Start of a new series: Teaching paperless 1 of 7


Guess what – we have a paperless teaching week at our school. It’s a difficult time for me: much as I love all things techie and digital, I also find glossy coursebooks quite irresistible.  I’ll say more: nothing beats this feeling when you shuffle a hefty stack of vocabulary cards… It’s a challenge. And where there’s a challenge, there’s an opportunity for development. This is why this week I’ll be reading all I can find about paperless methodology and sharing the best pieces with you.

To start with, here is a post at the OUP blog by Robert McLarty about how digital media can be part of education. He mentions how research showed that a digital app for studying algebra was more effective than a traditional coursebook, with a caveat that the app offered a great learning experience. Do we have apps in ELT that offer the same? The post was written in 2013, but do we have this great digital content now? In my view, the situation is still the same as Robert described it then: “A lot of great content is available on the internet but there is too much for a busy teacher to deal with and most of it is raw and unedited.” 

Do you agree – or am I behind the times?


Ways to look back


You must have read Chia Suan Chong’s latest – and, sadly, last – post for the English Teaching Professional. If not, do check it out. For starters, the ETp’s resident blogger looks back on eight years of writing for the magazine, and links to some of her best posts. It’s a fantastic retrospective! Secondly, she reflects on how much blogging helped her develop professionally, and it’s very inspiring and definitely rings true to me. Yes, blogging helps you clarify your thinking about your work, take and keep notes and meet an incredible number of interesting people – and these are just three of her 10 reasons. So, in fact, be careful when you read that post: you might end up starting your own blog!

Question posters for going beyond the 4Cs


Here is an interesting post by a teacher trainer and author Erika Osváth at the Oxford University Press blog about her favourite activity to engage her teenage learners’ natural curiosity: she recommends using posters through a cycle of lessons where students would first brainstorm their questions about the unit, and then add more and more questions and discuss possible answers in subsequent lessons (or lesson stages). It looks simple, but I like the continuity it offers, and the open-ended nature of the task. Something to try next week, perhaps?

Exit highs and lows


Here’s a very good description of several end-of-lesson reflection activities from Catlin Tucker: ‘highs and lows’ (when the learners share which tasks they feel the most positive and the most confused or frustrated about), exit tickets and other useful strategies, including sketching and tech solutions. The descriptions are very practical and can be taken into the classroom straight away – and there is a bit of theory behind it, too.

P.S. I’ll definitely add it to my collection of exit strategies! Looking forward to doing another training session on this.

The lost world of TED lessons


Here is a  collection of lesson plans related to TED talks from MENSA for kids. Now who would have thought they are so good? There are more than 20 different talks to explore, and the extension activities are absolutely to die for. There are also simple but entertaining questions that can be adapted to different ages and levels. Most are aimed at developing more or less abstract thinking or even critical thinking (core skills – check).

Plus, the choice of topics is great. I can imagine my lower secondaries enjoying some of these! And, to be honest, ‘Shape-shifting dinosaurs’ or ‘How are books a secret door’ are something I would like to do in the classroom.

P.S. If you’d rather do another talk, don’t forget about the great timesaver of a TED worksheet by Svetlana Kandybovich – I wrote about it here.

English for five minutes a day


What a nice article for learners by Sandy Millin! Simple no-nonsense advice for learners who have other things on their minds than English, but would still like to improve in an efficient and fun way. I like how Sandy emphasises the idea of habit formation: if you make English part of your daily routine, you don’t need to spend so much willpower on learning and will keep it up in the long run. She has quick study tips for developing all the skills, as well as for building up vocabulary and grammar: for example, how to review coursebook pages, or how to practise speaking without a speaking partner. I think it’s a good idea to share it with all students!

Sandy, how about Part Two? 🙂

Challenge or automaticity?


Here is a very useful article about the types of practice and its uses. According to Daniel T. Willingham, there are situations when just practising to the level of perfection is not enough. In fact, if you only practise for a short while, even excellent knowledge will be forgotten very quickly. For long-term results what you need is overlearning (learning what is already known) and sustained practice. Now I’m thinking: what about stretching the learners, Demand High and all that? It seems that if we keep increasing the challenge all the time, overlearning cannot happen and so the knowledge has no opportunity to sink in deeper, and the skills do not become automatic…

What do you think, is there any middle ground between achieving automaticity and giving a proper learning challenge?

Prepare for teaching, not testing

student teacher

Here is an interesting thought for this morning: research showed that students choose more effective learning strategies when they expect they’ll have to teach someone else rather than when they are told they will be tested. It’s something we have known all along, right? But the best thing is that the learners in the experiment, according to the article, did not even have to actually teach for the effect to work.

Hedging en masse


I suppose it’s called serendipity: hedging is coming up next week in three of my groups! I’m sure you have favourite resources of your own, but I really liked what Alex Case wrote about teaching hedging: it’s good to combine hedging with generalising, to give students an exhaustive list of various phrases to choose from, and – perhaps the best part – provide them with models of how to challenge generalisations. It’s a long post, with loads of links and language, but it’s a great resource too.

Oh yes, and there is a great idea to use dice in one of his other posts – I think my teacher’s bag is getting back to its former glory 🙂

P.S. I read a really good book on serendipity in education, leadership and personal growth – very much recommended.


Story cubes, anyone?

story cubes

I’ve finally got my own set! And of course I’ve started scouring the Internet for interesting uses. Martin Sketchley has a lot of ideas that can be used as a starting point (make a story from one cube or nine, review grammar forms, play bingo…). Some of these activities are not what I would normally choose to do in the classroom: first, they can be very time-consuming; second, they are not always directly related to the lesson content (but awfully fun, of course :)).

My favourite suggestion can be found in this post by John Meehan: use the cubes to encourage reflection and deep learning. “Have them explain what they’ve learned from the current unit by creating a series of metaphors in which they successfully incorporate each of the images that they’ve rolled”? This is gold.

Oh, and, by the way, here is an interesting explanation of how the cubes work: our brain feels uncomfortable with unfinished patterns and seeks to complete them. I can’t wait to try them in my own classroom!