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! :-)

My (initial) two cents on Assessing students…

Photo by Shemer (on Flickr) CC

This weekend thousands of educators from all over the world will take part in The Reform Symposium, which will happen between today, July 29th and Sunday, July 31st. The Reform Symposium is an global online conference for everyone concerned with education. With more than 75 presentations and 12 keynote speakers it is sure to be an incredible event! Organised by educators for educators, it is FREE but will offer more valuable and inspiring PD than money can buy! I was delighted – having had the experience of being a participant in previous editions – to have the chance to participate as a presenter this time. I will be part of a panel about Assessment and then present about Alternative Assessment.

Assessment has always been a special area of interest for me. Education seems to be moving away from traditional testing – or at least trying to. More and more teachers discuss assessment, the different ways we can do it, effectiveness of each of them. I am a product of traditional testing (with a few rare occasions / teachers / classes). I had to memorize dates, names and formulas. I had to memorize rules when it came to language. To get into the university I had to endure a whole year preparing for the entrance examinations, taking special extra classes that reviewed what I had studied in the previous 12 years and taught me tricks to get the best score possible. Yes, unfortunately, due to the way our educational system in Brazil works and universities and college select their students tricks are what come handy in those examinations, finding easier ways to get to the result of a math problem, using mnemonic sentences to remember the elements of the periodical table of elements…*

Hold on a minute there! Was I supposed to be tested on how much information I could retain (even if temporarily – just for the test) and remember or in whether I knew how to use that information, whether I had been successful at transforming that information into knowledge?

In my (very) humble opinion that is the biggest and eventually fatal mistake of traditional assessment. It doesn’t check the right thing, it is unfair and in a certain way it side tracks students from real, meaningful learning.  I believe myself to be unbiased as far as the topic goes, especially because I was an A student all my life. But the fact that I did well in traditional testing does not mean I agree with it.

I always questioned the effectiveness (and real results) of the type of evaluation I (as well as the rest of the world) had been assessed by all my life. That questioning became even more serious – and finally active – when I started teaching. For a few years I taught the history classes for Graphic Design undergraduate students at UFPE (the Federal University in Pernambuco) and it bothered me to think about assessing my students in the same way I had been. Memorizing things isn’t learning! And what about if the student learned a lot about the Modern art movements, but not exactly about the artists and movements I decide to ask about? Not fair, right? At least I thought so. So I started experimenting. Instead of telling students what I wanted them to tell me, I would give them a number of key words and they had to use at least 70% of them in an essay telling me what they had learned on a specific subject. I tried to bring art history and its characteristics to their reality, encouraged them to find influences from those movements in their modern world. That, in my opinion, should be the main reason we study history: to understand the effect it has in our lives today, to understand the why and how. So I focused on that. I focused on trying to assess what they knew rather than what they didn’t. I hope I was successful. I enjoyed it.

I hope I was able to give you a background of my views on assessment and how I had an early start at using alternative ways of evaluating students – even if I had no idea I was doing that in the beginning, I just wanted to experiment and find better ways, ways I found more fair, effective. To avoid making this post too long – which maybe it already is, I have a tendency of getting carried away – I’ll skip about 10 years to my current reality and how I use alternative assessment today, with my English students.

The school where I teach, ABA  has recently abolished all forms of traditional testing and uses an electronic portfolio, developed by a team of IT people, graphic designers and teachers. The process took years, moving from traditional, slowly and gradually into what we have now.

I believe the portfolio (and even more, the e-folio) is a more effective, meaningful and authentic assessment tool. Why? Throughout the semester the students select samples of activities and tasks they have doneusing the four skills and post them in their electronic portfolios. It is not required that these activities posted be from the ones done in the classroom, they can be samples of anything the students have done involving English that they feel has helped them learn. For instance, the student can post the video with an interview of their favorite singer they have watched and write what he/she understood of the video.

Alternative assessment is cool! (Photo under Creative Commons by Settle.roamer on Flickr)

An important part of how we work with portfolios has to do with having students self-assess, reflect upon their own learning, therefore understanding it better so as to hopefully knowing how they learn better and what they should do to develop their target language. For that to happen, for each activity the student posts on their electronic portfolio they have to write a reflection (that is displayed by the post) explaining why he/she thinks that activity is a good example of their English learning process and what he/she has learned from it.

Using electronic portfolios as our sole tool for evaluating students has proven to be extremely effective and rewarding. The students have total freedom to choose the way they use the language and they are assessed through that, making it much more meaningful and motivating to students. It also allows the teacher to see the student’s performance in the language, by accomplishing authentic tasks, things they would actually need to use the target language to do, such as commenting on a movie they have watched or talking about current events. The principle of authenticity can be noticed in this aspect of the assessment since the tasks the students choose corresponds to situations they (would) use the language for in real life.

Throughout the whole semester the teacher visits the students’ portfolio to check on new posts and may write comments on each post. These comments may provide the students feedback on the content, choice of activity posted or on the accuracy of it, giving them specific points to work on and possible suggestions on how to do so. This is a good example of washback. Students get individualized feedback on how they are doing and what they should do to improve.

Every level in the school has a specific set of rubrics for the portfolio evaluation and all students are assessed using them. The rubrics are very thorough and presented to students in the beginning of the semester, as well as made available for reference whenever they want. All the students use the same system for creating their portfolios and receive the same training and support. This makes the portfolio assessment a reliable one.

Since the students are the only ones responsible for choosing and adding the activities they will be evaluated on, they feel it’s a fair way of being assessed. It is content-related because the students are assessed by using the skill they are being assessed in – for speaking they have to upload videos and/or audio files of themselves speaking for example. And since the objective of the course and the students is to effectively use the target language for communicating, the portfolio is the best way for students to prove they can communicate effectively in English.

All in all, portfolios – and especially electronic portfolios, for the flexibility they give students in the type of media they use to perform in the language – are proving to be a very effective and rewarding way to assess students.

If you are interested watching my presentation Alternative assessment and electronic portfolios: sharing a successful experience and ideas” on the last Reform Symposium (which took place on July 29, 30 and 31) you can see the recording here. The recording for the RSCON3 Assessment Panel can be found by clicking here.

As usual, I’d love to hear what you think? How do you think assessment should be done in the ELT classroom?

 * (for those who are not familiar with the Brazilian educational system, after the 5th year students have to study all subjects of all areas – from Physics to Biology – every year. There’s very little change from one school to the next because of the requirements of the Ministry of education).

My First Webinar

Connecting with people around the world...

 

Last Friday, June 3rd, I had the wonderful opportunity to present my first webinar. My dearest friend Shelly Terrell presents a webinar every Friday for the American Tesol Institute and since she would be traveling last friday she suggested to them that I do the webinar, and they invited me… (thanks for the vote of confidence!)

 

I was super nervous… Shelly had talked me through it but still… very nerve-wrecking, especially because I was filling in for shoes way to big for me ;-) But with the help of some fabulous friends and PLN (the line between the two gets very shady for me sometimes) I pulled through and I thought I did ok. We had educators from all over the world attending and everybody was super participative.

 

My special thanks go to Shelly for trusting me to fill in for her and for suggesting my name, to the American Tesol Institute for giving me the chance, to Mike Hogan who “held my hand” and with his webinar expertise gave me very important and useful advice and to other members of my PLN who were there supporting me. You guys are awesome and I owe you!

 

And if you’re wondering…. here’s the recording, so you can judge for yourself… please, I’d love some feedback on things I could’ve done better. I already got the suggestion of getting a new set of (better) microphones, which I will do soon :-)

 

 

A Fun Lesson Reviewing Adjectives

What do you look for in a friend? In a romantic partner?

 

After I used the Valentine’s Day activities in my groups I decided it would be a good opportunity to have a follow-up lesson to review adjectives and descriptions. Since we had talked about Valentine’s Day, the people we loved, etc it would be easy to link that lesson to one where we talked about what attracted us in people – and what put us off. It worked really well with my students, so I thought I’d share it here:-). I know this lesson might not work with certain age groups or cultural backgrounds. but you can use just part of it, or adapt to your students. Feel free – and share!

 

When the class started I distributed some papers (half of a blank paper), markers and tape, and told the students to tape the paper to their backs. Then I put on some music and asked them to go around writing one adjective they thought described that person. Wait, wait! Don’t start thinking the students don’t know each other that well, this won’t work. This activity works whether they’ve just met or if they’ve been studying together for a while – different outcomes, but everything works. After they have all written on each other’s papers, before I let them take the papers down to see what their friends wrote about them I ask them to say one adjective they think describe themselves. If the students start complaining it’s hard to choose just one, tell them yes, it’s hard (“So is life!” I usually say playfully to my students), but it doesn’t mean they’re just that, but that that characteristic is a predominant one in their personality.

 

Then I tell them to take the paper off their backs and look at the words the other students used to describe them. Then, into trios I have them share their views on if they see themselves the same way others saw them, possible reasons for any differences, etc… Then a quick general accountability with the whole group, asking 2 or 3 students at random about it. I usually spend some time with them reflecting upon the image we have of ourselves and the one we project, etc…

 

After that, I ask them to share what is one characteristic that attracts them in people from the opposite sex. Since the previous activity will have gotten mostly personality adjectives (and to be honest everyone always answer this with a personality trait first, maybe to show they’re not superficial ;-)) it’s very likely that’s what you’ll get as answers. Let them talk, ask them to elaborate a bit if you have an angle (Funny? Why is that? What is a funny person to you? etc). In my group, that’s what happened, to what (after everyone had spoken) I joked by saying “Ok, I’m very proud all my students are such “evolved” people who don’t care about appearances, but let’s be a bit superficial here, because usually it’s something physical that first attracts you to someone. What catches your attention - as far as physical characteristics go? I got a lot of “the smile”, “the eyes”, “the height”… We did a little brainstorm on famous people they considered attractive, and on those they knew weren’t examples of physical beauty but still had something that made them attractive. Then I say they’ve probably talked about this (what they find attractive in people) many times before, and that today we’d take a different turn. Finally I give them the worksheet and take it from there.

 

My class (a fluent group of people between 20 and 40 years old men and women) had a great time with this lesson, laughing, making comments and asking each other questions related to the topic. This was on our 4th class, and only two of them knew each other before the term started – they’re brothers. so, I hope you enjoy it too. If you use it (and feel free to change it in any way you need to adapt to your groups) I’d love to hear how it went. We all know how receiving feedback is important ;-) Here’s the worksheet:

The Laws of UNattractiveness

Love is in… the ELT classroom!

Will you be my valentine?

 

I have to admit Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays… Call me a romantic if you want, but the fact is, despite Valentine’s Day not even existing in the Brazilian calendar, I love to celebrate it. See, the thing that makes it so appealing to me is that it is a day to celebrate love. Simple as that. Not necessarily romantic love… just love. Love for a parent, for a friend, for a child… And despite the (overly IMHO) commercial side of it I think it’s great to have a day to tell the people we love how we feel. I know we can do that every day, but having a day with that sole purpose reminds us to celebrate and acknowledge that love.

 

So I decided to share a couple of activities I’ve created and used in some of my groups around Valentine’s. I hope you enjoy them!

A warmer that’s silly and simple, but that I have used is just eliciting the word Valentine’s Day from the students, then writing it on the board and giving them 3 to 5 minutes to come up with as many words using the letters from the board as possible. They can only use a letter more than once if the letter appears more than once on the board, and words have to contain 3 letters or more. A nice competition will surely warm their hearts up!

Here are some activities (note: they were prepared for an advanced conversation group I have, and the students are quite fluent. So, depending on the level you teach, they may need some adjustments):

 

Valentines Activity 1 CNN Article

Valentines Activity 2 Reuters Article

Valentines Idioms with Heart