Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Online Storytelling

Storytelling is an art and it is as old as speech. Stories can educate and build rapport. Telling a story can provide the opportunity to gain deeper understanding of a specific topic or experience and a way of doing so is by taking your kids to the school’s library and exploring this awesome environment. Kids are able to explore the book and learn not only to enjoy reading, but also learn that books are a way to find out lots of useful and important things.  

However, technology has opened a new dimension to this fantastic educational tool. There are myriad online resources that can be used for this purpose. Children will be fascinated by the fantastic illustrations, and captivated by the animation, music, and sound effects that enhance the narration. Furthermore, there are some websites where students can create their own stories, providing students with an opportunity for personalization.

I have often used storytelling as a means of presenting a new unit or a new topic and what I have found is that stories can be used not only to communicate, educate and inform, but also to establish connections, inspire and encourage students. My experience has told me that students tend to get more motivated and also this type of warming-up might help activate schemata and lead to better long-term retention of the target language focus.

Some useful websites for online storytelling:

Some useful websites to create ebooks:

Lilian Marchesoni

Friday, September 30, 2011

No homework today!!!

It is not that difficult to play the role of a nice teacher. Everybody knows that the word “homework” does not go with “thank you very much.” Students, however, think that homework is directly related to workbooks and that anything apart from that can cause them no harm. Here follows something that happened to me last week. My students, who had been talking about rules for two weeks, asked for “no homework.” They were really surprised and happy when I gave them a positive answer. There was just a little condition: they had to go to http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/teens6 and post one of the rules they had at home and make a comment about it. Take a look at the result. Isn’t it homework? They don’t think so! =D
By Fábio Ferreira

Friday, September 16, 2011


Students were studying Relative Clauses (who,that,which). They were divided in 5 groups. Each group had a cell phone to take a photo. I talked to some people in the branch (previously) (Cláudio Azevedo, Thelma Peres, Vera Cerejo, Louise (trainee) and Silvania (secretaria). I asked these people if my students could ask them some questions and take a photo with their cell phones. They gave me their permission. After the break, I explained students that they would talk to a person and ask these people some personal questions, take notes and take a photo of him or her. I gave them 10 minutes to do it. After that, they came back to the classroom and sent the photo of the person to my e-mail. I gave them 5 minutes to come up with sentences using relative clauses and pronouns to introduce the interviewed person to the class. I opened my e-mail and as I was showing the photos(using the data show) the group was talking to the class about the person they have interviewed. In this particular activity I needed the internet connection, which was working just fine that day. But they could have also shared their photos and information in groups. They get together with people from other groups and show the photo using the cell phone itself. It took 20 minutes to do everything and they had a lot of fun, talking to other people and especially using their cell phones!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Saying the Unsaid - Silent Movies and Reported Speech

Teaching reported speech is certainly not that difficult. When I teach it, I always explain to students that it is used to retell stories, translate conversations between a foreigner and someone who does not speak his or her language, or even engage in a conversation with three or more people in a noisy environment such as night club or a rock concert. I also try to recreate communicative situations that make it as authentic and genuine as possible. If I could take them to a rock concert or a night club, it would be great. Despite my efforts, my students cooperation, and the wonderful ideas teachers always have when planning classes , I am not always happy with the size of dialogues or the quality of language produced by students in follow up activities. You know, we teachers always think that there is room for improvement.
This semester while I was planning one more class to teach reported speech, I thought that silent movies would just be the perfect means to create a situation for having students reporting a third party utterances and actions to each other. How did I do it? I did it in two phases and two places.
In Class
I first showed them a short silent movie (I used a silent version of Star Wars available in You Tube- It lasts only a little more than a minute). Next I paired students and asked them to take turns reporting what was being said right after I paused the movie. So I played a bit of the movie and paused for reporting. It was quick and fun and they really enjoyed doing it.
In the Computer Lab
While we were still in class, I gave them instructions. I told them to go to Youtube and type the search term silent movies. I also told them to choose movies that lasted three minutes or less. Besides that, I instructed them to do as we had done in class: they should first play the entire movie and then play, pause, report. They did it in 25 minutes and posted their reported versions along with the movie straight to our posterous class blog. We later corrected and the posts.The first drafts, however, were amazingly quite accurate to my surprise.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Teacher, *MALL today?

Teacher, *MALL today?
How to overcome Internet connection problems and control fast paced students.
By Fábio Ferreira
Taking students to the Computer Lab is a good way to change your classroom environment and go over the content presented by textbooks. Besides breaking the classroom routine, the lab is a very useful tool to foster students’ independent learning behavior.
There are many options available for teachers to explore and practice the content being taught, as, for example, online exercises (from the e-folder), internet websites, videos from youtube, just to mention the most used ones. Let me talk a little bit about the exercises from the e-folder, since they seem to be the first option for many teachers. The strongest point about them is that they were designed exactly based on the content students have to master and is going to be assessed. However, as everything else in this world, there are pros and cons. In my view the negative point here is that we depend on the internet connection to use the exercises. If the internet is OK, teachers still have to be attentive because students’ paces are different and sooner or later you are going to hear “Teacher, I finish! Everything!” while some students are still struggling to open the page. You will find yourself in times of trouble and there will be no mother Mary to come to you**.
Based on that experience I came up with an alternative to use the Computer Lab, having all students do the activity proposed at the same time and what is better, being very careful about the accuracy of their production. The solution I found was to use Net Operator, installed on the teacher’s computer. Besides the possibility of monitoring all the computers in the room, there is also a chat option there. Here follows the strategy that I would like to share with you. Let’s use Helpful Helen (Teens 4 – Unit 5 L1) as an example. The context of that lesson is that somebody has a problem and the other person has to offer help. (I’m hungry. I’ll give you sth to eat.) With all the chat windows open, T gives Sts a problem. Sts have to offer help using the structure studied in class. The key here is that they are not supposed to press enter and send their lines until T says GO! After everybody finishes, T says Go and Sts press enter. The first (correct) line displayed gets one point***. As the lines will be sent only after T’s command, Sts will be together. All the computers are identified, so Sts are always careful about their mistakes, since they don’t want to be exposed. Considering that they have to be quick after they hear GO!, adrenaline has an important role making Sts forget they are “studying”. No one has ever complained about that activity and now, instead of hearing Teacher, MALL today?, I sometimes hear Teacher, let’s play that game on the computer!?
The purpose of this article was not to say that the other options are not good, but that there is always room for improvement when you let your creativity flow. Think outside the box!
Fábio Ferreira
Ed Tech Monitor - FAN
*M.A.L.L. stands for Multimedia Access to Language Learning (our Computer Lab)
**Let it Be – The Beatles
***The activity can be adapted!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Learning Something New - QRCodes for the Classroom

In one of my blog posts, I talked about the three mantras for tired teachers, and mentioned that my learning goal of the month was to not only learn, but also test the pedagogical possibilites of QRcodes. I'm delighted  to say that I followed the two first mantras (learn and try) and am here to share (as part of the last one!) the results of my classroom results.

QR Codes

I studied QRcodes, thought of a lesson plan that fit my students' needs and school curriculum. It all started when I told my adult students how the advertisement industry was using QRcodes and Augmented reality in their campaigns (we were discussing about the world of advertisement). They had a question mark on their faces, for they'd never heard of QRcodes or Augmented reality. I explained it, then, there was a brochure in our school with a QRcode. I showed them how it worked. Most of my adult students own a smartphone. So, I sent my customary email of the day and included links to free app downloads of QRreaders for iphones and android phones. Plus, I added they homework in QRcode to make them curious and willing to take their time to download the apps.

I used http://qrstuff.com to generate the colorful QRcodes with amazon links to specific products. We were practicing how to say in different ways how something was expensive or cheap, as explained in my last post:
2. Try, fail, try again in class                                                                                
Learning is not enough. Practice really makes perfect. Test with a plan.
I learned about QR-generators and found powerful free QRreader apps to encourage my students to download them.
I planned a shopping activity with QRCodes to practice talking about things that are too expensive and a bargain.
I invited my students to download the app to their cellphones (I gave suggestions for either Apple and Android smarthphones)
I feel ready to try. Here are the colorful QRcodes I prepared for the activity.

I was ready for the classroom trial, a group of Prime 3 (unit 7). I had my cellphone with a QRreader app and my son's iPod touch. When I got to class, I asked if some of them had downloaded the app. Yes, Yes, Yes! So, we were ready. First, I elicited from students the dialogue we were practicing and the expressions they could use to say something was way too expensive or a good deal. Then, I handed in to the groups different QRcodes in different colors. They scanned them, and had a wonderful practice using real products from Amazon. I was careful to choose products that might really interest them (GPS running watch, Nespresso Coffee Maker, Gold bracelet, Watch, Touchscreen digital camera). The students were really into the activity and practiced extensively ways of talking about a purchase. I asked them to stand up and change partners holding their cellphones and their products. So, they had on the cellphone screen the product they wanted to talk about and they could also use the QRreader history to browse other products they had scanned. Some students had the cellphones, others asked about the products. The hard part was to make them stop!!! After that, we talked about the products and prices and what they would really buy, students were curious about how to buy online, what the shipping costs and taxes were, if it was reliable to buy online. What a wonderful discussion in which all the students had an experience to share! I was ecstatic with the positive results of my own learning.

Challenges and tips:

  • Such an activity will only work if your students have smartphones with data plan or ipod touch devices with wifi (and wifi at your school). Or if you bring your own devices to class. 
  • there needs to be preparation beforehand and, at least, some students need to download the scanning app
  • The content you choose to be scanned must be exciting, close to students' reality to make the effort worth it.
  • Encourage other teachers to join you. It is REALLY fun and brain-friendly.
For ideas on how to use QRcodes in the classroom check this PPT:

Cross-posted from http://collablogatorium.blogspot.com

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Let`s M that Learning!

From time to time new trends and innovative practices take over the language classrooms. From video cassettes and cd players to computers and interactive boards, emerging technology has always been present in the lives of teachers. Some innovations are easy to deal with, others require patience, skills and a lot of creativity. In recent years, a lot has been talked about "m-learning", that is, the use of mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets) in the classroom.Smartphones and tablets are gadgets that have come to stay and we teachers cannot deny their existence anymore. For teachers who are concerned about being up-to-date with the latest trends, it is paramount that they learn how to operate those state-of-the-art devices and get used to new lingo, such as APPs. By the way, do you know what APPs are?

As a matter of fact, like any other new technology that comes out in the market, the use of mobile devices in the classroom has already caused a great stir and generated a lot of controversial opinions. Our challenge, as teachers, is to find creative and effective ways to use these devices in classroom so as to promote learning in the classroom. Some experts believe that it seems to be a much wiser decision to find ways to incorporate the students' most beloved and inseparable object into the lessons than just saying to turn them off as they enter the classroom. By the way, have you already seen how many amazing (and sometimes unbelievable) things those little objects are capable of? Have you ever considered the colossal potential they have to turn learning into something more exciting and alluring to students of the 21st century?

But some questions might be already popping in your mind:
How do I get started?
How can I effectively use a smartphone or tablet with my groups?
What APPs do I use?

The answers to these questions have not been completely answered yet and the light at the end of the tunnel is still a little blurry. However, the more teachers experiment with this new technology, the clearer the light at the end of the tunnel will be! So this is the time to plunge into this ocean called "m-learning" in search of all the questions that need to be answered. Visit internet pages specialized in m-learning, google your questions, ask students about the APPS they already know and enjoy, explore your mobile devices, connect with other teachers who are already taking advantage of such devices in their classrooms, etc. I don`t consider myself a specialist and I still need to learn a lot about "m-learning". I`ve just had my first smartphone for 2 months but I have already experimented a bit with it and tried to involve the whole group in my proposed projects. Here are some of the ideas I have already tried:

1. Songify

This is a very popular app that transforms speech into music. There are different tunes you can use, some for free, some paid.The app has been advertised as free for a limited time. The songs can be shared via e-mail, Twitter or Facebook.

I have used this app in two different ways:

a) Students recorded a short paragraph about themselves using the target grammar structure. Then, classmates had to listen to the mixed song and summarize the information they could understand.

b) Students recorded some sentences about themselves using the target grammar structure. After, I (the teacher) asked some comprehension questions (just like a traditional listening comprehension exercise).

* tips:

a) avoid very long sentences or too much information because the mixing might break the information into chunks and change their order, making comprehension a bit more challenging.

b) results are better achieved if speech is loud and clear when recording.

c) re-songify the speech into a different tune if it`s too difficult to understand (depending on the tune you use, it can make a major difference!)

2. Web Treasure Hunts
You can ask your students to search the World Wide Web for some answers needed for some exercises. In one one my groups, for instance, they had to answer questions about popular bedtime stories. Most of them didn`t know all the right answers, so they promptly looked for information in Google and Wikipedia.

3. Camera 

a) Another project that got my students involved in a matter of seconds was asking them to go around the school hallways taking pictures of students, teachers and school staff. This group was learning vocabulary about clothes and physical description, so when they returned to the classroom, I asked them to pair up, show their pictures and describe the people in them.
* I asked the students who didn`t have a camera to pair up with someone else and use the partner`s camera. 

b) Once, I assigned a special homework project and, to my surprise, most students really worked on it. They were learning about likes and dislikes, so I asked them to go home , choose a family member and take 5 pictures of objects or situations that would clearly illustrate what that person liked or disliked. When students came to the next class, they sat in groups and shared their pics and talked a bit about their family members.
* Students who didn`t have a smartphone or tablet with a camera, used their portable video games or traditional digital cameras.

So, have some of these ideas inspired you? I hope so! So, what are you waiting for? The future has arrived, it`s time to try out new ideas. One important thing: share with us what you have done in class, this way we can build knowledge together and improve our skills faster.
Let`s "M" that learning!

Vinicius Lemos