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! :-)

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!!!!

Challenges, PLN and Where They Have Taken Me

Image by Diarmuid Fogarty - found on #eltpics on Flickr - Close ups set

 

A lot of teachers don’t know what a PLN is… Many know what the letters stand for (Personal Learning Network – or Passionate Learning Network as Shelly Terrell says) but don’t see how it works, how they can learn, benefit from it. Inspired by Tyson Seburn’s challenge to the PLN to give a spin-off to the #FollowFriday tweets on twitter (If you’re an educator and haven’t joined twitter yet you may want to read this: “Why Twitter is a Teacher’s Best Tool“) I decided to share my story, how being on twitter, having a PLN and challenges my PLN propose have made me reassess my practices and change some of them, how they have helped me develop professionally and learn.

One of the first blogs I started reading once I discovered the world of Educator Blogs was Jason Renshaw’s (English Raven). If you haven’t read his posts I strongly suggest it. Jason is an Australian educator with fabulous ideas, incredibly sharing and always questioning things, rethinking practices, a never-ending quest for teaching more effectively. And it was also Jason and his blog who have introduced me to many things: tools, books, articles, blogs… and dogme. Yes, I know dogme has been around for a while, but I recently discovered I was completely out of the loop of what was happening on teaching and the ELT world.

See, Jason has a thing for challenges. And I have one for taking them up. I have to admit I find it hard to refuse a challenge. Challenges for me do exactly what they are supposed to: challenge me to do things differently, think out of the box, take risks, venture in new paths. They bring a breath of fresh air, motivate me. And the very first challenge I took was from Jason. An invitation to teachers to teach a different class and try teaching upside down and inside out. In a few words, the challenge was to go into class without a plan, teach it using your intuition and student emergent learning and then, after the class was over, sit down and write the plan. I took the dive. If you want to know how my class went, you can read it on my guest post on Ceri Jones’ blog (I didn’t have a blog at the time, this blog was actually in a way the result of my taking this first challenging and sharing my experience on Ceri’s blog) – The Day Nothing Became Everything.

By the way, the post in which Jason proposed this challenge was my first #FFSpinoff.

What have I learned from that challenge? I learned I don’t need a lesson plan. I learned having the class based on student emergent learning can be a fantastic experience. I learned doing things differently can be fun and effective. I learned going to class without a plan in no way means I am going unprepared (thanks to Jim Schrivner’s reply comment to my account on Jason’s blog). It made me buy Teaching Unplugged and learn more about Dogme. Yes, I’ll be arrogant here and say I think it made me a better teacher. More confident for sure. Definitely more aware of using students’ immediate needs and interests in the class.

Other challenges came along (you can see some of them if you choose the tag challenges on this blog) and I learned from each and every one of them. Some were not related to classes and teaching, like Adam Simpson’s Ten People I Follow on Twitter and Why – it made me aware of some great people I didn’t know on twitter who I started following. Every one of the challenges I took has taught me something, about teaching, about people… So I’ll keep taking them.

Besides the challenges, my PLN has proven to me the amazing power of sharing. Sharing ideas, practices, activities, tools, websites, articles. It has introduced me to amazing educators, like-minded people – some of which have become dear friends. My PLN has been supportive in ways I could never imagine. So I make a point of trying to convince as many skeptics on the power of a PLN to join twitter and form one.

What about you? What have YOU learned from your PLN?

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 :-)

 

 

Sharing a Lesson on the 5 Senses


I was browsing through Jamie Keddie’s (@cheimi10) fantastic site for video lessons, just looking at what was new and came across something that wasn’t so new, but it called my attention nonetheless…a lesson based on the McGurk effect. I watched it a couple of times and came up with a lesson / Powerpoint presentation for my Advanced Conversation group. It worked really well…Here is the Powerpoint I came up with: The Five Senses . If you can’t open the video on the PPT, you can see it here.

Hope you enjoy it!


P.S. I need to thank Sue Lyon-Jones (@esolcourses) for helping me sort out my linking issues and giving me excellent advice to make this post and the files work. You rock Sue!

What’s Your Plan? My First Challenge

 

Tonight, after putting the kids to bed, as I was trying to catch up with the tweets and #ELTChat one tweet, from a teacher who I greatly enjoy sharing and chatting with (and who also has a Brazilian heart), caught my attention:

 

A tweet suggesting a new #ELTpics... that turns into a blog post :-)

 

Guido was suggesting a new topic for #ELTpics (A great idea lead by @VictoriaB52. A set of photos, based on a weekly theme, taken by ELT teachers, trainers and writers from around the world. These are, in turn, available free to others in the field of ELT under a CC license. Anyone interested in joining in can tweet an image with the hashtag #eltpics). He thought we could share pictures of our lesson plans. I liked the idea, but we then talked about the objective of #ELTpics and we thought maybe it wouldn’t be adequate. But I had already been bitten by the curious bug, wanting to know how my PLN did their lesson plans – if they did it at all! So I decided to write a post about it, telling a bit of my lesson plan “history”. But more than showing what my plans are like and the rationale behind it, I want to know how other teachers do it (or if they do it at all) and why. So I decided maybe it was time for me to stop just joining challenges and setting one of my own. So here’s the challenge:

 

Do you write your lesson plans? If so, how do you do it, what is the format?

Why and how did you arrive at that format?

  

  If you feel like joining the challenge (and I really hope you do) you can blog about it - and I’ll add a link to your post here. If you don’t have a blog but you’d still like to join the challenge you can send me your lesson plan story through email and I’ll post it here. I think sharing our lesson plans will be a great way of finding new ways of doing it, maybe even finding one we would like to try doing, or ideas to adapt the way we do it now. After all, like so many other things in teaching, there’s no right or wrong - each person works best in their particular way.

 

So, here’s my lesson plan story: When I started teaching, about 17 years ago, I did it after taking a TTC (Teacher Training Course), in which we learned how to write a lesson plan, how we should do it. It was a very thorough and long format, that included the aim of the lesson, the procedures for each activity, the material needed for each of them, as well as the time they should take. It also contained the type of interaction of the activities (T-ST / ST-ST). I planned my lessons like that for a few years and it was really helpful in my development as a teacher because it made me reflect about what I did in class, the purpose of each activity, etc. But it took ages to write the plan for each class, for each group. So after a few years, and with a great number of different groups/levels each semester, I decided it was time to change and make things simpler. So I started writing just the procedures, followed by the time and material for each activity. After a while (in an attempt to take even less time, optimize things) there were some very slight changes and my plans looked like this (yes, I keep a lot of old lesson plans that I rarely look at and mostly just gather dust – this one is about 7 years old):

 

 

 

 

(By the way,  no jokes about the Pooh paper, please. I (like many other teachers I know) indulge in a little “cutesy” with my teaching materials once in a while. :-)) Up til this point I always wrote my plans on paper. At this point, in the school I work at, we started using Palms to do role call and other administrative procedures. To make my life easier (and save some trees) I began doing my plans digitally, typing them on a Word Processor (sample here:  Lesson Plan AE SL ) and just uploading to the Palm. I still kept the format though. This lasted about a year. I know what I’m about to say is completely eco-UNfriendly, but I love writing the plans, using pen and paper. Sitting in front of a screen and doing it just didn’t do it for me. So I went back to paper. The last evolution/development my lesson planning has gone through was making it even simpler. I now use index cards. Most times one is enough – front and back. I assign a color to each different group and I use little round stickers on the corner of the index card to signal the group that plan is for. I also write the class number inside the sticker. I take the card to class and after it I collect them all into a box, categorized by color/group. I no longer write the material needed. So now they look like this:

 

What my lesson plans look like these days...

 

 

 

 Why I do it like this now? Do I think being as thorough as I was in the beginning was a waste of time? Not at all!! It’s just that after so many years teaching there are some things that I don’t need to write down on paper anymore, that I just run through my mind. I’ve been using this format for the past 3 years, and still feels like the best one for me.

 

So, up to the challenge? What is your lesson plan story? I’d love to read about it!

 

Updates of Teachers joining in the challenge:

• Sandy Millin’s (@sandymillin) “Planning Evolution” post

• Ceri Jones explains (@cerirhiannon) the lesson plan from the day she had Flashes of Inspiration:  My Lesson Plan: A Walk-through for Ceci 

• Marisa Pavan (@Mtranslator) shows her Lesson Plan History

• Tyson Seburn (@seburnt) reflects on his Lesson Plan Transformation

• Jason Renshaw’s (@englishraven) analyzes lesson planning on Without Reflection, We May Be Planning to stand Still

• Anna Bring and her Lesson Planning in Evolution

• @EclipsingX ‘s colorful lesson planand her use of index cards for LP after reading this post :-)