Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Some days ago, I came across this lovely video about teachers and the effect of a good teacher on our lives. Watching it was fun and, I must say, thought-provoking! These are some of the beautiful things that people in the video remember learning with the help of their teachers:

I learnt I didn't need to be like everybody else.

I learnt that everything is possible.

I learnt that you can approach knowledge with a sense of wonder and fun.

I learnt how to be myself.

A good teacher inspires you, invites you to venture into new worlds, changes your life. We keep repeating it and we keep forgetting it: being a good teacher is not about the academic content (at least not only about the academic content). Being a teacher is a unique opportunity to touch someone's life and a huge responsibility. I guess it all comes down to a simple question: what kind of teacher do I want to be?

We are approaching the end of the academic year here in Argentina, so I have some time to think. 

Hope you have an inspiring summer!

See you soon!


Monday, 31 October 2011

My top 10 sites to look for images

This post continues from the post I previously wrote on using images in the ELT class. So where can you find interesting and useful pictures on the net? Below you will find my top ten sites when I’m looking for some inspiration. But first, a note on copyright. Remember to choose material that is royalty free or licensed under a Creative Commons attribution (some people choose to register their creations this way so they can be shared for certain purposes). You will find some more information about Creative Commons here:

My top 10 places to go for pictures

Stockxchange offers a huge gallery, with many royalty free pics, and you can also share yours.

Imageafter Here you will find a large freely licensed photo collection. You can also look for textures and and backgrounds.

At FlickrCC you can search for Flickr pictures licensed under Creative Commons.

Morguefile has a large gallery where you can contribute your own picture (Why morgue? Who knows!)

Burning well  is a public domain image source, offering photographs donated by photographers from around the world.

WP Clipart is a collection of artwork for schoolkids and others that is free of copyright concerns as well as safe from inappropriate images.

EveryStockPhotoPicfindr and  Veezzle are free stock photo search engines, indexing free photos from large collections.

And, last but not least, our very own collection of pictures for teachers!
Take a photo and... is a free photographic resource intended for and created by teachers. Also, teachers contribute their pictures via Twitter. This is a great project curated by Carol Goodey, Vicky Loras, Fiona Mauchline, Sandy Millin and Victoria Boobyer, aka @cgoodey, @vickyloras, @fionamau and @sandymillin.


Some ways to use images in the classroom

We teachers know, probably even more than other professionals, that what the old phrase says is true: a picture is worth a thousand words. We experience the wealth of possibilities offered by visual stimuli everyday. We use pictures to teach, practice or review vocabulary, to do guided oral and writing practice, as visual clues to help in listening-comprehension and as starters for activities such as role plays and class discussions. And we choose to use images because we realize that they actually make explanations simpler, save students lots of effort and add a touch of colour to our classes. In other words, most teachers agree that they actually work!

Some ways to use images in the classroom

ZAs triggers for discussions or debates

ZTo practice descriptions
Opinion expressions
I think...
In my opinion...
I suppose...
I believe...

ZIn listening-comprehension activities, like listening to a description and choosing the right picture.

ZIn speaking and listening-comprehension activities, where a student “dictates” a picture for a partner to choose the right picture.

ZTo practice comparing and contrasting
Picture A shows... while picture B...
On the contrary, picture B...
I think picture A is more... than picture B
If I had to choose between the two...
There’s a marked contrast between...
On the one hand, i don’t think...
The main advantage/disadvantage is...

ZAs a variation of the previous activity, to work with a set of pictures with something in common (let’s say people using computers in different environments) so the discussion relates to this particular element, comparing its use in the different contexts.

ZFor students to make up the story behind the picture. Then they can use a site like Storybird to write their story.

ZAs a variation of the previous activity, students can use Five Card Flickr to get five random pictures and invent the sequence of a story.

ZTo discuss about “fixing” problems in a picture (how would you improve or change a roo, a flat, a city?)
What I kike/dislike is...
I don’t really like the...
I’m not too keen on...
I’d prefer...
I’d be more attracted to...

ZTo practice speculating and making a decision
I think it’d be better to...
I believe... should be...
It would be more convenient...
It wouldn’t be a good idea...
Don’t you think...?

ZAs starters for role-playing conversations based on pictures of people talking (students take the place of different people in the picture).

ZTo create conversations, adding text balloons. They can do this, for example, at Blabberize.

ZPlaying Snap (to find pairs of pictures that match)

ZPlaying Piggy goes... (students pass one card to the left or right and try to find the four cards that match or are related)

ZPlaying Who’s who? (students guess the character by asking yes/no questions and using descriptive vocabulary)

ZListening to a song and putting pictures in order

ZPlaying Partial pictures (where you show part of the picture and students have to guess the name of the object)

ZCollaborative writing (students are given an unrelated picture to write a pragraph in groups and then they have to work with other groups to make their paragraphs fit in a larger story)

ZUsing maps to practice directions and negotiating meaning in information-gap exercises

ZUsing graphic organizers to revise and recycle vocabulary

The list is by no means exhaustive,
but simply offers some suggestions t
hat might encourage some fresh ideas.

You are welcome to share them here!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Guide to writing an academic paper

Wow! It’s been more than a month since I wrote my last post! I’ve been so busy lately that I hardly noticed! Anyway, I’m back! I promised my students to write this short guide to academic writing ages ago. With the beginning of the new academic term I’ve regained forces so here it is!

The number of sections and amount of information that you are expected to include in a piece of writing depends of course on the kind of work you are doing, the degree you are working towards, the length expected and some other things, but the following is intended to help you with some general doubts you might have when you start your paper.

1.   Title page
Course title
Lecturer (s)
Essay title
Your name

2.   Table of contents
This is necessary if you’re writing a relatively long piece and/or if you have different chapters or sections.

3.   Introduction
This is a crucial part of your writing. Provide a brief description of the topic you are planning to address and an outline of how you plan to tackle it. Keep it reasonably short (one page tops). Do not include any discussions of the topic here, just state what you are going to do later.

4.   Literature review
Are there any research studies relevant to the topic? Describe and, if possible, evaluate them.

5.   Methodology
You will have to write this section if you are carrying out a study. Describe your hypotheses and discuss the methods, design and subjects of your study.

6.   Data analysis
Analyze your data. You may include graphs, tables and other visual aids here.

7.   Discussion
Discuss and summarize the results of your data analysis. If you haven’t carried out a study, this is where you discuss your topic, put forward arguments to back up your ideas, etc.

8.   Conclusion
Summarize what you have done in your essay and evaluate what could be answered and what could not. This can be suggested as necessary subsequent research. Although the conclusion is a fundamental part of your writing, keep it short. You are not supposed to discuss your results here, you did that already in the previous section.

9.   References
Include all the sources that you have cited or mentioned in your essay. Remember that failing to cite your sources is considered serious misconduct in any academic setting. You might find this post I wrote about citing useful.

10. Appendix
Include tables and graphs that you haven’t included in the running text here. You can also include questionnaires, texts and any other material that that you have used in your study.

Be to the point! Sometimes it’s hard to cross things out if you've spent a lot of time doing research and writing them up. However, if you somehow ended up with material that is irrelevant to your essay, you must let it go!
Be careful with plagiarism! Acknowledge both direct and rephrased quotes and always give credit to the sources or your ideas.
Write in a non-sexist way. Don’t use man as a false generic, adopt non-sexist terms for job titles (eg. sales agent instead of salesman), use the pronoun they instead of he, or otherwise provide both the feminine and masculine pronouns (eg. the student should be asked if he/she is comfortable with the test before it is carried out). However, be careful not to overdo it! Here you can find very interesting examples of people who are not so happy about political correct language.
Finally, proofread your paper! Always re-read everything when you finish and check for typos, grammar mistakes and possible inconsistencies in the organization of your headings, subheadings, examples, tables, etc.

Hope this helps! See you soon!

Politically correct language: yes or no?

I must say I’m not a big fan of politically correct language myself. I mean, I don’t think anyone after Foucault would doubt that language does create reality and that language is used to exert power and dominate those who happen to be in a weaker position. And of course I’m all in favour of respecting differences and the rights of the minorities (although, you see, I even dislike the term minority because I perceive it as discriminatory itself).

But I’m sure all of us can see that we can use language for power or discrimination without necessarily using politically incorrect language (so if I decide to “let someone go” I’m definitely using my power to cause someone a terrible problem, even if I choose not to say: “hey, you’re fired!” . And we can use political correct language and euphemisms to conceal politically incorrect actions (so “the rebels were neutralized” sounds better that “the rebels were executed/murdered/killed” and that might make someone feel more at ease with the idea that they were executed/murdered/killed, but it doesn’t change the fact that they were executed/murdered/killed).

Anyway, it’s a very serious subject and we could debate it for hours. Guides on how to use political correct language, especially in academic settings, are all over the place, but some people actually write against its use. Interesting links:

Guides on PC language:

Guide to non-sexist language University College Cork

Against PC:

About Spanish:

El cyberespanglish y el español neutro en la red


Friday, 29 July 2011

Twitter mania: why join the craze!

When I talk to other teachers and teacher trainees about how I think they should get a Twitter account, I can see that most of them have more or less the same ideas about it:

It’s difficult!
Actually it isn’t! Once you get the basics, you realize it all comes down to choosing whose ideas you’d like to read and which things you find interesting enough to share with your followers! Of course there are a couple of Twitter-specific tools and it has its own language (follow, RT, # and other terms), but they are actually quite simple once you get used to them. Here’s a very good  introduction (which I got from TW, of course =)

It’s overwhelming!
I have to agree here. It’s overwhelming, especially at the beginning. There’s so much going on on Twitter! So many interesting people, so many resources shared, so many webinars and chats offered. You have to choose! There’s no way you can profit from it all. So choose!

I can’t see how it helps profession-wise!
It depends on who you follow really. We are dealing with social media here, so the social part is really important. But the treasure of Twitter lies in the fact that you get to interact, share ideas, help and being helped by like-minded professionals around the world, people you would never have access to otherwise!

I’ve only been on Twitter for some months now and, I must admit, I’m more of a lurker for the time being, although I’m gradually starting to take part in conversations, discussions and the like. However, I feel Twitter has started to change my career! I learnt so many new things, tried so many new tools, read so many thought-provoking discussions and reflections! Here are some examples of the things I learnt in the last couple of weeks only:

@edutopia compiled this great list of online tools and resources that kept me busy for some days.

@Onestopenglish provided a link to an archive of free online games and activities for different levels.

@SimpleK12 offered several webinar sessions on great tools to integrate technology to the classroom.

@TeachingEnglish provided a link to a range of free ELT publications by the British Council.

@The ConsultantsE tweeted an amazing list of TED talks categorized by speaker, title and summary.

I read a fabulous presentation posted by @tombarrett: "37 ways to use Search Engines in the Classroom"

Thanks to @harrisonmike I got to know that many of the IATEFL BESIG presentations had been uploaded here

And the list goes on!
Twitter can totally transform your professional life!

Comments on your Twitter experience most welcome!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The magic power of sounds

I thought of two different titles for this post: "The magic power of sounds" was one of them; the other was "Too bad we teach our kids to write in a foreign language too soon". I decided to go with the optimistic one.

My five-year-old daughter has been exposed to some English at kindergarten for a couple of years (she’s at “preescolar” now, her last year before primary school first grade). She’s starting to learn how to read and write in Spanish, so my house is full of sticky notes of different colours here and there with words and numbers on them. In her English lessons, they speak and sing songs and recite short poems. They don’t read or write any English yet.

Yesterday, she gave me a present: a small paper with the names of an English family (which they had mentioned at school). The names she had written were MAM, TAT, TOM and LITTU BABY. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that TAT was actually DAD and LITTU meant LITTLE. I thought "wow, this is interesting!"

Our /d/ sound in Spanish is not plosive. In fact, it’s much more similar to the sound in they than to the sound in day in most contexts. So what seemed obvious was that she was perceiving an extra force in the sound in dad, different from Spanish d, which she could only accomodate as a t. Along the same lines, she quite evidently hears some kind of dark l in little, which she interprets as a u. This is great! She’s acquiring sounds!

Trust me: next year, when she starts writing in English, she will say thad (for dad) and litel (for little).

A pity, isn’t it?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Comics are fun! But are they a useful resource in the EFL class?

I was talking to a colleague some days ago about the fact that most of my adult students don’t seem to be interested in writing (I must say secretaries are the exception!) and how they keep saying that “they only want to speak”. The ideal class includes as little grammar as possible and writing is confined to homework (which many times they don’t do). My friend then said: “Have you tried comic strips?” “Well no, I’ve never been the comics type (as a learner or reader). And... for adults?” But she was pretty convinced that they are an effective way of working on visual storytelling, so I set out to test her hypothesis (rather skeptically I must say =). These are my results!

The first step was to learn how to create a comic strip myself, so I needed to become familiar with a couple of sites offering easy and quick ways of making your own cartoons. I started my tour at Toonlet. My 9-year-old daughter was with me and she wanted to try. The result was amazing! In minutes she came up with this beautiful strip in English (she is a Spanish speaker, she learns English at school).

I felt like trying with my adult students now! We'd been working on the language of meetings and one of the topics we'd dealt with was interrupting, so I thought the topic was appropriate and making a comic might be a fun way of practising it. And it was! They had a good laugh and revised the relevant vocabulary and phrases while doing some writing as well. This is one of the cartoons they created:

Loved it!
So my conclusion so far seems to be that comic strips are a very interesting resource to:

  • Use language when the linguistic resources are limited (even beginner students can write a comic, as language displayed can be very simple).
  • Work on dialogues and reflect on the specific properties of oral speech while writing at the same time.
  • Reflect on values such as responsibility, politeness, etc.

Other sites to visit:

This tool is intended for students from kindergarten to high school. It is very easy to use, and you get access to a printable PDF to draft and revise your work before creating and printing the final strip.

Students can create a comic strip or book using Marvel's super heroes and villains.

Students can build a comic using their own webcam pictures. There's also a tool to turn the contents of any webpage into a comic.

Create a comic with famous characters and lots of different scenes and text bubbles.

Great fun for fans of Garfield!


Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Fun with words Part II

I came across some fab sites since I wrote my post on word clouds a couple of months ago and, as I'm both a vocabulary fan and a compulsive sharer ;) here they are! Definetely worth a look!

Just copy or paste text and you'll get great clouds.

Make your clouds and then change them by changing the visualization criteria.

Very easy to make clouds with gorgeous forms.

Very easy to use, you just copy and paste to visualize in different fonts and colours.

You introduce a term and get definition, usage and related words.

This is a search engine that shows results in the form of a cloud. Also check out Quintura kids

Have fun!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Pronunciation matters!

Yes, there is such a thing as an International English and, yes, it’s good to know that our “Englishes” are accepted and even appreciated for their contribution to worldwide communication. But I’m sure many of us would still agree that good pronunciation is important, not only to speak more clearly and communicate more effectively, but also to discriminate sounds and process language better and more quickly when we hear.

There are quite a few pages with resources to study and practice pronunciation online, and others with nice ideas to use in the classroom. Here’s a short list of resouces I’ve used at different times.

You can listen to and practice minimal pairs, work on stress and watch movies to see how speech organs actually move when producing a sond, among other things. Audio available for British and American accents.

Find a chart with all English sounds and their IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols and short introductions to topics such as sounds and word stress. They also offer specific software to learn and practice (not free and American accent only).

You can find free English pronunciation and accent reduction lessons here. Mostly American English. (By the way, I think podcasts are always a great resource to improve listening skills and pronunciation!).

Downloadable videos and posters to work on different sounds and interactive chart (you click on the chart to listen to the sound).

Plato means Place the Tonic. You listen to an utterance, mark the nuclear tone as you hear it and get feedback. 

Toni helps you recognise English nuclear tones. They use terms I don’t think we use in Argentina any more (like low rise, low fall, etc.) but it’s good to work on the recognition of falling and rising tones.

Audio examples of different speaking styles and regional varieties (British English).

Sandy Millin's blog
Sandy has compiled a very interesting list of authentic listening resources, with accents from around Britain.

Great site from Cambridge English Online. Lots of games and activities.

Pronunciation activities to do with your students (poetry, drama, games).

The necessary question that comes to mind is: how much pronunciation should we teach and practice in our classes and how much progress should we expect?

It’d be great to hear your opinion on this!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Some musings on kids and self-esteem

Over the last few months I had the chance to talk to many teachers working at both public and private schools in Buenos Aires and I heard some recurring complaints: teaching at primary or secondary school is virtually impossible, real life has little to do with the setting we are trained to teach in, episodes of violence at school are commonplace and kids don’t seem to relate to their teachers or mates in any way. It is frequent to meet teachers who find themselves working as counsellors rather than teaching the subject matter of their expertise. This seems to be a widespread reality in Argentina, across the board in different social classes, types of school and regions.

One way of looking at this issue would be to come to terms with the idea that, in the 21st century, we are there to teach much more than subject matter, that –whether we like it or not– what we do with these kids everyday affects their lives enormously. We are not only language teachers; we have to prepare students to pass the tests of life.

This idea is not new. Different approaches to emotional education evolved from the insights developed in Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (1993) and Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (1995). These two books sparked unusual interest when they were written, as they provided a detailed picture of what many teachers started to see and perceive as a shortcome in traditional education systems.

I feel that many times, when dealing with this issue, we fail to ask a crucial question: why? (I’m going to use he here for the sake of practicity, no sexism intended).Why does a kid insult or beat a classmate? Why does he turn into the class bully? Why does he refuse to talk to the teacher? Why does he look withdrawn and absent in class? Why has he lost the will to learn, to investigate, to acquire new knowledge and experience?  

Probably because he doesn’t know or recognize his own emotions, or because he hasn’t been taught to feel empathy and respect for others, or because he hasn’t been taught to take responsability for his own behaviour. Mostly, I think, because he doesn’t have enough self-esteem to feel he deserves something GOOD.

The question of self-esteem in kids is doubly fascinating and challenging for me, because I’m a teacher as well as a mum. How can we help our kids build up their self-esteem? How can we contribute to their developing genuine, lasting self-confidence? These are questions I often ask myself and I must confess I’ve done some reading on the subject. I know this is a major topic and we can’t jump into any simple conclusions, but there are a couple of things that have stuck after my readings. How can we help them?

  • By stimulating their curiosity and encouraging them to try out different things
  • By trusting they will do things right and letting them try by themselves
  • By showing them how to talk about their feelings (by talking about ours!)
  • By having our senses ready to detect and encourage their natural talents
  • By praising them for their achievements
  • By helping them to face their fears
  • By letting them be the independent beings they are meant to be
  • By understanding that nothing good may come out of ill-treatment

I recently came across a very thought-provoking video on how to boost self-esteem in kids, which I’d like to share here. After watching it, I added a new item to my list: “by giving them as many poker chips as we possibly can”. Watch the video and you’ll see how!

See you soon!


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Collaboration, that good old friend

One key word of the web 2.0 era is collaboration. The term relates to a new way of using the web, with applications that facilitate the sharing of information and building of common spaces by people who work together, are fellow students or haven’t met at all! The social component of web 2.0 is so important that we often refer to it as Internet’s social revolution.

As I was browsing through a couple of blogs and webpages, trying to learn some more about collaboration tools and how to use them in the classroom, I realized that we teachers intuitively know the meaning and acknowledge the value of collaboration in our everyday practice, when we:

  • Encourage participation
  • Create favourable conditions for knowledge and content sharing
  • Propose activities in which interaction is crucial
  • Ask our students to work in pairs or in groups
  • Emphasize the importance of listening and accepting the opinion of others
  • Step back and watch how our students learn from peers in a non-hierarchical structure
  • Offer them tools to negotiate and come to an agreement with their mates
  • Organize projects for them to work together with a common aim

Sooo, good to know this is not new! As with many other things, it’s a matter of applying new tools to our pedagogy (I always favour a pedagogy-first, tool-second approach) and having our eyes and minds open because we might come across some refreshing, challenging  ideas as well!

There’s loads of collaboration tools on the web! I selected a few, which I found interesting and potentially useful to work with in the EFL class (I’ve included others in my Resources section).

Writing, editing, revising

Different people can work on one document simultaneously. Everyone gets their own colour so changes and comments are easy to track.

Several people can work on one document at the same time and the text is synchronized as they type so that everyone sees the same text. You can save revisions and share the document at any stage of the process.

It works as an online multi-user whiteboard that allows audio, chat and file sharing.

It’s a free, open canvas where you can collaborately create presentations and scrapbooks by using videos and other web content. It also allows interactive chat.

Online application centered around the whiteboard. You can draw as you would on a real whiteboard to visualize and share ideas and text.


Create short, beautifully illustrated stories, share and/or print them. 

Intended for children to create, illustrate and publish their own books.

Create stories on a collaborately timeline. You can also add photos and videos.

Web-based tool to easily create and share timelines with pictures and videos.

Use styled templeates to create stories with photos and text.

A digital wall where you can stick and rearrange notes, photos and videos.

Social networking in the classroom

Safe microblogging platform that imitates the way social networking is carried out outside the classroom.

Create and name a chatting room of your own, use live stream to make comments, ask questions and get or provide feedback.

Create a chatting room for you and your students only. Very easy to use.

Class projects

Create a free class website. You can manage different accounts, work on homework and provide feedback online.

Working with words

Your students submit a word and Lexipedia identifies their part of speech, provides definitions and word families.

Web-based tool to create beautifully coloured graphs and Venn diagrams. Once you finish you can save your graph and you are sent a link to see it whenever you like on the site.

Nice tools! Any ideas of specific activities to put them to use?


Thursday, 5 May 2011

Great sites: using videos, movies and the news in the classroom


Tons of activities based on videos (YouTube, TED, etc.), organized by grammar goal, vocabulary area and level of students. Also, keep updated by following Jamie Keddie on Twitter @lessonstream

Movie segments to assess grammar

Movie segments with activities to work on grammar points through a variety of exercises. Includes printable worksheets.

Breaking news English

Lots of activities based on the news, updated every couple of days. Also includes listening and speaking activities. On Twitter: @SeanBanville