What my Blog’s Word Cloud Says About Me and My Writing

 

 

Words to reflect on...

 

 

 

Last Saturday I attended David Dodgson‘s (@davedodgson) presentation at the VRT11 conference. David’s presentation was “Not just a pretty cloud – Using Wordle in the language classroom”. It was a great session, where David explained what word clouds are, how to make them and gave many practical examples for using them in the language classroom. It was also a very interactive presentation – always a plus in my opinion. If you are interested you can check out Dave’s reflections (and the presentation slides) about it in one of his most recent blog posts.

 

At the end of his presentation Dave proposed a mini challenge. He showed us an image of a word cloud he had made using his blog’s URL and used it to reflect upon what he’s written about and the vocabulary he’s used (wordle has a nice feature where the more repetitions you have of a word, the bigger the word looks in the word cloud). Then he challenged us to do the same and share our reflections, our findings. He even gave a guideline in the post he wrote about the challenge: we should think about what it tells us about the content of our blog posts, the language we use and if anything had surprised us. Well, if you have read other posts in this blog you should know by now I have a hard time refusing a challenge ;-)I have read some great posts, of teachers I admire and am lucky to have in my PLN, joining the challenge: Vladmira Michalkova, Sandy Millin and Tyson Seburn. I really enjoyed noticing how each one drew different conclusions from their word clouds.

 

My blog’s word cloud you can see above. And here’s what I believe it tells me:

 

Content? My cloud tells me I write a  lot about teachers and students, which is expected since my intention with this blog is to reflect and share my thoughts on teaching, as well as activities I have created/come up with in my daily practice. Those activities mostly deal with vocabulary – another of the biggest words in the cloud. But the rest of the words tell me I have written on a varied range of topics and that I have successfully focused on my profession, since most words can be directly related to English teaching. They also tell me I like having my students work in groups – I am going to start paying attention and check if that’s true, but I believe it is.

 

Language? I have to admit I was happy when I looked at my word cloud through that perspective. I like the words I see and I couldn’t notice much repetition. Besides, I think the words tell me I have a very positive outlook on my practice – good, better, hope are bigger than others. I was only puzzled that just like Sandy noticed on hers, the word “one” is a big one. It made me try to think on why it is so. I still haven’t come to any conclusions – if you have any guess on it, please tell me.

 

Surprises? Just one really. Breasts. :-D I know I mentioned it in one of my most recent posts where I share a vocabulary activity I used with my students for reviewing parts of the body, and had to teach my students the proper word for that specific part of a woman’s body. But did that single mention make it eligible for being in my word cloud? Or have I mentioned it in other posts and can’t remember?

 

What about you? Up to the challenge? Join in!

Reviewing Vocabulary

 

After a long hiatus – due mostly to problems with my internet connection at home – here I am again. I’ve been wanting to share these activities for some weeks now, ever since I did them in class, so what better time than now? There’s nothing much to them and probably many of you may have done them. But assuming other teachers are like me, and sometimes forget things and activities, the mind just goes blank once in a while (no matter how big our “pool” of ideas or experience may be), it doesn’t hurt putting these ideas out there and maybe helping someone who’s having a “teacher’s block” ;-).

 

As language teachers we all know that presenting words to a student is not enough to ensure he is going to learn that vocabulary. We have to help them see the context, use the vocabulary, show it again and again. These activities were used just for that – for bringing back vocabulary we’ve seen this semester and forcing students to fish them out of their brains.

 

Idea #1 – Reviewing parts of the body

My Teen 3 groups (made of 12 and 13-years olds) have seen parts of the body and we were going to have a lesson that they’d need that vocabulary again. Since I knew they had seen it before (more than once in previous semesters) I thought it’d be better to draw the vocabulary from them instead of proposing the vocabulary to be reviewed – this way I wouldn’t be limiting my students to the words I considered necessary revising. So I took blank slips of paper to class, split the students into groups of 3, gave each group a roll of masking tape, a marker and a handful of slips. Then I told them to pick one of the students to be the “model” and that they would have 5 minutes to write as many parts of the body as they could remember and stick them on the respective place on the model.

 

 

The models and their slips

 

They had a lot of fun during the activity – and we’re talking about students who have class at 8AM! It was the first activity of the class, to get them moving and out of their sleepiness. When time was up, the 4 models were lined in the front of the class and we checked the slips/parts of the body in each of them, checking if they were in the right place. With names that I know (or that I saw) the students had trouble with the spelling I would ask out loud how it was spelled and asked a student to write it on the board. The idea of letting them tell me the words they already knew worked out well. There were more parts of the body than I would have proposed, students learned words from their peers and there was an unexpected teaching opportunity. One of the groups had written “ass” and “boobs” (you never know what these kids are going to pick up from movies and songs these days!) on their slips – they had placed them correctly too ;-)! But I took that as an opportunity to say that yes, those were words used to describe those body parts but there were more appropriate ones. Surprisingly (??!!?) when elicited, nobody was able to tell me the appropriate way of calling those parts, so I taught them and wrote them on the board (bottom/butt and breasts – also eliciting the difference between breasts and chest).

 

 

Idea #2 – Parts of the Body part II

 

As a follow-up to the previous activity, the next class we had I started with another game. I took the words they had come up with on the first class, wrote them in bigger slips and stuck them on the board. I split the students into 3 groups, asked them to stand in 3 separate lines. I said out loud the use of a specific part of the body (i.e. We use this to taste, This is where thinking takes place, etc) and the first student in each line had to run and grab the slip that had the answer/correct body part written in it. Again, very energetic activity, good to wake them up for class and different from the usual “match-the-pictures-to-the-words”.

 

 

Idea #3 – Reviewing Vocabulary Seen in Texts

 

With my more advanced groups we use a lot of texts in class, all of them authentic texts (though after the Reading Challenge Course Marisa Constantinides gave I now know the activities in their great majority are not authentic!), and most times there’s a vocabulary activity. But we usually never see or work with those words again after the activity is done… So I started thinking what was the point? So I decided to review the vocabulary from the texts we had read after each unit is over. I have approached this in two different ways. For both activities I went back to the texts and made a list of the words. Then I wrote the words onto slips of paper and stuck them to the board (just like on the follow-up activity I described above).

 

 

 

Ready. Set. Go!

 

With one of the groups I gave them the definition of the word and they had to run and grab the correct slip. With the other I read a sentence using the words saying “bleeeep” where the word was – and then they had to run and grab the correct slip. In both cases I put a lot more words on the board than I asked for.

 

 

Students running for the words...

 

 

Idea #4 – Reviewing Vocabulary Seen in Texts part II

 

As a follow up to the previous activity, a couple of classes later I did another warm up with this vocabulary. I divided the class into 2 groups (there are not many students in these groups) and brought to class a powerpoint (you can see it here Warmer VOCAB HINT 2 March) where each group took turns in choosing a number from the first slide. Each number took them to a slide with a sentence using one of the words from the list/reviewed in the class I described above. This word was highlighted in the sentence. The group then had to propose a synonym, a word to substitute the highlighted word without changing the content/message of the sentence. After the group said the synonym the other group had to say whether it was adequate or not, and if not, which word would do the job. They really liked the activity and I think it was a good way to help them fix the vocabulary.

 

 

I plan on recalling vocabulary seen more often, more consistently from now on. And I hope you enjoyed these activities. If you think of any variation for them, please share! :-)


About Words & Their Power

Before I start this post I’d just like to apologize for not posting for a long time… But I was on vacation and away from internet access. it was good to unplug, but it’s even better to be back! :-)

 

 

How do you choose your words?

 

Today I caught myself thinking about the power our words (or anybody else’s for that matter) have. Of course everyone must have considered the issue every once in a while, especially when we are on the receiving end of a more powerful set of them. Words have the power to fill hearts or break them; lift spirits or kill them. they can make you laugh, cry (even if when no one else is looking), learn or doubt yourself. I’d go as far as say that wars have started because of things that were said – or so it was claimed.

 

But I’m not going to get that philosophical or start talking about world peace here – though it is a worthy topic :-) Since the main (or only) focus of my dwellings on this blog is teaching, I’m going to focus on the power words have in the classroom, more specifically the power the words of a teacher can have. Do we have (or keep) in mind how powerful or meaningful our words can be when we direct them at our students when we say them? Oh, I’m sure many times we do. We even measure and carefully choose our words sometimes.

 

Not too long ago I wrote a guest post at Ken Wilson’s blog about Giving Meaningful Feedback to Students, about listening to them. And I believe what I’m going to say here relates to it. I think we’re not fully aware of what we say or the effect our words may have on students 100% of the time. Sometimes we go on automatic mode. When we are drilling (Yes – I DO drill – Shame on me? I don’t think so… He who does not drill may throw the first stone!) or checking students’ answers / opinions about something. And we don’t really stop to think about what (or how?) we talk to students. “Great!” “Perfect!” “Good job!” Do students take those words as real praise directed at them or just empty words indicating whether they’ve provided a proper correct answer or not? Does this change if we add a personalized comment? Something like “Great! I also like going to the beach on my holidays Julia!” or “Yes! And what was the last film you’ve watched Lucas?”.

 

I think it does – for the same reason I mentioned in my guest post for Ken. It shows students we listened to what they said. But then a question emerges: Is it humanly possible to do that, to give personalized feedback every time we give feedback to students – orally or other? It looks pretty on picture, I know. Yet, reality seems to be a little different.

 

Most teachers I know have way too many students (in each class and/or altogether) to make it feasible. Some of us (I include myself in this group!) have to do on-going, continuous evaluation, which means attributing a “grade” to students’ performance as they talk and produce in class, which makes it even harder to focus on content – rather than form – as we listen to students in class. Are we to blame? Is anyone? should we ditch form? I see that we are – at least I am – distancing myself from the focus on form slowly but surely. Would that be the answer? Is it that simple?

 

 

I wish I hadn't said that!!!

And that’s not all. Sometimes we’re are just on a bad day/moment. A specific moment always comes to mind when I think of that – one that had a happy ending for me, but could’ve had disastrous results. I had a 15-year-old student – a boy – who would mention the word “sex”every 10th word he said in class. The first few classes I (tried to) ignore it. I made a few remarks and light reprimands. “Come on, not the topic being we’re discussing…” or  “Please, you’re making other students a bit uncomfortable…” or even a direct ” Not appropriate.” But he kept on going. So you can imagine how tired of it I was after a couple of months. Then, one day as they were doing something I was sitting by each student and giving individual feedback, he started on his usual routine and I just blurted out, from across the classroom – as I was sitting beside one of his classmates: “Dear, people who actually have sex don’t talk about it.”

 

As expected, a big uproar followed, giggling… He looked absolutely taken by surprise – so was I to be honest – and shocked by my unexpected reply. He barely spoke for the rest of the lesson. And I regretted my words almost as soon as I had uttered them. What was I thinking?!?? How could I have talked to a student in that way? So, when class was over I went straight to my academic coordinator’s office and told her what had happened, saying we should not be surprised if we heard a complaint from the boy or his parents. No complaints came from it though – and he stopped his inappropriate behavior in class after that. He actually came after me and hugged me, said what a great teacher I was and how much he missed me whenever he saw me even in the semesters that followed, when he was no longer my student. However, the way things turned out do not – in my opinion – make what I did, what I said, right. I mean, it was right, but not fit for me, as his English teacher, to say.

 

I’ve had students change decisions (even one or two career path changes) after talking to me. I’ve had students quit studying English or really start taking it seriously. I’ve had ( a lot!) students who completely ignored what I said to them. As teachers, we have to remember many of our students think very highly of us and our opinions. we have to remember our words matter. And we should try to keep that in mind as often as possible. Whether in oral feedback, comments, written corrections/feedback or just an “innocent” conversation after class. what we say matters.

 

And I think (and hope) my words here were not just empty words thrown into the blogosphere. :-)