sometimes we have to adapt! (Photo by Sam Breach - CC License)

As you may have noticed through some of my last posts, assessment is the “apple of my eye”. More accurately, alternative assessment has been my biggest interest in education lately. And not only because it’s how I assess my students at the school where I work, but more importantly because I believe in it and love reading, sharing ideas and discussing benefits and difficults in doing it. I talked about it on a recent post: My (initial) two cents on Assessing Students…

I have recently taken an online course on assessment with the University of Maryland Baltimore County (as part of the E-Teacher Program of the US Department of State) and it just made more curious, excited about the possibilities, and certain it is the way to go. the course gave me more background knowledge on assessment and the path we have been through. Add to that my involvement in social media, online PD, sharing and blogging, not to mention the key role technology has been taking in learning and it becomes impossible not to put them together. So, more and more I’ve been finding ways of incorporating technology in the students’ assessment and especially in using it as a tool to facilitate alternative assessment in ELT.

Last Friday I had a chance to share some of the ideas I’ve had with other teachers as I did the Free Friday Webinar offered by the American Tesol Institute, filling in for Shelly Terrell (thanks for trusting me with it Shelly!). I gave a brief overview of what is alternative assessment and compared it with traditional assessment. Then I shared some tools and ideas for using them for some of the skills (speaking, writing, reading). It was a nice session, very intereactive and some great feedback and ideas/links from the participants.Every time I have an opportunity to talk about alternative assessment with other teachers from around the world I am amazed at how many people want to (and are trying to find ways of) shift from traitional to alternative. So, if social media is any indicator, I say we’re (maybe slowly but definitely steadily) moving in that direction.

If you’d like to take a look, here’s the presentation:

As soon as the recording of the webinar becomes available I’ll update this post with the link to it.

Thanks for everyone who was there and participated!

A post about firsts – First impressions and first activities on the first day of the semester

Bitten all nails this week…. as usual (photo by Maxwell GS / Flickr – CC)

First day of classes always make me super nervous… Well, to be quite frank, so does presenting, but that doesn’t happen so often. So it’s first days that drive me crazy, because I have those (and a number of them if you take into account I have many groups) every semester. At first I thought it was because of being a new, inexperienced teacher, and that it would get easier with time. It didn’t. I’ve been teaching for nearly 18 years, and I’m afraid I’ll feel like that as long as I have first days of class :-) It’s a mix of “Will they like me?” and “Will I like them?”, “Will we ‘click’?”. So I try to plan activities that will allow me to get to know students better, while giving them the chance of knowing more about me and also breaking the ice and having some fun. Start our relationship – and the semester – on a positive note.

This semester’s first day(s) went really well and I am fortunate to have great groups filled with great students, apparently eager to learn and motivated. So I decided to share here some activities I used on my first classes. The 2 first ones are not my creation. I can’t remember where I got them from – except for the “I have never” one, which I have recently been reminded of in a in-service workshop by Scott Chiverton – and I regret not remembering, because I wish I could give credit for them. I hope you like them!

• Classroom Crossword:

Before the class started I put a big piece of paper on the board and wrote my name in capital letters, some space between the letters. in the middle of it. I told the students this would be our class crossword, because a crossword is made on words that mix to form a whole, and our class was made of individuals that made a whole as well. And then I told them I’d tell them what the clue to my name would be. And I said something (maybe not exactly this, but along these lines):

She’s been teaching English for over 17 years and loves teaching. She is fascinated by languages and the power of being able to communicate. She has 2 beautiful children and in her free time she reads avidly, watches TV and films as well as spends time in the virtual world. She lived in Kansas as an exchange student and that was a life-changing experience for her. She’s not happy if she’s not studying and learning and she truly believes we learn more effectively if we have fun, if we enjoy coming to class.

After I had done this I told them they should all do the same I had just done, telling us things they thought defined them, after putting their names into the crossword. They all did it and we ended the activity with a poster that symbolizes our class – as well as a handy reminder of the students names, which I’m sure will help me memorize their names in the first weeks :-) Here’s one of them:

This is the Class Crossword for one of my High Intermediate 2 groups

• I Have Never

This is a game I have played with friends for fun (at parties) and have recently done in a workshop for the teachers in my school, as an activity to use with students. I used it in the first class as an opportunity to have fun and at the same time learn about each other, getting to know everybody a little.

I divided the students into groups of 5 or 6 people, trying to mix and put students who hadn’t been sitting together (and therefore most likely weren’t close to each other – yet) in the same groups. I did this so they’d be with people they didn’t know very well. Then I explained the activity and modeled it, to make sure they understood it.

Everybody should have their hands and five fingers spread out open, and students were standing in a circle.One person starts the activity by saying something he/she has never done. Anybody in the group who has done what was said should lower one finger. Then the next person says something he/she has never done and the game goes on until only one person still has at least one finger up.

After it was over, I asked students to take turns sharing something interesting they had learned about a classmate. The students had a lot of fun doing the activity. It also gave me an opportunity to check their language ;-)!

Note: For groups in lower levels – who haven’t learned the present perfect yet – I adapted it and their statements should start with “I don’t” or “I didn’t”.

• Setting a Personal Goal

On first day of all my classes I like to ask my students why they are studying English, what is their objective. A very common answer is: “It’s important for my future.” Well… I don’t accept this answer. It’s a “too-automatic-that’s-what-people-say-I-should-learn-it-for” answer. So when that comes up, I ask them why is it important for their future, what is it they’ll do in their future that they’ll need English for? I also tell them it’s better if they find a use and reason for learning English for their present. So I talk to my students about motivation and objectives for a while.

This semester I am trying something that I’m serious to know how it’ll go. After this little discussion I mentioned, I gave each of them a slip of paper that started with “By the end of this semester I hope I’ll be able to…” and told my students I wanted them to complete the sentence with something specific they weren’t able to do now that they wish they could do by the end of the semester. It should be a realistic goal. Something like “I’d like to be able to write a formal letter to a company” , “I’d like to understand what the character in my favorite video game says” or “I want to get a XX score on the TOEFL”. I also said that no one but them would see it, and that on the last day of class we will get those papers back and they’ll see if they can do it then. After they had written on their slips I gave each a sticker to close the folded slip and put them all inside a bag labeled with the name of the class (the code we use).

This might backfire, but I am anxious to open those bags on the last day of class and see what happens. I think it can trigger some good reflections.

The bags with their personal semester goals in it and the blank slip

• Positive Tunes

At the end of the lesson I did an activity with the song “Good Riddance” by Green Day. First because everybody likes music, but most importantly because I think this song has a very positive message to it. As a group the students had to put the song in order (each line was printed in a big piece of paper), and after it we sat around the lyrics to discuss what was the positive message each of them saw in the song.

You’re welcome to use any of these activities, and please share how it goes and any adapting you do! :-)

Learning from Teaching & Sharing and the Secret Garden – What I got from #RSCON3


Last weekend I took part in the 3rd edition of the Reform Symposium Worldwide e-Conference. (you can learn more about it, watch the recordings from sessions and see archives from the past editions if you click in the image above. In short, the conference is made by educators, with educators and for educators around the world. It’s an intense weekend filled with great sessions on an array of topics, all related to education and how it is changing, what we’re doing to follow the change, how and what we can do to be even better at what we do. It was an incredible experience. And in this post I’ll try to put into words what I learned from it, from the 3 parts I played in it.

# As a participant - I learned so much, it’s difficult to pinpoint. I heard and reflected about the changes technology has brought into the teaching practice in many aspects (speed of spreading, reach and availability of information; the dangers of exposing yourself online (and how to protect ourselves and our students, how we have to reflect before putting things online); creating online “spaces” where teachers can collaborate and share activities; I discussed assessment, about new tools, adjusting to the new reality…

This was maybe one of the topics that stuck to my mind. The fact that teachers have to face the changes the world and education have been going through. We have to change, because the students today are not the students from 10, 15 years ago. They’re not even the same as the students from 5 years ago. Learning has even more ways (and places) for taking place. So can we expect to keep teaching as we did before?

I don’t think so, and in that sense the #RSCON3 (that’s the hashtag we used for tweeting the conference) is an innovative opportunity for teachers who are already involved in online learning/teaching/Professional development to discuss the benefits and difficulties of it. But even more importantly, it is a chance for the teachers who are still taking their first steps – or have heard about it but are still a bit afraid of or uncomfortable with it to learn more about it, find ways of getting into it – and see it’s not the bogeyman. I saw many other participants who were attending their first online conference discover what can be done, find out about fantastic resources available for free online.

I could not talk about #RSCON without mentioning the thing that leaves the strongest mark in me, and I will quote Akevy Greenblatt (@Akevy613) on his post about #RSCON to say it:

“I challenge someone to find a profession with more passionate people than educators. I am truly blessed and privileged to be an educator.”

It is impressive to see how much caring, sharing and committment there. And it’s all very evident during the whole conference.

Which brings me to an image I have about my own experience in joining the world of Twitter, Educator Blogosphere, Online tools… Up until about a year ago I used Facebook mostly for chit-chatting, keeping in touch with friends & family living far… I had joined Twitter a little before, but saw little use in it, and had no interest in it to tell you the truth…. I had never read a blog written by an educator… I knew a few websites that offered lesson plans and activities. Then after Braz-Tesol 2010 I was convinced by Jeremy Harmer to join Twitter, and he told me a few educators I should start following. And my life changed. And this is where the image comes… what I found (and am still finding, every day) is such an amazing immeasurable amount of resources, meaningful discussion, interesting ideas and reflections, online conferences, webinars, like-minded people and opportunities for learning and sharing, that all I can compare it with is a Secret Garden.

When you are introduced to the web 2.0 for teachers by someone who can show you the way, that person is actually given you the key and showing you the gate to a secret garden. Something I had no idea existed and it’s unbelievable, beautiful. Conferences such as #RSCON have as a goal to give the key and show this gate to as many educators around the world as possible.

Take the keys and enter… all you need is wanting to.

 # As a Presenter - It was my first time presenting at an online conference, my second online presentation (I have done a webinar before), first time using Elluminate as a presenter/moderator. Many of my feelings regarding presenting online are also Brad Patterson’s as he discussed it in his post about #RSCON, another great post you may want to read.

It’s strange presenting to an audience you can’t see or listen to (except when they get the microphone to ask questions in the end of the presentation). You have no idea of their emotions, their expressions… in a way it’s like presenting blind. Yes, there’s all the interaction going on in the chat box, but that too represents a bit of a challenge to me as a presenter. I never knew whether to look in the box, too afraid to love my line of thought, of drifting away from my presentation.

In a way it’s also fantastic, because I literally had people from all over the world in my session. And the chat box allows for such great interaction between participants, on the spot questions, sharing of links and resources…

Being a presenter also showed me how incredibly helpful it is to have a moderator to assist you. In my case it was extra special, because I had someone from my PLN, my friend Sabrina de Vita as my moderator. the moderator keeps an eye for questions, puts up links you mention, helps participants who are having problems – usually involving the technology… I thank Sabrina for making my presentation as smooth as it could be.

All in all, presenting at #RSCON only made me enjoy presenting online even more and looking forward to doing it again :-)

 # As an Organizer - I was lucky to be invited to become one of the organizers of  this edition of the Reform Symposium. And that was a huge learning experience in itself. To be part of a group made of such inspiring, hard-working, talented people such as Shelly Terrell, Ian Chia, Mark Barnes(who also helped moderate my session :-)), Christopher Rogers, Lisa Dabbs, Melissa Tran, Clive Elsmore, Jerry Blumengarten, Kelly Tenkley and Chiew Pang is a privilege.

I learned a lot from each of them, I saw how hard everyone worked to make the conference happen (months of preparation and planning, sleepless nights, hours and hours of work) and they do it because the believe in the power of sharing, in the importance of it. They do it for their passion for education. I am honored to be part of such a team. And I had no idea it took so much work to organize an online conference. I am sure I will be able to help much more on the next #RSCON, because I have learned so much.

So, these are my reflections about the Reform Symposium. And the message I want to end this post with is only one:

DON’T MISS THE NEXT #RSCON!!!!