Using the Web to Motivate & Improve Students’ Writing – Last Friday’s Webinar

Last Friday I had the pleasure of being invited to fill in for Shelly Terrell in presenting the American Tesol Institute Free Friday Webinar. Shelly was busy being a keynote speaker at a special event promoted by TESL Toronto.

As many might know, something I have struggled with while teaching – especially more advanced students – is writing. The issue has been the topic of sessions I have presented at conferences and online, of many discussions and some posts. I see the quality of the students’ writing declining over the years. I see students more and more reluctant to me doing or assigning writing tasks, teaching writing classes. Some of them cringe at the mere mention of the word. So you can say writing is something that ranks high in my list of interests. So when Shelly asked me to fill in for her and do last Friday (September 23rd), I thought it would be a nice chance to follow-up on my first webinar – which was about writing – with a session sharing some tools (websites)  I have been using in class with my students in an attempt to motivate them to write, to find activities and ways of doing things so that they actually enjoy it. If I can engage them, they will hopefully write more – and more often – and with practice comes progress (or so we hope!).

Who knows, one of these ideas might even make one or two students start writing for pleasure! (A teacher is allowed to dream, isn’t she?

Of course there are students who write well and enjoy it – the exception exists to prove the rule, right? But at least where I teach – and from what I could see during the webinar, in many other corners of the world – the great majority of students don’t enjoy writing or do it well.

The webinar was great, with lots of chatting going on, sharing of resources and ideas. I’d like to thank everyone who joined me for it :-) It’s always a pleasure to share and learn with my PLN.

Here’s the recording for it (warning: I have a certain difficulty with limiting myself to the 30 minutes, so the recording is a little longer. It’s just hard to not get carried away with the chat and the sharing!)

And here are the slides for my presentation: Using the Web to Motivate & Improve Students Writing

Note: Thanks @sylviaduckworth and @sandymillin for helping me with embeding the video. I always forget how! Power to the PLN! ;-)

PLN Blog Challenge – Compare and Contrast

A new PLN-proposed blog challenge…. by Anne Hodgson and turned into a challenge by Brad Patterson.

Choose two photos to “compare and contrast”.

Now, if you have read some of my posts – or have known me for some time – you know I have a problem with challenges – or rather my inability to decline them. It’s a weakness, one that has been very linguistically fruitful :-)

But as I was looking through photos to choose a couple for the challenge, I caught myself looking at it a little differently. I have always focused on ELT here, but this challenge will take a more… personal.

So here are my 2 photos:

One little ballerina...

And…

... and another ballerina - and a fan ;-)

  • Who are the people in the pictures and how are they related?
  • How do the clothes indicate different situations, despite the obvious similarity (ballet dancers)?
  • What are the similarities – other than the subject being ballerinas?
  • How could you use this in class? What else could you focus on despite comparatives (and superlatives?)

It’d be great to see a lot of people taking up the challenge, so why don’t you???

Others who have taken up the challenge:

Baiba Svenca

Ceri Jones

Chiew Pang

Janet Bianchini

Michael Harrison

My Box of Chocolates is a year old today – hope there’s no expiration date !!!!

Happy 1st Blogaversary!!!

A year has passed… wow. My first post (after some incentive from Jason Renshaw and Ceri Jones, for which I’ll be forever grateful) was written on September 25th, 2010.

In that year I wrote 51 posts (this is the 52nd), had over 30,000 visitors, over 1,000 comments, an eduBlog award for runner-up best new blog and have 70 active subscribers. But this anniversary is so much more than numbers…

It’s about connectedness…about finding like-minded teachers all over the world, most of them I would never have the chance to interact with / even meet face-to-face had it not been for Twitter and the blogosphere. I have learned from reading their blog posts, comments to blog posts and tweets. I have learned from them by taking part in webinars they presented. I have learned. I have changed the way I teach in some aspects, I have incorporated new practices in my lessons, I have experimented much, trying to find better ways to do the same things or only validate the way I was doing things.

I found a place where I feel okay and safe to vent, to share what I feel and think about my teaching… a place to share activities I create, activities I adapt; what worked – and perhaps more importantly, didn’t – in the classroom with my students. I found a place to share my insecurities and shortcomings, and not feel bad about them. Instead, after sharing, all I got was support and people who have/had been through the same experiences. I felt less alone. And other teachers felt less alone as well. It’s a great thing to realize many of us go through the same challenges and doubts, we all feel down and insecure now and then, we all feel a bit lost once in a while.

And for all that I have said, the friends I’ve made because of it, the new-found confidence my readers have given me… I am thankful. May the next year be even more fruitful, hopefully being able to blog more often and continue connecting through here. I wish I could send a box of chocolate as a thank you to each of you. :-) You make a difference.

And I need to go Public… ;-) Some ideas for Listening Activities

Listen to it!!!!

A couple of weeks ago I taught a class to a very special group of teachers. At the school where I work we have a project (along with the US Department of State)  where school teachers have classes there. The intention of such classes is not only teach / review methodology but also improve the teachers’ English fluency through it. They are a wonderful group of teachers, super motivated, hardworking….

The lesson I taught focused on listening skills. How to teach, why to teach, pre-listening activities, authenticity… I had some technical problems, but we had a great class nonetheless. Towards the end of the class, the activity involved splitting the students into smaller groups and assigning them types of activities and have them come up with a listening activity. I was amazed at the results – so many fantastic ideas! So I asked them if I could post them on the blog, and they kindly agreed. So here it is, their ideas (ideas are about what they had at hand, but they can be easily adapted):

• Show & Tell – Listen to a fashion show, learners identify vocabulary related to clothes they hear. Do a general accountability using the board. Then show images of famous people with different kinds of clothes. There should be at least more than 9 images – 20 or more. Then teacher asks SS to draw a grid with the numbers of the images, and the teacher does a bingo (SS draw a bingo grid and choose 9 of the images.) Teacher reads the description of the clothes, students mark them.

• TPR – Teacher chooses a story suitable to the levels of the class in question. Split the students into 2 groups. Assign a part of the story to each group. SS listen to the story. The students have to re-enact the part that was assigned to them.

One of the students is (privately) told to do things wrong. each group acts one part. The other students have to guess/ say  who is playing it wrong.

• Another TPR – Have learners listen to the audio. The have them stand in a line. Teacher reads true/false questions about the text. Read the questions out loud – I love it! – and students have to give a step forward if the sentence is true. Possible variation for large classrooms is to have them stand up / sit down as you read the sentences.

• Dictation – Choose a movie – well known to the student – maybe it makes a difference?) elicit things about the movie, what happens, the plot, etc… Think (to yourself!!!) questions about the text…. dictate them. The students should write the questions down. Play the video of the part, have students check their own answers.

• Dictocomp – Read the same text 2 or 3 times. Do it very slowly – do it very slowly the first time, Then read it naturally the next time. The teacher can use images, pictures, anything that might help the students. Then the students are instructed to jolt down the key words of what they listen. Have they write down the story – as close to the original as possible.

I was amazed at the activities they came up with, not only for the activities themselves, but especially for considering the setting they are in. They have huge classrooms – 50, 60 students – many of which barely know how to read and write in their L1 properly. And still, they are willing…they are creative. I bow to them.

I hope you guys find their wonderful ideas useful :-)

A Drop and a Drop Out Through the Rock

Can we break through the "toughest" students? (Photo by Marcelo A.H. Penna on Flickr - CC License)

My latest post was about new beginnings and the challenges that commonly come with them… Challenges can be so motivating! But sometimes we work and work at them and see no progress… And that is soooo frustrating! But sometimes I think teachers become frustrated because we set our expectations too high, we are too ambitious.

Don’t get me wrong… I think we should set expectations high and be ambitious (unlike many people I see ambition – within limits of course! – as a very positive thing. It drives us to be and do better.)

But this post is about celebrating little victories. It’s about not being taken down by not making progress with an entire group, but being able to reach one student. About not convincing all the students to do something, but having one of them buy the idea. I’ve had a few little victories this semester (we’ve had about 2 months of class so far, and the deadline for midterm is a week away). And I feel like sharing them, and maybe giving a few teachers who might be frustrated right now, a little hope :-).

My most challenging group this semester is a group of 10 “somewhat” beginners, the average age being 13 (currently reviewing simple past, soon to learn present perfect). Half the class is made up of excellent students who came from lower levels because of their outstanding performance. The other half is made of students who have been having a hard time with English for a long time and are currently re-taking the level. Quite an interesting group I’d say. One student in particular (from the weaker part of the class) called my attention. Bad attitude, refused to speak English, never did the homework, always trying to distract others… I initially tried the traditional techniques… Called her attention, refused to respond when spoken in L1, threatened to call the parents (which I did once), explained how her grades would suffer… all to no avail. Then something came to mind. She is a very outspoken girl, exhales self-confidence. And I know (from personal experience) that many times the ones who seem confident are actually very insecure (and the other way around). So I decided to approach it differently. I tried not to put the spotlight on her, not ask her to give answers out loud. But during the class I’d walk by her and ask questions about trivial things – her weekend, a new song, a new purse she brought to class, etc… and as she spoke Portuguese I’d try to convince her to at least mix Portuguese and English. I’d ask questions to get her to talk. I showed true interest. And I didn’t correct her – well, maybe a bit of recasting… hard not to. Well, today she spent an entire class without speaking Portuguese. And I’d like to think it’s a result from the new way of dealing her. Easing the pressure. Giving her space and showing interest. And she’s been doing homework too! I left the classroom fulfilled today because of that one little victory. Does two months seem like a long time? Maybe it does, and maybe it is. But we have to be persistent…and patient.

On another group my challenge has been to have them buy the idea of the electronic portfolio (which is our school’s tool for evaluation as you can read about here ). They’ve had bad experiences I suppose and started the semester voicing their hatred for the efolio. I reasoned, tried to show the benefits and finally (basically) said: too bad, sorry you don’t like it but it’s how we evaluate, deal with it. There was one student in particular who never missed a chance to voice her (negative) opinion about it. But, given no other option, she started doing it. And I made a personal point of checking all updates from her efolio on the same day. I left comments (our efolios greatly resemble Facebook) on every post she put up. Never correcting accuracy, but always asking questions and commenting on the content. She started responding to the comments and posting more often – maybe to see what I’d comment? All I can say is that a week before the deadline for submitting portfolios, hers is done – it’s got all the required activities and more. She’s been posting a lot about things she enjoys, things she comes across… I think I brought her to the light side of the force ;-) That made my day as well. Sometimes it pays off to forget the language a bit (even if just on the surface) and focus on the person.

The last one is a student from the same group as the girl I’ve just mentioned. As the rest of his classmates, this learner cringed at the idea of the portfolio. And he hated when I assigned a new project. In the handbook we use we have a “poster time”, where students should try to put themselves in the shoes of the opposite gender (the unit’s topic is Men X Women), and make a poster with disadvantages of being of the opposite sex (always easier to think of the advantages, isn’t it? I like to think differently). This poster was traditionally done with big white papers and markers. I transferred it to the virtual world and introduced them to Glogster. And told them to do the poster using it. This student not only did a great job – he loved the tool – but also started doing a lot of writing posts for his efolio using Glogster (he asked me if it was ok). He likes adding a song that he thinks fits the mood/topic of the writing, using decorative images, etc… We’re talking about students who were not only resistant to technology but especially, that hated writing (why is it so hard to get students motivated to write?!?!). They moan when I assign a writing – be it as homework or classwork. But this particular student was motivated to do his writing assignments in a different way. Double victory for me: got him to write more and use technology as well.

What I take from all of this? Make my way to my objectives one student at a time (which reminds me of the Starfish tale). Be happy with what you get. Sometimes focusing on the person instead of the learner is more effective. Students will write if motivated. Trust your instincts. Don’t give up.

P.S.1 – I realize I’ve been posting less regularly, but in my defense I’m taking the distance delta with IH London and it’s taking a big toll on my “free” time. i apologize and ask for sympathy from my fellow teachers. ;-) I miss blogging, but I have a goal!

P.S.2 – I have more ideas that I’ve been using to motivate students, web tools I’ve been using. If you’re interested I’ll be sharing some of them this Friday, as I fill in for Shelly Terrell on the American Tesol Institute Free Friday Webinar. Come over! 9PM GMT / 5PM Brazil time

New beginnings and the length of the stride

How long is your stride as you start down the new road ahead of you? (Photo by J.A.C.K. - CC License)

A new term has begun for me. For many of my teacher friends around the world it is about to begin. A new term means a new beginning. I like new beginnings.The excitement and the fear of the new, tangled up. I always get very nervous before my first classes of a new term. What will it be like? What will the students be like? What will be the challenges?

New terms can make us especially anxious if we have taken up new projects, new paths, a new job. If this is the case we worry about whether we’ve taken too long a stride. Will I be able to do it? Will I be successful? Will I get where I want to? So many doubts…

Yes… I believe new beginnings usually come with challenges. But challenges are motivating. They make you try harder, they draw you out of your comfort zone, make you look for new ways of doing something… They may also be scary. We are afraid of failing, of not knowing what to do. What’s wrong with failing anyway? Everybody fails eventually. The key is not letting yourself be taken down by it. Don’t ignore it. Feel bad about it, acknowledge it. Learn from it. And then move on.

Change is usually scary for most people – and a new term means change, as small as it may seem sometimes. But change can be very, very positive too. They open new horizons, bring new victories, new connections.

So, embrace your new term and any challenges that may come with it. Think of them as steps up. If the stride feels too long, grab a friend’s hand to help you cover it. There’s nothing wrong with that. It actually makes the journey more fun when we’re not alone.

Wishing a great new beginning. To all of us. Teaching-wise or otherwise ;-)