Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Time to hit the road & head to ISTEK

You may have noticed an increasing buzz around the ELT blogosphere and Twitter recently about this weekend’s ISTEK ELT Conference in Istanbul. Ken Wilson offered a preview on his blog earlier this week as did Eva Büyüksimkesyan today and Adam Simpson came up with some very useful tips for those attendelt_05ing in a guest post on conference organiser Burcu Akyol’s blog.

This will be the second year this event has been held and, by all accounts, the first one was something pretty special - hence the anticipation around this weekend. I thought I’d try my luck and submit a workshop proposal this year and to my delight it was accepted. This will be an event of firsts for me: not only will it be my first time at this particular conference but it will also be my first face-to-face conference outside of my own school’s and it will also be my first chance to meet members of my Twitter PLN in person! I won’t name names as there are just too many but I’m really looking forward to meeting course mates from my MA for the first time, meeting my room mate for the weekend, meeting some of the regulars from ELTchat and seeing some of the big names in ELT giving their plenaries.

My workshop will take place (along with about 30 others!) at 1.30pm on Saturday, April 2nd. It’s entitled ‘Getting feedback and error correction write right’. Now, before you start thinking ‘not another error correction session!’, I should stress we will not be discussing correction charts, the evils of red marker or the fact that mistakes are actually learning opportunities (they are, of course, but that won’t be my focus). Instead, we’ll be looking at how feedback (distinct from error correction) should focus on the content of a student’s writing rather than purely the language and how that can encourage re-drafting. I’ll then demonstrate how I make a collaborative focus on form activity out of the common mistakes in my student’s work.

Anyway, here’s a copy of the abstract and proposal I submitted. Hope to see you either in my session, at the conference or both!


Self-regulation skills and feedback have come to play an increasingly important role in language learning in recent times, but how effective are such strategies with young learners? How can they be introduced in a child-friendly way? In this session, participants are invited to engage in example activities from the child’s perspective, specifically focusing on feedback and error correction regarding writing.


Teachers of young learners will have often heard or said the words “that will never work with kids.” Activities and skills associated with self-regulation and feedback are often included in that statement. And yet, anyone who has worked with children knows they have an amazing capacity to surprise. This session will explore how such skills can be introduced and developed.

It is important to place ourselves in the learner’s position every so often and this workshop will begin by asking the participants to imagine themselves as children writing in the English classroom. What is their attitude to writing? How do they feel? What do they find easy or difficult? By considering such questions, we can build a picture of what issues the learners deal with and how we can help them.

The session will then consider motivating students to revisit their writing. Far too often, we see them close their books after finishing the task, never to look again. Ideas concerning how we can encourage students to re-read and revise their writing will be discussed.

Next, feedback will be addressed. How can we go beyond simple error correction and encourage greater reflection? Participants will be asked to give feedback on sample pieces of writing, focusing on content and posing questions to encourage the learner to revise their work.

Finally, we will look at how the students’ own work can be used as a basis for further engagement with language by transforming common errors into a collaborative correction activity.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Every blog has a silver lining - A mini challenge

During the recent VRT conference, I made a blog challenge towards the end of my session which I’d like to repeat here:


Make a word cloud from your blog!

This can be done by pasting your blog’s url (or rss feed url) into Wordle (or any other word cloud generator with this facility). You then get a snapshot of your blog’s recent content. The challenge is then to reflect on what you see in the resulting image:
  • What does it tell you about the content of your writing?
  • What does it tell you about your writing style and use of vocabulary?
  • Is there anything that surprised you?

    Here’s the word cloud snapshot of my blog (taken just before the VRT session):

    Blog (March 2011)_thumb[3]


    As you can see, I’ve written about kids a lot (unsurprising as I work with them!), animals (due to my recent post about the ‘Into the Wild’ website I made) and vocabulary. The prominence of just, also and use suggests I over-use those words a little. I’ll try to be more varied with my language in future!


    Content wise, it’s good to see kids, students and activities feature prominently as I like to focus on what my students have done in class.

    It will be interesting to repeat this in a few weeks and see what has changed and what has stayed the same!

    Contributions so far*

    *Please let me know if I’ve missed any.

    Head in the (word) clouds - Reviewing my VRT presentation

    Yesterday, I gave my presentation on using Wordle in the language classroom as part of the Virtual Round Table conference and, while it’s all fresh in the memory, I thought I’d offer a few reflections and get some feedback.

    I love the global nature of these online events and the fact that the audience was located in a fair few different countries (see the word cloud images below). However, while presenting and attending without the need to travel is an advantage, there are potential problems with participating via computer as well. At the Global Education Conference, my son interrupted the presentation and this time, my computer crashed halfway through causing a delay of several minutes while I rebooted, leaving my audience in the lurch somewhat!

    Technical difficulties aside, I thought it went quite well (if a little rushed towards the end due to the lost time). I tried to make it more interactive, asking the participants to type responses to some of the activities I demonstrated such as predicting content, matching words together and constructing sentences which worked quite well (it seemed only a few of the audience actively took part in these however). Ideally, I would have liked to get more ideas out of the audience and perhaps I could have cut out a couple of my examples to allow for more contributions like that.

    But your feedback will be much more valuable than my own reflections. If you were in attendance, I’d love to know what you thought of the session - both what you liked and what you think could be done to improve it. Please leave your comments!



    The presentation

    Here's the link to the archive of the session

    I created a digital hand-out with Google docs, which I’ve pasted into the blog post below (click here to see the doc itself) along with a copy of the slides I used.

    My Wordle user page - you can find links to all of the word clouds from today’s presentation (plus a couple more) here.



    • A link to the Google doc used for a quick survey during the presentation...
    • ...and links to the word clouds created from the attendees answers:
    Where are you attending from?

    What type of learners do you teach?

    Favourite food (the one that created most interest ;))

    Examples for previewing/predicting texts


    • Our first time with dictogloss - a post from my blog describing how I used a word cloud to support my learners in the reconstruction phase of a dictogloss activity.
    • Doing dictogloss with E1s (elementary) - another example of using word clouds during dictogloss, this time from Anna Rose’s excellent Magpie Moments blog. Check out the rest of her posts as well! :)

    Articles, blog posts and other useful links

    Tuesday, 22 March 2011

    Upcoming VRT Presentation - Using Word Clouds in the Language Classroom

    This weekend (March 25th-27th) sees the latest edition of the Virtual Round Table online conference take place and marks the beginning of a busy month of presentations for me, with workshops at the ISTEK ELT and TED ELT events to follow.

    VRT Wordle Image

    This will be my second online presentation after my session on self-assessment at last November’s Global Education Conference and this time I’ll be looking at using word clouds to support language learning activities. I won’t be going over the technical side of how to make word clouds or comparing the different tools available (I will provide links to resources for those though) - instead, I intend to focus on what purposes they can be used for. Here’s the abstract I submitted if you want more details:

    This session will demonstrate ways to use Wordle as a teaching and learning tool beyond merely creating an attractive ‘word cloud’. Ideas for a range of activities and language skills will be presented such as introducing new vocabulary topics, previewing a text and making predictions, reviewing a text for reconstruction purposes as well as providing prompts for speaking and writing tasks. Using word clouds for analysing texts, both authentic and student-generated, will also be discussed with emphasis on how this is useful for determining the focus and/or bias of the text as well as the range of vocabulary. All of these activities can easily be integrated into lessons with different types of learner and ability groups.

    I have a few ideas for trying to increase audience involvement rather than just having everyone listen to me for the full session so, if you are attending, come prepared to type and/or use your microphone!

    Here’s the link to my session, which starts at 11.30 GMT on Saturday, March 26th. The only issue with the timing is that I will be presenting at the same time as Barbara Sakamoto, whose presentation is on using tech with young learners - one I really wanted to see! A good thing then that all sessions will be archived. I’ll post a link to the archive of my session here on the blog once it’s available.

    Hope to see you on Saturday!

    Notes from the Yellow Brick Road - Silent scenes

    Over the last few weeks, we’ve been making lots of progress with the various groups as they get ready for their Wizard of Oz show. I’ve slowly got the kids to act out scenes without scripts in hand and they are really speaking their parts well. Where they have struggled a bit, however, is with showing emotions and reactions during scenes and positioning.


    Image by TrevorLowe

    With that in mind, I devised an idea of ‘silent scenes’ in which the kids act out their parts without saying anything. Instead of them working through the script, I took the role of director and did a ‘talkthrough’ of each scene and they acted out what I told them to do.

    Removing the need to speak their parts meant the kids had to focus on what they were doing on stage in terms of body language, facial expressions, where they stood and how they moved about. Stepping into my role as director, I encouraged them to really ham up the emotional side with exaggerated fear, joy, panic, surprise etc. It was a little difficult to keep a lid on it all but I made it clear from the outset that I only wanted the characters concerned to do the acting and any silliness would result in an end to the day’s practice (firm but fair is always the best way)!

    The reason I wanted them to exaggerate a bit is that I find in these exercises, they always put more gusto into it than when they do the scene in the regular way. And so, just as I had anticipated, they toned it down a bit to just the right level when acting the scenes in non-silent mode. After doing this a couple of times for each scene (over a few practice sessions obviously), they started to incorporate the emotions and reactions into their acting with less and less prompting from me. Hopefully, by the time the show comes around, they’ll be doing it without even thinking about it!

    A second time in Second Life (with Haven Winton*)

    I first heard about Second Life three years ago through a friend who had got hooked. He told me all about the virtual world, how it works, how you could move around, interact with other avatars, attend seminars, listen to virtual buskers and ‘live your other life’ and all (or almost all) for free. That was enough to tempt me to have a look but I ended up disappointed. Perhaps the experience was spoiled for me by the fact that I was playing World of Warcraft at the time. Compared to the fantasy world of Azeroth where I would travel with my Blood Elf Paladin and complete heroic quests, Second Life just seemed so … dull!

    On top of the lack of a goal or game-playing aim, the graphics seemed poor, the whole thing ran so slowly and some of the other avatars around were just plain weird (of course, elves, dwarves and orcs in World of Warcraft are also weird but at least they are in context)! And so, I uninstalled the application after just a day and never entertained any thoughts of returning.

    Until, that is, Second Life kept being mentioned by colleagues on my MA as a mode of online instruction. By chance, one of those colleagues was Nergiz Kern who had been heavily involved in teaching in Second Life for a while. Her experiences got me interested from an educational perspective and starting a course entitled Teaching and Learning Online provided the final push to start up again.

    Playing Around

    Our first session in Second Life was all about navigating the environment and manipulating objects. I think my experiences from games like Warcraft helped as I quickly got used to the basic controls and had a kind of intuitive feel for using the keyboard and mouse. In virtual environments, ı like to test the limits of what my character/avatar can do so I was soon sitting on top of walls and signposts. A brief tutorial in how to edit objects led to me creating this giant penguin (if you are a regular SL user and you see one coming, it’s most likely me)!


    Scavenger Hunt

    The second session in SL included a group task in which we were sent to various locations to retrieve information in the style of a scavenger hunt. My group visited a Science Centre and a Greek island, where we all ended up for a drink on the terrace and a post-task reflective chat.

    molecules_004 (2)

    The ability to engage in voice chat was invaluable and really added to a sense of ‘being there’ and interacting together. This clearly has benefits for language instruction but I remain unconvinced for the following reasons:

    • Unless you are dealing with seasoned SL users or tech-savvy folk familiar with 3D virtual worlds, a lot of training will be needed before you can get onto the learning tasks.
    • I sometimes missed important bits of information due to trying to get my character to wave, point or some such other gesture.
    • There are a lot of other distractions - I nearly missed the second session because I was exploring a ski resort!
    • As I work with kids, SL is of no immediate use to me (age restrictions). Despite the affordances offered, it’s just not for everyone.

    Hmmm, plenty to ponder over a Tequila Sunrise!

    molecules_003 (2)

    *Haven Winton is my avatar name in case you hadn’t figured it out. Winking smile

    Monday, 21 March 2011

    ‘Into the Wild’ - A multimedia course for young learners

    Having now received positive feedback on last semester’s assignment, I thought I would share the website part of my assignment and see what the general teaching public think. Unlike the Moodle site I created last year, which was a matter of putting various pieces together, I felt more like I had ‘built’ this site as I had to play around with html code, JavaScript, file hosting and FTP clients. I won’t go into the technical details too much, however, but rather a brief overview of the thinking and reasoning behind what I put together.

    The topic


    I decided to go with the topic of wild animals as there is an existing project assignment to research and write about their favourites wild beasts. However, it’s all done on paper and the kids have the tendency to just stick with the animals and the model paragraphs in the coursebook. As ever, there is also the issue of them being reluctant to review and redraft their writing, especially as many of them go straight to poster mode. The intention is to use the website to introduce a wider range of vocabulary and exploit the ease with which work typed on a computer can be revised.

    The home page features a general introduction to the topic with a video from ZSL (Zoological Society of London) showcasing animals from their Africa exhibit. This is all designed to activate their background knowledge of the topic (they have done animals several times before) and see how much they know. Throughout the website, choices are offered as to what activity is done next as some students may need to revise basic vocabulary while others may be comfortable with tackling other tasks straightaway.

    Vocab presentations


    I considered a few different ways of presenting vocabulary - during the course module, we looked at glossing words, providing links to online dictionaries, use of imagery and video but ultimately, I decided to go with the most straightforward and child-friendly way and used slideshows. I just made a PowerPoint as I would for any vocabulary presentation, uploaded it to Slideshare and embedded it in the site. However, I still needed to find a way to provide a pronunciation model. We had looked at embedding audio sound bytes together with images but it all seemed a bit complicated for kids to handle so I went with the simplest option again and screencasted my presentations, uploaded the videos to YouTube and embedded them on the page. That way, the kids get a visual reminder of animal and body vocab if they want to refresh their memories and a narrated video slideshow for pronunciation practice.

    Elsewhere on the site, vocabulary support is provided with captioned images and I also added a search box widget from, an English-Turkish dictionary site, for the kids to use when needed.

    Language practice


    It seems that even with all the latest web 2.0 developments, the easiest and most straightforward program to use for generating activities in Hot Potatoes. I explored some other options but decided HP was still the best as the kids are familiar with it and the quiz and gap-fill options were just what I was after.
    After the vocabulary presentations, the students can navigate to a quiz about animals and a matching activity for body parts. I also made use of an HP-derived program called WebSequitur to make some jumbled text activities (see this post by Sean Banville for more examples of how it works) to get the students analysing some texts about animals more closely.

    One of the great features of HP is the feedback but it has to be set up in the right way. Just as in the classroom, a “no, that’s wrong” can be off-putting but an explanation of the wrong answer can help so I tried to include more information about the animals in the feedback. Give it a try - type in an incorrect answer on the animals quiz and see what it tells you!

    Use of video


    As well as plenty of real animal images, I decided to incorporate some video for a change of pace. The video on the home page has no narration so the kids can focus purely on the visuals and try to identify the animals they see. However, later on I include narrated authentic videos about the okapi and warthogs. Obviously, authentic videos can be a bit daunting for young elementary level learners but the rich input of video holds their attention well and they find it motivating.

    Supporting the task is key as well. I was careful to make sure there were some cues and questions to remind the children about these animals. I also pose some speculative questions to get them thinking before they watch (together with a little text box for them to type notes into). This gives them a purpose for watching and I made sure most of the questions could be answered from the visuals as well as by listening.

    Hidden answers


    This is where it gets a little technical but it’s one of the features I like the most. Inserting some JavaScript code in the right place allowed me to hide the answers to the questions on the same page. After watching the video or completing the task, the students are directed to ‘click here for the answers’ which then magically appear! This is great as a way to not just give the answers away and also avoid kids getting lost or losing track as they have navigate to another page to get feedback.

    And finally…


    The students are directed to write up a project about 3 animals of their choice in Word. Obviously, they could be directed to write on a class blog or a wiki but the main body of preparing them for the project was the focus of the assignment so I kept it simple for now.

    There are also links to other places around the web where the kids can learn and write about animals. Giving such links is important to make these projects more ‘connected’ to the rest of the web rather than being an isolated school page.

    So, if you get time, have a look at the site and work through the activities. I haven’t had the chance to use it with my students yet (not sure if I will) but this is something I would like to return to in the future so your feedback is appreciated.

    The best (and worst) of teaching kids

    Working with young learners is a bit of a rollercoaster ride - at times highly fulfilling and rewarding, at times infuriating; on top of the world one day, questioning yourself as a teacher the next; enough to make you want to do something illegal

    And here I am, doing something illegal - writing on my own blog! For those of you who don’t know, the reason I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks is due to the ridiculous ban that is currently in place in Turkey preventing people from accessing any BlogSpot page.Why? Because on a couple of blogs links to illegally streamed feeds of Turkish Süper Lig football matches were being posted. The rights holder Digiturk petitioned the courts and all blogs hosted on BlogSpot were banned immediately, in a manner very similar to how YouTube was banned here for nearly 3 years due to one or two offensive videos. In true political style, Digiturk blame those who posted the feeds as well as Google for not taking action, Google say it’s nothing to do with them, the courts say “that’s the law as it stands” and the government say “something needs to be done”. Really? So DO SOMETHING then!

    The ban is easy enough to work around (I am posting here now in spite of the ban after all) but I have resisted until now. Why? Well, because whether I agree or not, using BlogSpot at present is illegal and I’m a law abiding foreign resident in this land. However, something happened today that I just have to blog about so here I am.

    Last Friday afternoon, the class I had was awful. The lesson started with one kid slapping another right in front of me and continued with two other insulting each other with language that would even get censored on late night TV here. The rest of the class were just fooling around and not getting on with the tasks for that day. Even the promise of watching an episode of the DVD that accompanies the book we are currently reading didn’t do the trick. Even the kids who are usually good as gold were acting up and my only recourse in the end was to write down the names of the students who weren’t doing the work to pass on to their class teacher on Monday.

    So, that was a somewhat extreme example of the worst of teaching kids. What about the best? Well, today two girls who had ended up on my list were up to something. I saw large pieces of card, scissors, glue, stickers - all of which were hidden away as I approached. A few minutes later they came up to me and presented me with a very artful way to say sorry:

    2011-03-21 09.15.20

    2011-03-21 09.15.57

    2011-03-21 09.16.14

    2011-03-21 09.16.07

    Needless to say, I was very touched by their messages and very impressed by their creativity (if a little scared by how much information they had found about me on the internet)! These are the best moments of teaching kids and the moments that need to be valued and remembered more than those Friday afternoons.

    Tuesday, 1 March 2011

    Notes from the Yellow Brick Road - An unexpected beginning

    Having read an adapted version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the first semester, my classes will perform play of the same story to an audience of their families during the second semester. I had planned to give some of my split class time to rehearsals ahead of the shows in May but the students, keen as ever, wanted to get started straight away. This caught me slightly unawares as I was prepared to do something completely different but they insisted and, in the spirit of student-centeredness, I went with their idea.


    Image by airdiogo

    Rather than start cold on page 1, I thought a warm-up activity was needed so I asked each student to come to the front in turn and introduce their characters to the class. I advised them to start with the walk, add the mannerisms and then the words. It worked well both as a warmer and away to get them into character ahead of starting rehearsal. We then extended it by having the whole group get up at the same time and ‘mingle’ all the while staying in character.

    We only had time to practise the first few scenes after that but I saw an immediate benefit from the introductory activities as they actually acted rather than just reading from the script. It’s early days yet but there are a few things to work on - positioning for one as many students turned their backs to the ‘audience’ area and stood far away from the characters they were supposed to be talking to. I also anticipate issues with the students who are on stage but not speaking - they have a tendency to scratch their noses, yawn and pull faces. They need to learn they are in view on the stage!

    Plenty of time to iron those problems out though and I’ll keep you posted with more notes from the Yellow Brick Road as we near the Emerald City!