Hooks for the online classroom

A short but sweet resource for today: how about a choice board from the great ELL 2.0 team? There are eight language-learning activities to start the lesson with a bang (or rather, a hook)? A lot of them are applicable to the face-to-face classroom, with some modifications. It’s great to have these ideas in one place, in a visually attractive format – and even though Padlet and Jamboard have become a staple of our work, there are less well-known webapps and sites to explore. Exciting!

P.S. There’s more on hooks in one of my previous posts.


Four strands

As I was listening to a podcast about learning Chinese last weekend (that’s a story for another day), I got reminded of Paul Nation’s famous principles, or as he called them, ‘the four strands’. For a successful language course, you need to have comprehensible input (yes), meaningful output, focus on form and fluency development, and the study time given to these strands should be roughly the same. There are two articles on his website, from 1996 and from 2007. The former is written in more accessible language and has a good description of the 4-3-2-1 activity for building fluency, and the latter has quite a bit more evidence to support the importance of strands.

What can I say? From Nation’s perspective, my own attempts to learn yet another language have been woefully inadequate: self-study gives me loads of comprehensible input and focus on form, but I really don’t want to make myself communicate (or even start a diary!).

As for work, it never hurts to look back on your lessons and ask yourself: did I strike a good balance?

Lesson study for teacher teams

Apparently, generations of teachers (especially in Japan) have been using this great CPD approach, but I only found out about it several months ago, in a random article on materials writing. Here is a great resource to start with: What is Lesson Study? at Teacher Development Trust. The gist of the idea is that several teachers get together, plan one lesson, teach it in turns and meet up regularly to discuss, make modifications and reflect. What makes it different from, say, regular action research? It’s very much a team effort where several heads are put together and different strengths and weaknesses of the teachers can compensate each other (and it’s also more fun). Also, because one and the same lesson is re-taught again and again, you can address the tiniest details and get to very interesting conclusions. I suppose some products and syllabi lend themselves better to this approach, but the idea is definitely worth exploring!

A very visual syllabus

Here is a great idea for the start of the year: before sharing the course plan or syllabus with your learners, make it easy on the eyes. Curtis Newbold at the Visual Communication Guy has a big article laying out several steps, from reducing the amount of text to adding graphics. He also mentions several tools that can be used to build infographics (I swear by Canva, but his choices are definitely more professional). This method can be used for online and f2f learning, and it’s something I’d like to try too!

Agony Aunt materials


While prepping for another lesson yesterday, I stumbled upon this great resource: Tim Warre shares his lesson plan based on the Agony Aunt idea (and a lot of other lesson materials). Why is it good? First and foremost, there is a lot of attention to functional language. In the virtual classroom, you can simply direct the learners to this page and have them pick the phrases they would like to use – a great timesaver for all. Also, Tim included a  short lesson description, and, last but not least, two printable handouts: with the functional phrases and with ‘agony aunt’ situations (just make sure you adapt them before using in the teen classroom). It’s rare when somebody else’s lesson plan is so clear and usable.

Tim’s posts stop in February,  so I hope he’ll come back soon!

Never stop trying


Here is a new post by George Couros that made me think about why we have to try out all these techniques in the classroom. He writes about inclusive education and how a student found it much easier to read because the teacher – almost by accident – gave him or her an iPad. “The teacher, in this case, tried something new, and it made all of the difference to this student.” And then he goes on to say that it doesn’t matter what medium we use as long as it helps the learners succeed. This is why we have to keep trying, and changing tack, and doing something new everyday, until it clicks with every student. At least that’s what I’ve been trying to do, sometimes fumbling around a little. And you? 🙂

P.S. Check out that presentation I made a few years ago about The Slight Edge and how we should always stop and think: maybe there is a little tweak that can make this activity even more effective?

Time budgeting


Has it ever happened to you that the syllabus is so great (or the set coursebook has so much useful stuff) that you just don’t want to move on from Unit 1? And I’m not being ironic, it’s certainly something I can related to. Or, sometimes the syllabus is just too optimistic and you just can’t possibly fit everything in?

Then I recommend this great post by Brian Rock (I’ve found it on Teacher Habits) about managing the course time.  Here’s his advice: budget it at the start of the year, make sure that the most important things fit – be ruthless  and decide what’s the most important. Really inspiring! After all, if we can manage our personal time and finances and deal with all constraints, why the syllabus should be any different?

How to avoid planning into midnight


To follow up on a conversation in the teachers’ room: we just don’t have the time to create those beautiful flipcharts for every lesson. Still, it’s not a totally hopeless situation: as one of the colleagues recommended, why not build a collection of the most typical topics (like the Past Simple vs Past Continuous) and use them, adapting where necessary. And then I remembered a series of posts by Steve Smith about having a repertoire of teaching activities: using sentence builders, exploiting reading texts, preparing universal Powerpoint presentations (yes, the same excellent idea), and remembering a range of low-prep consolidation and review activities. I like the focus on teacher well-being here: it’s too easy to lose the track of time and just keep planning away, so it makes sense to reflect on better, more efficient ways to do it.

P.S. There was also an interesting exchange about time management I linked to here.

Teaching paperless: 6 of 7 (personal experience)


For a practical treatment of the topic, here are all my work-related contexts this week. I’ve been trying to shave off a bit of paper here and there, and this is what I’ve managed to achieve:

1) Lower Secondaries:
A set coursebook and a notebook, so no need for too much photocopying. Still, because the book does not give enough treatment of the Past Simple vs Past Continuous, out comes the Timesaver Visual Grammar, and 14 copies… I suppose I could have put the extra handout on the interactive whiteboard, but then the lesson would have become too teacher-centred and they would have got bored or tired too quickly. So, we had pair discussions, drilling, writing, again speaking, all around the same sheet of paper.
We made posters last week which didn’t have much language on them, so I brought the posters back and the learners wrote more on them, and then evaluated each other’s ideas. So, 4 rounds of activities with the same sheets of paper – very ecological, and good for learning! I even took the posters to another group to encourage more discussions: round 5 🙂

Paperless: 70%, with quite a bit of recycling

2) Upper Secondaries:
A set coursebook (magazine) and a notebook. We’ve been using Edmodo, Quizlet, Padlet, the works – and yet when I handed out printed self-assessment sheets, they worked sooo much better than anything electronic! I definitely learn better on paper, perhaps it’s true for those younger people as well? Still, my paperless pursuits did not end there: since the new unit is about storytelling, out came Rory’s Story Cubes, and my digital natives didn’t even notice that the lesson had finished 🙂

I had a few new groups to cover this week, and I found myself making more copies than usual. It was because I couldn’t predict how fast the new learners work, and how engaged they would be, so I needed this extra padding for safety. A few role-playing games are still sitting in my envelopes, but I’ll have them for the next lessons.

Paperless: 50%, with props, but new groups complicate things

3) Adults:
Students get together just for this lesson, and there is no group. No coursebook, so I can’t go paperless: no copies means bad customer service, doesn’t it? Well, at the very least I halved the sheets of paper I give them to make name plates.

Paperless: 15% only, need institutional support for bigger changes

4) Teacher training:
Delta tutoring is great for electronic solutions: all forms are digital, and a tablet can type silently in a lesson obs. Win for the paperless 🙂 But – I had a teacher training session yesterday, and handed out one page. Could I have avoided the printing altogether? Probably, but I needed to have a memory aid for the practical task, and something tangible to take away.

Paperless: 80%, a bit of paper still necessary for learning

5) Writing and productivity:
I love all things digital, but I can’t think without paper. A course I’m writing – 2 printouts, countless sheets of notes. I went to a stationery shop and bought more pens, too! I’ve managed to keep my to-do lists on my phone this week though, and I’m writing this post on the screen too. That’s why it’s a bit too long 🙂

Paperless: 10%, guilty as charged

What about you?

Sporfing your lesson plan


This post by Ewan McIntosh warns against ‘the Sporf Strategy’ – adding too many components to your business plan and forgetting that you cannot use ‘the spoon’, ‘the fork’ and ‘the knife’ all at the same time. Isn’t it true for lesson plans? On the one hand, it’s great to have multi-purpose activities and integrated-skills lessons… On the other hand, it’s really helps to have one focused lesson flow.

What do you think – do you prefer lessons to be like a sporf, or like a… let’s say, knife?