Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Where in the world are our readers?

The above word cloud was generated from the clustr maps widget on this blog, showing us roughly where our readership is based.
Thank you readers - we'd love to hear your international comments too!

The Phantom of the Opera

In November, I read "The Phantom of the Opera". Here is my answer to After Reading #1. >>> To the Persian I am leaving this letter for you, because one you were my friend. Now, of course, I have only enemies. People scream when they see my face. I am clever, it is true, but no woman can ever love me. And how can a man live without love? When I was a child, I was very unhappy. My mother never kissed me. She didn’t want to look at me because I was so ugly. And years letter, when I was a man, I did many terrible things. I know that, and I am sorry now. But I did one good thing in my life. Christine is free. She can marry the Vicomte and be happy. But I can never forget her wonderful voice, and I cannot live without her. And so, goodbye. Erik

Monday, 19 November 2012

WordFoto - now you can read a photo

 To be perfectly honest, I was scratching my head in a one to one class recently, with a very bright young lad wading through his (not ours) phonics book. It's a very dry affair; each page unimaginatively the same as the last, minute line art pictures as mysteriously unfathomable as they are hard to see.

There has to be a way to make this a bit more interesting, I was thinking to myself. I didn't want to make a list on the board (lazy, and just the same thing again). I thought about a mind map, but we've done that before.

Brainwave: WordFoto (find it here) app

I wrote the big 'ph' in fat chalk on the board + 'sounds like /f/' & took a quick picture. Then opened up the picture in the wordfoto app. There's a grey toolbar across the bottom.
  • crop the pic if necessary; I wanted it nice & tight.
  • words - tap this and then select "add a new wrod set >". add each word you want to see in the image as a new item
  • style allows you to find a treatment of your picture you are happy with - pre-set transformations of your image as well as adding your word list in different fonts (compare ph set vs wh set below)
  • finetune - does exactly that!
When you are happy with that, you can save to album or export to Facebook or by mail.

NB The images are not intended to be definitive lists of all the words in the English language with ph spellings as /f/, or wh with a silent h.  What posting to FB did was generate a blizzard of suggestions though (and some nice exceptions - shepherd & haphazard).

Now I can save these images to my YLs Evernote dossier too, for future reference. How have you exploited WordFoto? Would love to know!

Speeding up speaking with YLEs

Another gratuitous video clip of our students using their English; I don't use flashcards as much as I should, but the novelty factor was obvious in this class as we tried to 'act' the adjectives out at the same time as trying to get a sentence together quickly - to win the race. Aim = He or she is + adj (and then add the negative opposite eg She isn't cold).

Saturday, 17 November 2012

How's the weather? Gales of laughter!

Last Saturday was our monthly workshop for younger learners, when we shift the desks out of the way and do something 'less structured' much song, dance & action as we can OR break into the arts & crafts drawers for a project. The workshops are fun, as it is a sign up class and children get to meet new faces from other classes/days - then again we are a local school & sometimes end up with school chums.

No prizes for guessing what the theme was - an oldie, but a goodie! Apologies for the video being a long one, but we had a big giggle and I wanted to share!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Blending media: graded readers + iOS devices

This was originally going to be a quick posting about how I was trying to integrate Quizlet sets more into class at the table (rather than at the PC) now that I have my old iPhone 3 freed up as de facto iPod Touch.
Created on Tagxedo - regular past tense verbs in "Lost in the Jungle"

I was just about to start tapping away when I came across a blog posting on a very related topic - how to "teach" the pronunciation of regular verbs in the past tense: the -ed ones. It has taken me a few days to think about this one in a wider context...

I do not think (young) learners need to be told what they are going to learn, explicitly. Nor do they need to be scared with the mechanics of what they are going to do - before `we` have got there together (something I am sure David Paul would want students to realise for themselves). Of course, we (teachers) need to teach; that does not mean we have to stand at the front of the class & deliver pronouncements from on high. Far from it...

Complementary media - book & iOS
I like the dawn of realisation to sneak up on my students nice and quietly - preferably while they are reading. And that is secret weapon number one, methinks. Graded readers, deployed nice and strategically, quietly. Children aren`t daft - they recognise patterns, form opinions, arrive at conclusions. And after that, they ask questions or can have ideas teased out. With -ed endings, my favourite is to ask them to underline all the verbs (or 'doing' words, however you explain them?) as we listen to a new reader. My fave series has a CD narration of each title in the pack. I don`t have to explain they are all past tense; by the end of the book they want to know why they have all got -d or -ed stuck on the end (they have already come across the same words enough times to keep Paul Nation happy!). Teacher question = "When did this happen?"

Using Quizlet app to find irregular past tenses
Leave "it", the nutty crunchy grammar thing alone. Play with the book; get into the comprehension questions, true/false stuff, vocabulary mining. Mess about with the pictures and generally ENJOY READING. Again, my fave graded reader series has a dedicated workbook for each story - puzzles, yes/no, gap filling. They get suitably harder as the books climb in ambition. These are not a class activities; extra-curricula & opt-in. We follow up in class for sure - but the past tense thing is something I want to focus on here.

Once we have done everything else we usually do with the readers ("finished" them if you like!), one last teacher challenge. Listen for the words you underlined, and circle them in one of three colours (you choose the colours - but be consistent after this decision!)
  • Red - if you hear a /d/ sound on the end
  • Black - if you hear a /t/ sound on the end
  • Blue - if you hear an "extra" syllable (ie longer than the original word) = /Id/ sound on the end
A word to the wise; every teacher has a slightly different way of pronouncing words. Decide how you are going to say your own -ed endings as a teacher, and hereafter be consistent. There are no golden rules; a general agreement, yes. What does your school want the students to be producing? What do the other teachers teach?

After all of that, I can`t imagine a book which managed to only use regular past tense verbs. Can you? Would be rather odd. I love Quizlet for making, saving & sharing online falshcards; a dedicated app means they can also be accessed by iOS. In this instance I wrote a list of the verbs (present tense) that occured in the story, and asked students to copy the list onto the inside back cover of their readers - usefully bank. Using the 'learn' function, students could match the present & past tense forms & then scribble it down - if they had not already known or guessed (encouraged them to dive back through the book to find the words too).

Screen shot, Quizlet app 'learn' function
Once learners have finished this task, there is a 'scatter' game, with a timer = immmediately compels YLEs to compete. Drilling, anyone?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Sharing classroom work: In-hand tech solutions

Image representing fotobabble as depicted in C...
Image via CrunchBase
As soon as I can figure out QR codes, I will be doing more with photobabbles to give our parents a bigger clue about what we get up to in class. I have a one-on-one class with a very able young lad once a week and we can tend to munch through material (too) quickly. He is my (willing)  guinea pig at the moment, as we try to do the same stuff differently (ever the language teacher's millstone?).

Some of our efforts have ended up in spectacular giggles as things didn't work out; often we both learn more (he that I'm a bit of a pillock, me that I'm more of a pillock than I thought possible...)

I deliberately chopped off the vocabulary items from the top of the text book page (and covered the target structure once we'd had a go with it "How do you/they go to school/work?" / "How does he/she got to school/work?") but used the original picture as it was too small on my phone (craving an iPad!). I want to be able to share our students' great work with parents (I think very few read this blog, tragically, nor access the stuff we share in Edmodo) at an interface they can cope with (around the stove downstairs while they wait & gossip, phones in hand. Hence, the QR codes, which will take them to the recording. Update once I get that sorted out.

Edmodo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So, how: Use the online portal to open up Fotobabble & set up an account (free). Open up the fotobabble app on your iOS & take a picture (or import a picture if you are prepared - you can crop/edit in advance then too). Hit the record button when you are ready to go, and get cracking as you have only 30 seconds or so on the freebee. As I have said about other free apps, I actually like the time stress as it hurries everyone up/necessitates re-recordings (students demand to have another go, not forced to be teacher!). Fiddle with the settings to share or hide to your own desire. You will find your fotobabbles created on your iOS on the fotobabble site, which you can then share again as much as you like - Facebook, twitter etc or embed as I have done with this one.
Image representing Evernote as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

An 'extra' save I intend to do from now on with students' solo work is to add items to individual folders within Evernote. I saw a blog posting about doing this yesterday & it makes absolute sense. Down the line I will not remember who did what, when & where; will want to be able to share/give to them. Think we might do this prior to open week - certainly as a leaving present. ePortfolios is a significant part of how I see teachers empowering students (they can take their classroom & work with them) - after all, I am laying the foundations for their journey of lifelong learning.

Final thought - students always need to be able to ask questions, don't they? Here is the tables-turned recording :)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Postcard form Naples, Italy

Fontana barocca di Antonio Cafaro (1668)
Hello (NHK) guys,

It's been 5 days since I arrived at Rome. After spending great days in this romantic city, I visited Napoli. People say Napoli is a dirty, dangerous city. A woman I met at a bus stop, lives in in Napoli, warned me that many thieves aim at your things, be very careful. However, I enjoyed this exciting, noisy, casual city. Now I am going north by car from Rome.


Saturday, 10 November 2012

Graded readers for YLEs + iOS devices

 I wanted to give my class a break from their usual routine & recent prep for YLE, and exploit one of their OUP Story Tree (Graded Readers) a bit more.

The blue series is just about right for this class - some vocab they have not met before, but by and large they can get their heads around the story & make astute guesses about what they don't 'know'.

We had not listened/read this book before, so I played the CD and asked them to follow (fingers) - they each have a set of the books. They were hooked and enjoyed the surprise ending. They know most of the characters. This particular book introduces the 's' on the end of present tense verbs for third person singular subjects...but they don't need to be told that; going to let the penny drop (maybe next week if it doesn't clatter to the floor today!)

This time around, I 'played' a sentence from the book on my iPhone - it was playing the audio function from a quizlet set I had earlier made for the book (an old teachers' trick of cutting up sentences for students to put back together again!). Instead of my voice (familiar), or CD (tricky to cue) the US accented voice was a new challenge (didn't need a speaker either - new iPhone's inbuilt ones loud enough close up). Their task = find the page the sentence came from (and re-read it out loud). Books well and truly thumbed!

Next, in pairs/3some, showed the children how to plat 'scatter' on iPhones (via dedicated #Quizlet app) to match pairs (in this case, the sentence halves) e.g.
  • Chip....goes on the swing
  • They....look at the swing
I though they would do this as a scattergun exercise and basically wallop the screen until things matched up. Not at all! They were extremely careful to make the right choices & referred back to the book constantly. Great! Book getting read endlessly! As a co-operative task, I know an iPad would be much better option. Nevertheless, this worked nicely with children negotiating roles of finder/reader/typer, and checking spelling etc. The first run through took quite a while and was nice, quiet, gentle reading pace. Once they realised there was a timer and they were horribly slower than the other group...lights & action!

Unfortunately, the Quizlet app right now does not support images, so we were 'forced' to switch tech & go to the PC interface. All good - still a lot of learning & still mining the same simple story. Turn-taking continued as they dictated to each other, helped find letters on the key board & whack each other when they kept making the same mistakes eg 'i' instead of 'l'. I lost count of how many times they must have read each page - a lot more than "Yeah, know the story, bored!"

Check out the flashcard set for The Rope Swing here and find all our other great flashcard sets from "LunaTeacher"

Oh, nearly forgot! The grammar thing - didn't occur to anyone, so we'll use the board next week - and I really want to use Skitch app for that! Stay iTuned :)

Friday, 9 November 2012

iOS in the classroom - exploiting Quizlet & text books

 With 'good' learners who take things in quickly and get bored easily when you (teacher) want to slow things down & make sure stuff has 'gone in properly' rather than in one ear & out the other, it is difficult to find ways to make the slowing down part interesting & engaging.

Hello iOS devices in the classroom. I am saving up for an iPad, as I am convinced these are a very cool & adaptable tool for learners. Am also convinced kids do not need convincing (or even teaching how to use them - I saw a report recently that kids in Ethipia were given a load of iPads but not given any instruction...they were using something like 144 apps within a week!). Three years ago I wanted to ask our parents to provide each child with an iPod Touch. I was right - we should have done (we didn't; I was argued out of it because of gamification, cost, what if not 100% adoption etc)

Anyway, now my lovely iPhone 5 arrived, can use my old 3GS at the same time in class with the wifi. Previously-created flashcard set cued up through dedicated Quizlet app and tapped where I wanted the boys to start working ("learn" function). Books open at first - new vocab after all - and left them to it. Predictably competitive, they demanded another go when done. A pained look on my face & a reluctant "OK" :) They think they are running the show!

The app corrects errors after the user has tapped 'go' - and then clears the screen for the user to input the correct answer (so pay attention - it shows you where you messed up).

The app pulls you through seven  items at a time & gives you a breakdown of how you are learning - which ones you need to recycle (which it does subliminally = no teacher-heavy involovement).

Below is the set of items we were working on, from the Quizlet site. I love Quizlet for many reasons - parents love the fact we can embed into Edmodo and that they can practice at home too - the audio means they are not compromised if unable to speak English well enough themselves.

(By the way, we only 'did' one page in an hour long class with only 8 vocab items on it...)

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Colours & numbers - kids in action

My students know the song quite well, but we haven't "done it this way" before. The Super Simple Song is just as it says on the tin, and very suitable for even very young learners. I wanted to make it a bit harder today, so we had a lot of flashcards on the floor, including numbers (more on that in a mo).

Make sure kids aren't going to dive headfirst at each other to get to the cards first (important!). As they hear the song mention colours, touch the card, then find other things that match around the room (having an interesting/colourful room helps a lot!).

After the song, a sit down - sort of! Leaving the flashcards on the floor we played colour bingo. Again, a bit too easy as most children quickly 'get' colours, so I wrote the word (blue, green etc) slowly on the board, asking the children to read the letters to me as I did so (taking a while to get fluent here). "That's it" = cue to go find the flashcard with the matching word - turn it over to reveal the colour. Get back to the table and do the bingo thing.

The actual bingo became a side show against the fun of reading out the words and finding the same spelling quickly.

We played the same game with numbers, and then placed the cards along the chalk board rail under the same (number) word (out of order). We played a "janken game" in teams - start either end of the row of cards, and read the card/say what is on it. When players meet in the middle, they do 'rock/scissors/paper' to decide a winner - who continues on while the other team replaces their player & start at their beginning again. This can get very noisy but is nice and simple, takes very little prep and is monitored by everyone! Weaker ones can go last & see how to do it/get prompting from team etc. I always answer if kids ask me nicely "What's this, please"!

Once we were done with the bingo game, I played another Super Simple Song "Seven Steps" and asked the children to point to the numbers in time to the music. Harder than you think! Remember, on a bingo card all the numbers are in different sequences...guaranteed giggles and re-starts & pleading to do it again (just what I wanted to do, but it was their idea!)

How do you teach colours & numbers after the first time?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Goodbye, Mr Hollywood - after reading

I read "Goodbye, Mr Hollywood". Here is my answer for after reading# 4. (Sorry, I could not find the cover image for this book in Edmodo.)

5. Hi, Meg. How are you?
3. Craig, I'm fine. But I want to see you. When can we meet?
8. I don't know. I want to see you too, but things aren't easy at the moment.
1. Why? What's the matter?
6. It's my mother. I can't leave her because her legs are very bad and she can't walk far. She needs a new car, but I don't have the money just now.
9. But Craig, that's easy! I can give you the money.
2. No, no. I can't take money from you, Meg.
7. Of course you can! How much do you need? 15,000? 20,000? Just tell me. You can have it tomorrow.
4. Meg, you're wonderful. How about 25,000? Just for two or three months, you undertand.

People tend to feel sorry for other people who suffer, but I would like to pay attention if it relates to money...

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Christmas in Prague

After reading #5
Imagine that Stanislava wrote a different letter and told Josef the true story.

I write to tell you, Josef, that your wife is dead. On Christmas night the guards shot her on the road at the border. She carried Pavel - your baby son, and my grand son - on her back, but the gurards didn't shoot him. Your wife is dead, but your son is alive Your 'friends' brought him to me yesterday. You have Jan and a new life in England. And I have baby Pavel. But my daoughter is dead. I want Pavel to stay here with me. Don't write to me, and don't come back to Prague. It is dangerous. Pavel is all right with me.


Monday, 5 November 2012

Remember, Remember, the fifth of November...

After my annual "ya boo" at Hallowe'en, here is my other annual Guy Fawkes' posting!

Check out these links to find out more about "Bonfire Night":

Now before you ask "Why don't you have Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night celebration them?" I would like to point out that
  1. There are rules about open fires in this city with an historic (WOODEN!) castle and we are very close to it.
  2. Anybody got any fireworks?
  3. We tried before - it is a very cold night!
  4. It is just as irrelevant as Hallowe'en :) in Japan

After Reading, "The President's Murderer"

I read "The President's Murderer" in October, and here is my answer to "After Reading #2". Dear Mrs Dinon, You don't know me, but I met your husband soon after he escaped from prison. I found him in my field, took him to my house, and gave him some good hot food. Today the newspapers say that the soldiers killed him. I am so sorry, Mrs Dinon. Your husband wasn't a murderer, or an enemy of the country. Everybody knows that, and we don't listen to the government. Your hasband wanted to change things and give us all a better life. He was a good man. From a friend.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Kids in our classrooms - October

With chalk & cheese!phonics gameTummy AchevocaboardSpeaking test practiceBuilding an animated cartoon
Scared?Hinata & Eleanor en maskComing for you!Creepy Thursday zombies!Pamalya paintsNa-chan decorates
Kahina adds a tacheHonoka daubsScarifying classThe final touchesYLE Starters prepOrange heads
Orange palsDrying outSlapping on papier macheSquishing up newspaper & glueStool heads!Number races
Kids in the classroom 2012, a set on Flickr.
Check out the Hallowe'en masks under construction, and the games we played through October - you can also see us switching from t-shirts to fleeces!

As usual, you can only see super happy smiles and lovely classwork taking place :)