Saturday, 23 October 2010

Recording an anecdote while telling it in class to put on the internet later

I had wanted to do this for a long time but only managed to get round to doing it this week. It should be easy enough to record yourself as you tell an anecdote to your students in class and then use the 'raw' recording to post on the internet for them to listen to again, or for students who were away to do so, or even for other (intermediate, in this case) students to listen to.

I had bought a Phillips Voice Tracker years ago, but it didn't record in .mp3 format and the hassle of converting it with Audacity put me off. The school where I work bought a number of voice recorders recently which record directly in mp3 format so I signed out one of these and with the USB cable provided it was simple to move the file from the recorder to my USB stick.

I looked for a picture to accompany the recording, but couldn't find a Creative Commons version, unfortunately. But here is the public feed item from my Intermediate group on Edmodo including the recording and the picture :

If I find time, I might add some vocabulary help in a reply - probably linking to the Cambridge Learner's Online Dictionary's definition.

I've no idea whether anyone in my class will want to listen to it.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Time flies, whether you're having fun or not...

So much for my intention of posting something about what I have been doing with my classes every two or three days. Two weeks have gone by!

Maybe it's easier to work backwards.

Today I have put numerous assignments on Edmodo for my students to do. Many have just been to ask my students to do a section of the workbook as a test, correct it and tell my how it went, but there is also a long list of vocabulary for File 1 for them to study. We went through most of it in class very quickly just showing 12 or so words at a time and asking students to ask for help if they had forgotten any.

I use Word a lot with the IWB and in the case of vocabulary revision I simply showed the lists provided by OUP in 'Reading Layout' with the size of the text increased by using Control + the wheel of the mouse until it is easily seen from anywhere in the classroom. Here is a picture of what it looks like:

Another task I set them for the next week was to do appropriate remedial work for each of the grammar questions they got wrong on the Entry Tests they did and corrected at home in the first week. On average people made 5 mistakes and the only problem was helping them see which sections of the Grammar Checker for their level would be useful. I spent an hour or so last year or earlier making a cross-reference list like this one for Pre-Intermediate:



1.                           . (5C)

2.                             (2A)

3.                             (2B)

4.                             (4B)

5.                             (6C 6D)

6.                             (9B)

7.                             (7C)

8.                             (5C)

9.                             (5B)

10.                         (6C 6D)

11.                         (9B)

12.                         (5B)

13.                         (1B)

14.                         (2B)

15.                         (2A)

16.                         (7A)

17.                         (3D)

18.                         (8D)

19.                         (4D)

20.                         (6A)

21.                         (3C)

22.                         (nothing)

23.                         (7B)

24.                         (8B)

25.                         (8A)

or this one for Intermediate:



1.                           . (4B)

2.                             (2A)

3.                             (2B)

4.                             (4A)

5.                             (9A)

6.                             (5C)

7.                             (1B)

8.                             (8B)

9.                             (4B)

10.                         (8D)

11.                         (5B)

12.                         (8C ?)

13.                         (1D)

14.                         (3A)

15.                         (6B)

16.                         (6D)

17.                         (7D)

18.                         (8B)

19.                         (9B)

20.                         (6A)

21.                         (8A)

22.                         (7A)

23.                         (6C)

24.                         (4D)

25.                         (3C)

Sadly, the answers for the exercises in the Grammar Checker for Pre-Intermediate are missing from the student pack (or at least they were last year). I tracked them down on the internet:


I suggested that they should study the grammar explanation section and then hide it and do the corresponding exercises as a test, writing their answers on a piece of paper. That way they preserve the exercise for re-use if needed.

We'll, we'll see how it goes. I've asked them to give me feedback on when they've completed THEIR exercises and to ask me about any problems they still have.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A day to learn between two days of teaching and learning

Nice to have a day off teaching and a chance to try out some ideas I have wanted to try for some time.

I had always liked the idea of providing my students with the answers to exercises from the course book that we have done in class: this way anyone missing the class at least has the solutions, so if they are serious about learning they can see if they can get the exercises right.

At the same time I am very keen on getting students to do exercises again (and again), but sadly most course books lay the exercises out in such a way that if students write in the answers the exercise is destroyed and simply can't be used again. As a result I have asked my students NOT to write the answers in the book, and in fact, preferably, not to write the answers at all: it's really easy with the IWB to get students saying the answers in pairs.

So, what I decided to do was to type out the answers to the exercises to send to my students. (A colleague of mine has prepared photocopies cut and pasted from the teacher's book.) I then decided to type up the questions as well as the answers and make sure it is possible to cover the answers, say the answers to oneself, and pull done the cover to check it's right. I've made many exercises like this before and even got students to do them in class, but this time the idea was to produce something for them to use out of class.

I didn't like the idea of the students printing out the sheets, so I started thinking of how to use Word to cover the answer, maybe by making the window smaller and moving the document up, but I then struck on the idea of inserting an opaque AutoShape to cover the answers. In More AutoShapes I found a 'desk' that was the right shape and quickly adjusted it to cover the whole line length. I then typed in instructions about how to use it and sent it to the students. Here's a picture of what it looks like:

Let's see what the students think...

I also found time to send my students a list of links to the New English File Pre-intermediate Online site for the section of the book we did yesterday 1A. I made a simple word document with the three links and some instructions about telling me about how well they did it all and sent it as an assignment to be done in the next seven days. Having a Word document will make it easier to sent again next year.

And then I realised I hadn't re-installed Dreamweaver 2004MX since I upgraded to Windows 7. It was easy-peasy and I was pleased to find the printout with my licence number immediately.

I needed it because I wanted to create a file with the words to a song that students can double-click on to look up words they don't know. The Cambridge Online Dictionaries site offers instructions and I was delighted to find that I could work out for myself how to use Dreamweaver to manage my site (I'd always used WS: FTP before). I worked a treat and I was able to post the page here 

The next thing I wanted to learn how to do was to embed a web page in another web page. Google gave me a lot of choices and I took this route:

That meant I could add the video and the lyrics to Edmodo for my Intermediate students. It's here It may be a long way down.

I wish the Cambridge Online Dictionary javascript used the Learner's rather than the Advanced Learner's Dictionary, so I wrote to them to ask for their help.

I must admit that I really enjoyed myself, even though, it meant I was working all of my day-off.

Monday, 4 October 2010

First Day

On our in-house day (INSET) we had a session on what to do on the first day of class as there had been problems in the past with students complaining that the first day was rather a waste of time as there was so much about admin. The rumour was also that students who had studied with us for a few years skipped the first day as they had heard it all before.

It was quite interesting to discuss in small groups what we did ourselves and to hear what people in other groups do. The clear conclusions are:
  1. Make sure students get to know each other (making sure they speak to new people)
  2. Split admin over the first two or three classes (toilets, breaks and fire exits only on Day 1)
  3. Make sure students go away having learnt something new
I, personally, would add that it is a good idea to introduce the students to some of the techniques you are going to use from the very first day and to set up whatever out-of-class channels of communication you are going to use, too.

We discussed loads of ways to make sure students get to know each other, but I think I shall use again what I have used so many times before.

I introduce myself and give them my home email address. I show them a name 'toblerone' with my name on and give them the materials to make their own with their name on both sides. Later on I take photographs of each table of students with their labels in front of them, which get uploaded to Edmodo. (Picture with permission from students)

But first, students work in pairs sitting around a table (4 or 6 students on each) and have three minutes to ask their neighbour as many questions as possible without taking notes of their answers. My mobile controls the time and I go around with a clipboard taking notes of problems to give feedback about. Then there are another 3 minutes for the activity to be done with the answerer asking questions.

At the end of the second 3-minute period of students speaking and me taking notes, I scan the A4 page of notes and put it up on the IWB to go through. In my notes I usually only write correct sentences and hope that I will remember what the student said wrong. I encourage students to take notes selectively about things that they think they can learn from and tell them that I will be sending them the complete list later.

The next stage is each student telling the student on the other side everything they can remember about the person they interviewed before. I remind them if necessary about third person -s and tell them that no one can remember everything and suggest that when they finish they can say something like "and that's all I can remember". I monitor errors with my clipboard again and then go through the corrected version on the IWB.

Admin is the next priority and I like the idea of getting 'old hands' to tell the new students about a list of points projected on the IWB.

Before the break in the middle of our two-and-a-half-hour classes, I like to tell the students what book they should go and buy in the break and also try to 'sell' the book to them. This is pretty easy for me as I really like the book, but I think it is important to be positive about the course book however you feel about it: or don't use it, which is not an option where I work!

I have got a powerpoint prepared to help me sell the course books (which reminds me that I must find out if the price has changed again this year.)

After the break I like to actually start using the course book. Many of the students manage to buy it in the break on the first day, but I tell them they must bring it to the second class without fail.

We have iPacks, which are the IWB software for the two books I use:
  1. New English File Pre-Intermediate
  2. New English File Intermediate
This makes it very easy to use the book on the first day even if the students haven't all managed to buy it. It is also great to show them a third way in which we will be using the IWB.

I also like to do something that I really felt worked well last year. It's something I had used a lot some years ago, but had stopped using because of lack of space. The idea is that half the class goes out of the class and does something while the other half watch a video. They rehearse retelling the story of the video to each other and then the students outside come in and hear all about the video. Ideally, this should be done vice versa with a second video, but I never seem to have time to do that on the same day so I have do it on Day 2. During the rehearsals I and circulating to help them. Error monitoring can be done during the second retelling.

Finally, I introduce my students to Edmodo, by showing them what it looks like - it reminds them of Facebook and this year I will also show them their Facebook page. There is a handout for them to make it easy to join the group and there will be a message waiting for them welcoming them to the group and providing a link to the Facebook page.

For homework, they will have a test and the answers to the test and instructions to tell me what their score was in the test and as it is a diagnostic test to let me know which questions they got wrong.

If there is a weekend before the next class I will also give them a writing task to do. The typical composition introducing yourself to the teacher with a model to base it on.

Online add-on to face-to-face course

I decided last year that this year I would try to keep a log of my teaching and my thoughts about my teaching and here it is.

I will actually start teaching tomorrow, but I've been thinking about my teaching for the last two weeks or so. That's OK as I have had an extremely long summer holiday and have had plenty of time to forget about my job.

One of the things that I've been debating on and off for the last six months is what to do about the online add-on I chose to use to supplement my face2face course. Last year I used and the year before . I decided a long time back that I preferred Edmodo because it is designed for education so it has assignment setting and tracking, but last year I also started experimenting with using Facebook pages as well.

My Facebook pages started off as a way to try to re-use the materials I was providing for my own students through Edmodo and originally I simply fed through the RSS feeds from Edmodo into the Facebook pages. I also had RSS feeds coming into my Edmodo groups. As the year progressed I found that it was really better to feed the latter RSS feeds directly into Facebook using RSS Graffiti and that it was also better to post material twice: once to the Edmodo group and once to Facebook. In both applications the material looked better when posted directly.

So this year I have decided to have no RSS feeds coming into my Edmodo groups, but I will ask all my student to register for their Edmodo group and 'like' the corresponding Facebook page, where RSS feeds will provide most of the content. There will still be some duplication for them as I shall continue to post things myself to both.

Here are the three Facebook pages for the two levels I teach and Advanced, which I taught until very recently: