Saturday, December 8, 2012

Top 10 Digital Tools of 2012

In this post I would like to list all the tools that I have used frequently this year. All the tools have been essential for me in teaching and my professional development. I have used some other tools, but a couple of times, so I will give those a miss in this post.

 1. Blogger - the best blogosphere for me. I am sure Wordpress is also good but Blogger feels closer to me and I don't feel like switching to Wordpress. I have used this tool for reflections and school projects.

2. PBworks - a wiki platform for online collaboration which I have used a lot this year providing my students with a chance to practise writing Tasks 1 and 2 in preparation for their IELTS exam outside the classroom in their free time.

3. Moodle - a Course Management System (CMS) which I have used to run online and blended classes. Moodle is relatively easy to use and offers a lot of possibilities for teachers and their students. A great tool that has made my life a lot easier.

4. Prezi - an online presentation tool that I use a lot to introduce exam sections to my students, to teachers and to give presentations. Works fine online and offline. The best presentation tool for me so far.

5. Voxopop - a voice-based e-learning tool which has proven to be very useful for extra speaking practise for my learners, especially those preparing for exams.

6. Screenr - a web-based screen recorder which is very useful in any blended or online course that I run. Very often students enrolled in online/blended courses don't understand how to use the platform or what is what there, so I just record a screencast/tutorial for them and embed it in their learning environment to make it easier for them to use the VLE and it helps. When they understand what everything in the platform is, they seem to get more involved in the course.

7. MentorMob - a great tool which allows creation of web-based playlists. I use this tool to aggregate videos and articles around subjects frequently encountered in IELTS. Before I asked my students to listen to video presentations and read articles about environment, ecology, technology, etc but they wouldn't do it, so MentorMob offered the solution I needed. Now as soon as I see anything related to the topics in IELTS, I add it to a relevant MentorMob playlist. As I have embedded the playlists into the wiki of my IELTS students, all they have to do is to log into their wiki space and watch the videos or read the articles that they can see in the playlist.

8. Podomatic - a free podcasting tool. Sometimes it happens that some of my learners have problems with the listening tasks because they are fast or with unclear pronunciation, so I just record myself reading the script and letting them listen to the podcast first to boost their confidence, and then when they listen to the original recording, they understand it better and feel better about their skills.

9. Google Forms - a tool that helps me a lot in collecting feedback from my learners to improve on online, blended and face-to-face courses I teach. As the feedback is anonymous, they feel more confident about sharing their opinions, which helps me a lot in adding what they feel the course lacks or getting rid of something they feel is unnecessary for them.

10. Dropbox - a free tool that makes sharing easy. If there are tests or some reading tasks that I want my learners to see as soon as they turn their computers on, I add them into the folder in Dropbox. Sometimes it happens that I would like my learners to have a look at something before the class and if I upload the document to their learning environment, there is no guarantee that they will log into it before the lesson, but if it is in dropbox, then as soon as they turn on their computers, the file will upload and indicate that a file has been added to the folder which they can look at without logging into any site. When they have completed the task, I can see that the file has been updated and can check it.

These are the tools that I have been using a lot this year and I am sure will be using next year.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Wiki for IELTS Exam-Takers

At the conference yesterday I was presenting the wiki that I have been running for a long time for my IELTS students. Apart from the wiki itself I also presented a few tools that I incorporated into the wiki and suggested some other alternatives to the tools that I use to my audience.

The wiki my students have is a closed one so that my learners don't feel uncomfortable doing their writing assignments. It is linked to a talkgroup on Voxopop where they record their speaking tasks. Introduction to IELTS speaking section is an embedded Prezi presentation; the explanation of how to record on Voxopop is a screencast done with Screenr, the videos that I would like my students to watch and the tutorials about how to do the writing tasks are in a MentorMob playlist also embedded into the wiki. There are also some screenshots done with ScreenHunter to explain what the buttons on MentorMob are.

 When it comes to choosing which tool to use, I suppose, each one of us chooses the one that is more convenient for them. For example, I always use pbworks if I have to set up a wiki. I am not really sure why I prefer this site, because others do more or less the same. It may be a question of habit-formation or preference. The same is true for screencast tools: I always go with Screenr, but I know that other tools are just as good. This is the presentation of the tools and the wiki I gave yesterday. However, I would like to ask a question: Do you always use the same tools? Why/Why not?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A School Project

In February a colleague of mine from Uruguay Claudia Carril sent me a message on Facebook asking me if it would be possible to start a project for 12-13-year-old learners from Uruguay and Armenia. I really liked the idea and agreed to it straight away. The only problem was that I didn't have any young learner groups and asked one of the teachers at our centre to involve her students. Diana agreed happily and it was time to decide what we were going to do.

Initially Claudia suggested having a skype question/answer session , but then I offered to start a blog project and Claudia added the idea of creating a voxopop talkgroup and this is how it all started.

Claudia and I got on skype to discuss the details of the tasks and the length of the project. We thought 5 weeks was long enough for the project but we were a bit too ambitious with the timing: the tasks took a bit longer than expected but we didn't mind that and the learners were happy for it to go on.

The project started on 09 April 2012 and for the first two weeks our teenagers were busy recording their introductions, listening to the introductions of their peers and recording their questions and answers to each other in the Voxopop talkgroup. After that the work moved onto the blog created for this project.

As the teenagers from both countries attended the lessons 3 times a week and some of them, at first, were having problems using the technology, Claudia and Diana asked them to script their replies on paper and typed/posted their learners' replies to the blog themselves. Later some of the learners became really confident bloggers and started posting themselves. The screencast that I prepared and posted to the blog might have helped with this.

So I assume with this project we achieved many things: the learners were involved in a project which required to write, read, listen and speak in English because that was the only language they could communicate in; the teenage participants learnt how to use blogs and voice-based tools (Voxopop); they learnt about a culture they knew nothing about and they made friends who they still keep in touch on Facebook (which means they still have to communicate in English).

Claudia shared our blog with some other teachers and posted their comments on the blog. All the comments were positive. There may have been some mishaps but I will let you be the judge of that. Any comments are welcome!

Below is the Prezi that I prepared to present this project at a conference in Yerevan.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

History of Games

A game is like a mirror that allows you to look at yourself. - Robert Kiyosaki 
Some interesting facts about games:

The oldest complete set of gaming equipment ever found was Royal Game of Ur dating back to 3000BC apparently played in Mesopotamia. There is also evidence of game-playing in Egypt during the same period.

Another game Wei-Qi from China dates back to 2000BC. Interestingly the earliest game of Backgammon  can be traced back to the year of 1AD and from then on it started developing in different cultures.

The earliest European mention of card games was in Spain in 1371. Snakes and Ladders (also popular today in ELT) first was published in England in the 1890s.

The earliest ancestor of Monopoly called the Landlord's Game was patented in 1904. In 1931 the game of Lexico was invented which in 1947 became Scrabble. (Source)

And the following timeline presents the development of video and online games.

Presented by Online Education (Click on the image to make it bigger.)
Video Game Timeline

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Illiteracy Types and Rates - Infographic

This is the second infographic that I have created so far and I start to see a bigger potential to using infographics in the classroom.

First of all, it is obvious that infographics provide an easier way of understanding information. Secondly, as they do not contain a lot of information (because it would be quite difficult to follow an infographic which contains too much text), they could initiate a discussion.

For example, with this infographic, teachers could ask their learners to come up with some other forms of illiteracy and discuss why they occur and what can be done to reduce the problem. (Teachers could check out this link to find out more about other forms of illiteracy.)

For me this would be a very useful and (hopefully) interesting way to prepare my learners to speaking sections of exams. But I am sure that this could be used in other classes as well. 

Illiteracy_Types_and_Rates title=

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Prezi in 3D

As a Prezi lover, I keep an eye on what is going on with the tool. And just today I have discovered that a 3D Prezi option was added to the templates. 

When you just start your new Prezi and are given a list of templates to choose from, you can easily see the 3D options as they are all labeled '3D' in the bottom right hand-side corner.

There is also a more advanced 3D option available where you can upload a background image from your computer which will then be turned into 3D. You can also add up to three background layers with a 3D option to your Prezi via the Theme Wizard.

I created this short presentation with a 3D template available on Prezi just to see how it looks. I have to say, I really liked what I saw. I hope you like it too. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

How to Create Infographics with

At first I wanted to create my own screencast tutorial on how to create infographics but then I found a really good video on Youtube and decided to share that instead. I am sure you will enjoy creating your own infographics!

World Statistics - Infographic

This was my first attempt at creating an infographic. The topic I picked may seem a bit sad, but that's the reality which could create discussion and maybe change attitudes. 

I am not really sure whether I am right or not, but I think teaching English nowadays is not only about grammar and vocabulary, but also about ideas and general knowledge. Very often our learners do not really know what is happening in the world and learn a lot from the course books that they are using in the classroom.

In a way I think infographics could be used in EFL/ESL for discussion as well as as drilling subject-related vocabulary, for example. 

Some_world_statistics title=

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Play and Learn Capitals of the World

The Site Itself
 One of my students posted a game in our Facebook group and asked everyone to play the game to achieve a score of 40,000. The game was Capitals of the World and the link to the game is in the caption under the picture on the right.
  A competition started and many of the students started playing the game and posting their scores. The ones who got high scores kept on encouraging the ones with lower scores, and the ones with low scores would praise the high-achievers and ask for their advice to score highly as well.
 Although this is a geographic game and by playing it learners remember the names of capital cities as well as the names of countries of the world. So this game could be usefully used in ESL/EFL too, as this is something that students learn at Elementary level. However, judging by my higher level students, I can confidently say that this game has proven to be useful for them too, because they communicated a lot in English while comparing their scores and helping each other to gain more scores.

  This is a fun game that goes through four stages (on the screenshots on the right): warm-up, marathon, hill climb and sprint. While learners are trying to get to the end of the game and then play it again because they want to achieve a higher score, they are also learning names of countries and their capital cities. Finally and most importantly, they are learning while having fun!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Gamification of Education

Gamification is the application of game design to a non-gaming situation. Gamification of various aspects of life has been happening for quite a while now. My interest is the gamification of education not only because I am an educator but also because I have seen it work.

I know that there are a lot of people who oppose the idea and say that people already spend too much time playing games so we shouldn't encourage them to do it even more. But as Jane McGonigal says in her book Reality is Broken if we play 3 hours a day we will succeed in saving the world. If we think of it, then some of us spend that much time playing games anyway and our children can spend even more than that playing video or online games.

I don't think I am good enough to save the world but I can at least try to make the lessons more engaging and interesting for my students because now I know that not only children but also adults can learn a lot through games. So why not use this to our advantage and ask our learners to play games which will teach them what we want them to learn?

I have already blogged about some games that I used with my students and also about the workshop in Gamification which I conducted here in Armenia. So today I would like to share a playlist that I created on MentorMob to share it with anyone interested in Gamification and with those ones who don't like the idea very much. In this playlist I collected articles, slide shows and talks which address the idea of gamification in different fields not only in education. I hope that after watching the videos, many teachers will realize that children can and will want to learn if their lessons are more engaging and exciting for them.

Create your own Playlist on MentorMob!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

MentorMob for Exam-takers

In my previous posts I have talked about MentorMob. I also embedded two playlists which were to show how useful it may be to have tutorials in one place.

This time I would like to talk about my idea of using this tool for students who are preparing for exams. Most of the students I have are preparing for the IELTS exam and I usually send them links to various articles and videos not only to develop their reading and listening skills but also to help them learn about IELTS common topics such as Technology, Environment, Medicine, Business, etc. This helps them to develop topic vocabulary for writing and speaking. The only problem with sending links is that when new students join the class, I start sending the same links to them as well as new ones. This takes a lot of time and sometimes becomes confusing because I may forget who has read or has not read an article and send it again or not send it at all.

When I discovered MentorMob, I realized that this tool could solve this problem. Moreover, it could help me test my students' comprehension of what they have read and heard. My idea is to create topic-based playlists, which I can always update, and add quizzes after each video or article to check understanding. Then the playlist can either be embedded into the wiki that my IELTS students have or just one link can be sent to them, which will save my time but at the same time will be very useful for them. The same links can be sent to students preparing for FCE or CAE as the topics are more or less the same for these exams.

This is the first playlist I created and shared with my students and they have already started watching the videos and doing the quizzes.

Create your own Playlist on MentorMob!

Create your own Playlist on MentorMob!

Create your own Playlist on MentorMob!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Translate or not Translate?

There have been a lot of debates around using L1 in the classroom. Some teachers think that translation helps our learners to understand texts better, and also that they become better at translation skills. In addition, they say that if grammar rules are explained in L1, students don't have problems understanding them. I have been in these discussions so often that I thought it is the very time to blog about it. 

When talking about translating texts, I do not necessarily agree that these texts need to be translated. Not all our learners are planning to become translators so this is not a skill they have to have. I understand that many teachers would like to teach an additional skill to their learners, but what if the teacher doesn't speak the native language of the students s/he is teaching? What does that mean? Does that mean that the teacher should be replaced? I don't think so. 

There is also another point that I would like to make. A lot of English Language learners nowadays are learning English in order to study in an English-speaking country. If these students become dependent on translation, they are likely to have serious problems with their entry exams (as there isn't enough time for translation in an exam situation). Moreover, they are going to have difficulties studying abroad, because they may have to read a lot of books within a short period of time but a translation-dependent student is hardly going to be able to cope with it.

I have prepared a Prezi which I presented at a conference in Vanadzor in July to illustrate my point that we don't have to translate reading tasks for our learners, we can only prepare some images or videos or definitions for them to understand what certain words mean (this would require an individual approach because it is only the teacher of the class who knows which words their students know, which they don't). The sample text I used is again from The Kite Runner as the book is quite easy for Intermediate level students to understand.

With regard to grammar, I would agree that students at low levels may have problems understanding grammar in English. However, at higher levels they should not have problems with it. So if at Elementary level students hear grammar explanation in English parts of which are translated into L1 because they are difficult for students to understand, these students should not have any real problems understanding grammar rules in English at higher levels, because they have the necessary vocabulary to understand it (words such as noun, verb, adverb, etc.)

I would be happy to hear your opinion about this.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Academy Island

Academy Island is a nice educational game developed by Cambridge ESOL.

The main character is an alien who is on an island and has to go through quite a few challenges in order to graduate from the academy. The island consists of a few towns: noun town, pronoun town, etc and each town has 2-3 shops and/or buildings which the alien has to enter in order to complete his challenge and gain a high enough score to be allowed to get into the academy building. In each shop and building the alein is asked to complete 4 sentences or answer 4 questions: these are all multiple choice. Questions cover grammar, vocabulary, phrasal verbs and idioms. Correct answers bring from 100 to 150 points. The level of difficulty is shown in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

The 4-question set is timed. The alien has 30 seconds to answer the questions in each building. If he runs out of time before he manages to answer all the questions, the session is terminated and the alien finds himself outside that building. However, he can go back into the building, but the questions will be different.

There are also some scrolls with 2 questions in each. Correct answers to these give 250 points. In the building of the academy the alien is asked to complete the final challenge, which is to complete a famous quote. If the correct answer is given, the alien can graduate from the academy. If not, then he has to re-enter the building of the academy in order to get a new question.

A fun game that I am sure all English Language learners will enjoy. They can submit their scores and compete with their peers.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Web 2.0 Tools with MentorMob

I wanted to blog about Web 2.0 tools  I use in my teaching and professional development when I discovered MentorMob. This is when I thought that instead of writing about each tool separately, I could just create a playlist on MentorMob with video tutorials for each tool I use: this would make the blog post more useful for people who would like to know more about how the tools work (if they don't know that is).

Here's my second playlist on MentorMob:

Create your own Playlist on MentorMob!

I really like this tool and now I am thinking of ways to use it with my learners.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I found MentorMob by chance and really liked the tool. This is a great tool which allows a team to put articles, videos and blogs related to the team's subject of interest together.

I especially like how the end-product looks.

Create your own Playlist on MentorMob!

I created this playlist and invited some friends from different countries to add to it because, in my opinion, blended learning is a trend likely to continue in the future and also it would be interesting to see how it works out for us.

Signing up is free and you can sign up with your Facebook or Google account. It then asks you to invite friends to the team to work together on the compilation of the list that everyone deems to be good for a particular topic. However, it is not compulsory to invite anyone and you can skip this step altogether.

So what is MentorMob?

Watch this video to find out:

What is MentorMob? from mentormob on Vimeo.

Although we do have, diigo and pinterest to bookmark various sites, I think MentorMob is a fun way to collaborate with colleagues around the world to create a playlist of subject-related videos and articles which then can be improved and added to and be used by all team members.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Photopeach versus Educreations

In this post I would like to make a comparison of two online presentation tools: Photopeach and Educreations. I like both these tools but they have some similarities as well as some differences.

Both sites present images, so you need to have these ready. Another similarity is that once the presentation is ready, the slides change automatically so the viewer does not have to click on a next button to move to the next slide. All the viewer has to do is to click the play button and watch the presentation. Both tools allow sharing on various social networks and also provide an embed code for presentations to share on blogs and/or websites. That's all for similarities.

Now for the differences. First of all, Educreations can be used as a whiteboard on which the user can draw and write (writing requires a bit of practice). This option is quite useful when we need to draw our viewers' attention to a specific object on a picture. Drawing on the slides is not an option available on Photopeach.

Another difference is background music. Music file/video can be added to the presentation on Photopeach and it will automatically play throughout the presentation which makes watching it more relaxing. I personally like music very much so this is an important feature for me. Although it is not possible to add music files to a presentation on Educreations, the latter allows a voice-over recording, which makes it a bit more personal, especially if the viewers are not in the same physical space as the presenter. Recording a description of slides is not among the features of Photopeach. Here the description of slides is done in the form of writing.

I have created a presentation of Yerevan on both sites using exactly the same pictures. I think that the one on Educreations can be used on a website whereas the second one can be used in a lesson.

Yerevan on Photopeach

Yerevan on Educreations

All the differences mentioned do not mean that one tool is better than the other, they just mean that before choosing between these two tools we should think about what we want to do and what outcome we would like to achieve.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Get Ready for a Presentation

While thinking of the presentation that I need to prepare for a conference which is on 4 July, I tried to find some ELT presentation preparation tips online. Not having found anything, I decided to make a mind map myself to outline the steps that I find useful in preparation for a presentation.

To make a mind map I chose which is very easy to use and share. You can zoom it in and out or move it around on the blog itself if you grab part of the map with your mouse.

PLE/PLN/VLE as I see them

Quite often I have been asked about the difference between a PLE, a PLN and a VLE and I thought that it would be easier to make a blog post about it and share it with my networks.

PLE stands for Personal Learning Environment, PLN is Personal Learning Network and VLE is Virtual Learning Environment.

I have summed up my ideas in this short presentation.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

KET/PET/FCE - Marking the Papers

When I first started teaching FCE, it was quite complicated for me to understand how to score the mock exam papers that my students completed once a week.

Having attended a few Cambridge webinars related to these exams and having had a look at a few websites, I began to understand what the scores are and how they are calculated.

As a result I managed to put this Prezi together to help teachers understand the scoring of KET/PET/FCE for Schools.

I hope the Prezi helps you too!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Diigo, and Pinterest - Bookmarking Tools

A friend of mine asked me about the difference between Diigo, Scoop.It and Pinterest and while replying to her, I thought that I could actually blog about it. So here we go!

Diigo was actually the first bookmarking tool that I started using. I don't think Pinterest or functioned then. Maybe they did, but I didn't know about them.

Diigo allows users to bookmark a webpage, to highlight it or to attach sticky notes. All bookmarks, highlights or notes can be shared with groups in Diigo or they can be kept private. To make finding links easier, tags can be used. The tool also allows users to upload pictures and save them. There is also 'Read Later' option which one can use when they have found an interesting article to read but do not have the time for it. Not to forget what they wanted to read later, they can bookmark the article in the 'Read Later' section and then find it easily.

Diigo has an optional bookmarklet which allows to bookmark any website from the browser without opening up the Diigo page. However, and Pinterest also have these bookmarklets so this is not something specific to Diigo only. Although I don't use Diigo very often nowadays because of Pinterest, I still have the account and bookmark important articles or save links to my Diigo library if they cannot be Pinned.

Pinterest is also a bookmarking tool, however it bookmarks pages on which images can be found. If there are no images, a message comes up saying that the page cannot be pinned because no pinnable images were found. This is a bit disappointing really but still I think Pinterest is a great tool. I mainly use it for videos that I want to return to. I also have an educational board on Pinterest where I pin various infographics and articles related to teaching and learning.

It is easy to create separate boards and then pin links to them according to their topic. The same can be done with In general I think and Pinterest are more or less similar. The biggest difference between these two bookmarking tools is that the scoops on come up with snippets of the text which can be read through but on Pinterest only images can be seen.

Commenting, sharing, embedding, re-pinning/re-scooping are all available with both tools.

Another difference between these two tools is that on you can manage sources by adding keywords of topics of interest to the dashboard and with one click searches the web for blogs, articles and more that match your interests. The links are then suggested for scooping and then can be scooped, removed or discarded. Keywords can be easily edited at any time. The free account on allows 5 topics.

Overall, all the three tools are great and easy to use. It is just a matter of personal choice which one to use and for what reason.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Google Public Data Explorer - Infographics

A friend of mine has become interested in infographics creation and her interest made me explore some tools.

I found Google Public Data Explorer which allows users to explore publicly available data and share the data found. For me this tool is especially useful because I can use the line graphs and bar graphs to engage my IELTS students in analysing Academic Writing Task 1 by making the graphs more or less challenging  depending on how experienced they are in doing this type of task.

I have chosen a more simple line graph for the first timers...

...and next - a graph with more data to explore:

The one below can be used with any class to talk about the consequences of the financial crisis in Europe. I chose the following countries because of the differing trends they showed. However, you can choose any countries you like: with similar trends, with the lowest unemployment rate, etc.

Looks great, doesn't it? It is also very simple to use and embed in a wiki, blog or website.

Monday, May 28, 2012

10 tips for ESP teachers

The webinar that I attended today was called 10 Tips for ESP Teachers and it was conducted by Keith Harding.

In many cases we are all worried about teaching Legal English or Medical English thinking that we don't know anything about the subject to teach it. Keith Harding's tips can help us a lot.

Tip 1 - Always find out the learners' needs.
Never assume that you know what your learners need, go through needs analysis every time you have a new student. The student may just say that s/he needs to learn grammar, don't get satisfied with that answer, ask more questions to find out what your learner really needs. S/he might be saying "Grammar" because that's what s/he thinks learning English is all about.

Tip 2 -  Keep needs analysis short and effective.
The best question to ask is "What do you need to do in English in your job?". If you ask this one question, you will be able to understand what you have to teach. You can also ask some other questions to find out what your learners' interests are. Don't forget that your learners are human  beings and you can use the information about their interests to motivate them.

Tip 3 - Think functionally not like a grammar book.
Teach them functional language - something which they can use to function in their jobs. Don't provide them with theoretical knowledge. Grammar is the engine of the car, but what they actually need is to drive that car.

Tip 4 - Remember you are the language expert not the subject expert.
As Jim Scrivener said: "You know about English, they know about the topic. Put the two together, and you have the potential for some exciting lessons". Find out a little about the subject, and then learn from your learners.

Tip 5 - Don't obsess about 'technical jargon'.
Your learners will know those words, they will know what they do. Get your students to explain what the words are (even if you know those words). From what you hear, you will find out what enabling vocabulary they need to learn and teach it. Teacher's Books are also very helpful in finding out a little about the jargon you are going to face in a unit.

Tip 6 - Find out about the specialism.
You don't need to be a professional in the field to teach it. Just read a little about the field your learners are in. They know their job, give them grammar and vocabulary to function in English in their jobs.

Tip 7 - Make materials and methods motivating.
Don't get too serious, use a more entertaining approach to motivate your students. The example given was for teaching cause and effect.
"In one year in the UK 10, 733 people were admitted to hospital because of accidents with socks and tights.

Tip 8 - Exploit authentic materials to the max.
The Internet is full of materials to use in the classroom which will make the lessons more interesting to your learners.

Tip 9 - Integrate skills.
In ESP you can integrate reading, speaking, writing and listening in one task.

Tip 10 - Big yourself up (be proud of yourself) - ESP is the future.
English is the language of international business communication and it needs to be taught. The demand for ESP classes is going to increase year by year.

Monday, May 21, 2012

FCE - Paper 3 - Use of English

I thought of creating an introductory Prezi on Use of English part of FCE exam after a colleague of mine, Ana Rivas, asked me whether I had any material for it or not.

I think that this presentation can be used to introduce a group of students to this part of exam and let them practise a little.

The teacher will surely be explaining the skills required for this part and students can write down some tips. Alternatively, the Prezi can shared online if the learners have an online group page.

Anyway, this is what I've got and you are welcome to share it with your learners.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Prezi for Reading Activities

I had the itch since morning to create some kind of reading activity for my IGCSE students when I thought of Prezi. At the IATEFL conference there was a session about this and I decided to experiment with it. I chose an excerpt from The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (one of my favourite books). The prezi still needs to be imroved but here is what I have:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

First for Schools

The webinar conducted by Cambridge ESOL Examinations was very informative. The aim of the webinar was to give an overview of the format of Cambridge English: First for Schools exam and to share some classroom ideas for preparing students for the examination.

First of all, it is important to know that FCE Certificates do not expire, they are for life. However, some universities will only accept the certificate only if it is no more than two years old. This certificate is also accepted by the UK Border Agency for Tier 1, 2 and 4 visas covering studying and working in the UK.

Reading Paper of the exam takes 1 hour and has three texts. Exam takers should transfer their answer to the answer sheet while reading as they do not get extra time for this after 1 hour is over. It was interesting to find out that Multiple Choice and Gapped Text type of questions receive two marks for each correct answer, whereas Multiple Matching questions receive only one. The answers must be written in pencil. In order to take the exam successfully our learners need to be able to trace an argument in a text, to move quickly through the text, decode references, find information quickly, infer meaning and check/revise decisions.

Paper 2 is Writing and it has two tasks and takes 1 hour 20 minutes. The first task is compulsory and is to write either an email or a letter. The second one offers a choice of 4 tasks. The last option is to write on a set text, but we were advised to tell our learners not to attempt the last task if they have not read the set text. One of the participants said that this part MUST be written in pen. Exam takers are advised against writing too long or too short because in the first case there might be repetition (even extra 20 words are considered unnecessary) and in the second case it is likely that they will not cover all the points.

Next paper is Use of English and lasts for 45 minutes, after which Listening part starts. We should make sure that our students know that they are going to hear each section twice so if they have not heard an answer the first time, they should not worry. This paper takes about 40 minutes, and exam takers get some time to transfer their answers onto the answer sheet. The answers for Papers 3 and 4 should be written in pencil.

Finally Paper 5 - Speaking. Exam takers take this section in pairs and this part lasts 14 minutes. There are two examiners but one does not take part in the conversation, s/he only makes notes to discuss the marks with the other one afterwards. Here our learners should know that they should not interrupt their peer while it is his/her long-turn; after one candidate has finished, the second one has up to 20 seconds to express their opinion.

To develop our learners reading skills we were advised to find interviews with their favourite stars on the Internet (if very difficult - adapt them), read and discuss them with our learners. Jigsaw reading will also help them with Gapped Text part. It is also useful to find various adverts/reviews of our learners' favourite products and ask them to compare the reviews and find similarities and/or differences. It also helps to read Graded Readers and discuss the text with our learners. Teachers are also advised to find materials related to the topics studied in the classroom to expand on the subject-related vocabulary. To find out what words our learners are expected to know at B2 level, we were advised to check the words studied on English Profile Website.

For the writing paper we were advised to train our learners to complete each writing task within 40 minutes. Our learners need to get into habit of doing this and they should not have problems with the timing on the exam day. It is also a good idea for them to underline all the important points in the task before planning the answer. Students should learn to write legibly.

For the Use of English section, students should be encouraged to learn groups of words with the same root to make it easier to remember. For example, to impress, impressive, impressed, unimpressive, impression, etc. Dictionaries are a great help here.

Students can be encouraged to find and share various podcasts or programs on the Internet that are related to the subject studied in each unit int he classroom. We an either set up a group page on Facebook for them or create a blog where then can post their findings and discuss them in writing which will also improve their writing skills.

To improve speaking skills (Part 2 - long turn), the advise was the following:

  • practise the language of comparison about topics or interests chosen by students
  • break the task down into 3 sections: 1. describe first picture, 2. describe second picture, 3. answer the question (Important to time each part!)
  • ask students to bring pictures of their own choice, then they in groups choose some pictures and write questions to ask other group members.

Sites we were advised to use:


For future webinars check out the Webinars page of Cambridge ESOL.

You can also join the Webinar Forum to discuss any problems that you face while preparing your learners for this examination.

Good luck!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Do schools kill creativity?

From the talk given by Sir Ken Robinson:
At a drawing class:
Teacher: What are you drawing?
Girl: The picture of God.
Teacher: But nobody knows what the God looks like.
Girl: They will, in a minute.

What reactions would this reply cause in many cases (hopefully not most)? The girl might have been punished, right? And why? Just because she said something that wasn't what the teacher could accept. How fair is this?

An animated presentation of Sir Ken Robinson's  talk.

The point that Sir Ken Robinson makes is that children are extraordinarily creative and educational system is killing this creativity, or as K. Robinson puts it: We educate children out of their creativity. We squander children's talents by trying to put them into a frame of our educational system, which doesn't allow for any mistakes.

But how do we learn? Don't we learn from our mistakes? What makes children creative? The fact that "They are not afraid of making mistakes. If one is not prepared to make mistakes, one will never come up with anything original" (K.Robinson)

Isn't it true, that while getting educated, children become frightened of making a mistake because either they will be punished, or they will get a low mark which will make their parents angry? Well, I would say that this is true in many schools. The fact that children lose their capacity to be creative is explained by K.Robinson as: "Children start being frightened of making a mistake and thus by the time they are adults they are not as creative as they could be".

Now we have created a condition for children who fidget and are inattentive during lessons, who fail to hand in their homework on time, or who pick fights with other kids at school (maybe out of boredom). The condition is ADHD and these children get fed by a lot of medication to "calm them down". Why do we do this to children? Can all children be equally attentive during classes? Can they all be good at all school subjects? Can they all be well-behaved? And with the number of children diagnosed with ADHD increasing around the world, isn't it time to think that there must be something wrong with the educational system rather than children? At present children can get any information from the Internet and now they can question their teachers if they have read something that differs from what the teacher says. This fact might make children uninterested in lessons, which will lead to their being inattentive, which in its turn will bring down the ADHD diagnosis. (I am not trying to say that there is no such a thing as ADHD, believe me. I don't know this for sure. What I am arguing against is the fact of it being classified as mental illness.)

Why are we trying to standardize all children as well as the way they learn or what they learn? Maybe it's time to find a different way of educating our children so that they benefit from it without losing their creativity and imagination. Then maybe we won't be wondering why we cannot find many creative employees to do the jobs that require this quality, which we do everything to kill while educating children. And maybe we should stop treating children who can't sit still as mentally ill and pump them up with psychotropic drugs but instead try to find out what they can be really good at.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Developing Creative Thinking

The webinar organized by Pearson and hosted by Antonia Clare (co-author of SpeakOut) was quite informative and useful.

Apparently according to a research conducted by a US organization IQ level increased by 10% from generation to generation as well as creativity. However, it was discovered that this continued until 1990 and then the level of creativity in children started to decline. This was thought to be a result of educational system. Thus nowadays we are facing a creativity crisis.

What shall we, as teachers, do to make our learners creative? Antonia suggests shifting responsibility for learning back to our learners by motivating them to fully engage in the process of their own learning. Antonia offered quite a few tips on how to do this.

First of all, what is creative thinking?

Antonia shared Alvino's (1990) ideas:

1. fluency (generating lots of ideas)
2. flexibility (ability to shift perspective, variety of ideas)
3. elaboration (building on existing ideas)
4. originality (coming up with something new)

How creative thinking compares to critical thinking?

Creative Thinking 
Critical Thinking
generating ideas
lateral thinking 
idea generation

suspended judgement
many alternatives
vertical thinking
an answer

So how can we encourage creativity? We should provide our learners with a framework to colour it in (even if they colour over the lines. If we allow our learners to think outside the box they are used to, they will be able to become more creative than they are.

The first activity Antonia suggested is called 6 word stories.
Students are given some sample stories that are made up of 6 words and are asked to identify themselves with some of the stories. Then they can work on their own stories.
Samples suggested were:
Found true love. Married somebody else.
Ditched the map. Found better route.
Engulfed in work. Expelled from friendlist.
Evening. Excess vodka. Morning. Excess inertia.

The second idea is to use WritingExercises which is a site that generates the first line of a story and then students can work in pairs and write the story. It is important to set a word limit to make the task manageable for our learners.

Another idea is to use 5 Card Stories, which a site that randomly selects 5 pictures from Flickr and students can be asked to create a story using based on all the pictures selected by the website.

Giving half proverbs to students and asking them to finish the proverbs and to think of events in their lives that prove or disprove the proverbs is another option for encouraging creative thinking in our learners.

One more suggestion is to ask our learners to think of 5 memorable events in their lives that they would like to make into a film and take notes. Then students can work in pairs and tell their partners about their ideas for the film.

Two other activities involve senses. One is to ask students to think of emotions (or first they can look at some pictures and guess what emotions people are feeling) and to write a poem about that emotion.
_ _ emotion_ _ is like...
It tastes like...
It smells like...
It sounds like...
And it feels like...

The other one is to ask our learners to think back to their childhood and remember any particular smells that remind them of their childhood. Then they can talk about the stage of their life with which the smell is associated. Antonia suggested using TalkingMemories website as an extension to this last task.

Another idea is to use BBC Travel to read or watch articles/videos called "One perfect day in...". Students can read or watch the story of a traveller and then record their own "One perfect day" story on Voxopop.

Our leraner can also choose pictures from ELT Pictures that represent themselves and tell a story of who they are using the pictures they selected or, alternatively, other students in the class will have to look at the pictures their mates selected and try to guess what their peers wanted to tell.

Finally, Antonia shared a ScoopIt page that she created for this presentation.

I really enjoyed this webinar and am looking forward to more webinars organized by Pearson.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Virtual Round Table - How to conduct a spicy webinar

Heike Philp also held a webinar about how to present online. Actually Heike gave 20 tips but as some of the tips were the same as Joe McVeigh's (see my previous post), I decided to to share only the ones that are different.

Here's the list that I ended up with:

1. Don't panic. (Panic doesn't help, just makes things seem worse than they are).
2. Get yourself comfortable (Wear comfortable clothes: baggy jeans, slippers,  the presentation is online and nobody is going to see your legs or feet, unless you stand up and start walking around, which, hopefully, you won't) :)
3. Take technical glitches with humour.
4. Even if your children get involved, don't let them overtake the course of presentation).
5. Smile (A gloomy face may scare the participants).
6. Always have a contingency plan, and not just one!
7. Don't smoke or eat during the webinar.
8. Use attractive images (no nudity though!)
9. Use thought-provoking images but don't shock the participants.
10. Converse - DON"T lecture.
11. Acknowledge what your participants have typed in the chat box (by reading it or replying to it by using their names)
12. Write up key points in the 'note' area.
13. Leave time for questions.
14. Wrap up leaving your contact details.
15. Follow the 10-20-30 presentation rule by Guy Kawasaki.

Good luck with your webinar!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Virtual Round Table - Improving Your Virtual Presentation

Joe McVeigh gave a presentation on how to conduct a successful webinar. He is such a great presenter himself that all I wanted to do was to hear more from him.

Joe's tips are:
1. Don't try to include everything in your talk
2. Engage with your audience: ask them questions and have polls, e.g. find out which part of the world your listeners are from
3. Prepare your presentation and practise it in advance
4. Do something unexpected (to keep your audience awake)
5. Use good body language and eye contact (this is especially important in a webinar)
6. Don't read your speech. Although you can look at the screen of your computer, it is better to follow the chat box rather your own notes
7. Put your camera at your eye level so that your audience can see your face and eyes not details of your nose or forehead
8. Be yourself (whatever that means for you)
9. Get a good microphone (stand-alone) and a pair of earbuds (with headsets you will look like a DJ)
10. Don't be boring (don't bore your audience)
11. Don't talk too fast (this is easy to do if you are nervous)
12. Keep to the time indicated previously (time management is a very important skill)
13. Use visuals effectively
14. Do not put too much information on one slide (a big text puts people off reading it)
15. Use good lighting (have light/lamps on/by both sides of your desk)
16. Make sure the font size you use makes your slides readable (Joe uses font size 16)
17. It is useful to have a moderator who will share the links presented, keep an eye on the questions from your audience and will put all that and the key points of the presentation in the 'note' area
18. Use Flickr or FreeDigitalPhotos to find pictures for your presentation (check the copyright for pictures you choose and acknowledge the photographer or add the link to the photo in a less obtrusive place of the image itself)

Joe also recommended some books and sites to us:

Garr Reynolds's books PresentationZen and The Naked Presenter and his website.

The Virtual Presenter - the website and the book by Roger Courville


Brain Rules for Presenters

Friday, April 20, 2012

Workshop at British Council Armenia

Although I had been worried about this workshop, everything went well and the feedback was positive.

For the workshop I chose the topic of Gamification which is an area I am really interested in at the moment. As a friend and colleague suggested, I created a blog for the teachers to which I posted the links to the games that we worked with during the session with some comments.

I thought that making teachers come to the idea that computer games can be beneficially used in teaching themselves was a good idea. I started off by asking them to discuss the games they play with their learners in the classroom and how they benefit from them. Next I asked them to think of the differences between games children play now and played in the past. This brought the conversation to computer games which was what I needed. Only one of the participants said that there is no interaction in the games now and this was also good because I could give the example of my son who plays computer games with people from around the world and to achieve a goal they need to cooperate and discuss their moves via Skype. This convinced the participant.

I only introduced one game (Enercities) to them and we discussed the lesson plan for it together. Then I put the teachers into 3 groups and assigned different games to each group and they were asked to discuss and come up with a lesson plan for their games. Next each group presented their lesson plan, while the other two groups followed the game screenshots and shared their ideas.

Overall, I was really happy with the outcome because the teachers had 4 game lesson plans ready to use and were full of ideas how else they could use the games and how to adapt these games to various levels.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Virtual Round Table

The 5th Virtual Round Table is to start on Friday this week. I am really looking froward to it especially that I know that my network colleagues are participating too. It is a three-day conference hosted by Heike Philip. She is doing such a wonderful job for us all.

Having looked at the schedule I started going through the same torment as with IATEFL. I would like to listen to all the sessions but they are at the same time, so I suppose I will have to choose one and then listen to the other ones. It's also going to be streamed live. Quite a big thing really.

Will be blogging about it Friday to Sunday! :)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Workshop Preparation

Every time I am asked to organize a workshop I start reflecting upon the previous one trying to understand what was good or bad in order to make it better. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Sometimes I just think that it depends on the willingness of teachers to accept ideas especially when they come from someone younger than themselves.

This time I thought of getting my colleagues ideas about what a good workshop is.

My dear friends I would very much appreciate it if you could share your ideas about what makes a workshop a good one or a bad one. What would you like to see and not to see in a workshop.

If we discuss this then perhaps it will help not only me but some of you who also host workshops in their jobs.

All ideas will be highly appreciated. :)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Our Wallwisher

As a parting gift Elvina created a Wallwisher, where we all posted our virtual presents.

After a while the wall started looking really nice and full of presents.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

End-of-course Questions

These are Elvina's answers to our questions.

"These are some of the questions shared so far. They would make a famtastic FAQ section! ;)

What am I going to do with the experience I 've gained from doing this course? Where and when can I get an opportunity to practise moderating a course?
I agree with Anna. In the meantime, being online and becoming familiar with different web 2.0 tools may help a lot. Setting up a blog or a wiki for class purposes will keep you involved with interacting online with your students and will give you the chance to tune in, connect, share, weave, summarize. All key elements in e-moderation!

What do you think CPs ( those who are assessed as Successful) should do to get an opportunity to do a moderating job ?
It is very useful that you start from the fact that only participants who successfully complete the course, are asked to e-moderate TeachingEnglish courses. Then, you just have to be patient. Successful participants´ names are entered in a database and then, when courses are programmed for each country/region, names are chosen from that database. And this is linked to Anna´s query, during first courses, new moderators are assigned with a  mentor, whose job is basically to support them.

What can I do to motivate the CPs, especially till the end of the course?
I would ask back. What would keep you motivated till the end of an online course? My answers would be: engaging tasks and good communication throughout the course. What would be your answer?
I quite doubt the quality of online learning. Not all the CPs are really interested in online learning for some reasons, which may affect the motivation. What do you think about the quality of online learning? 
That is very valid. If we consider that people have different learning styles, for some online learning might not be a first choice to keep motivation high. I strongly believe that online learning can have high quality, provided there is enough interest, engagement and commitment to the course, shown by all the parties involved. Would love to hear the group´s opinions on this.
'How can I adapt and apply what I have learned in reality?' In case a blended approach (between online and face-to-face learning) is used, how can I act out the roles of a moderator?
Good question! Localising online learning/moderating is a must. We need to consider how the standarised course matches the reality that we are dealing with. B-learning will just give you the chance to combine the beauties of F2F learning and the e-moderator roles. Keep in mind, though, the need to keep open all the communication channels, so that you can detect where/what you need to adapt.
How can moderators manage time to perform their roles efficiently? (In my country situation, it could be usually the case that most of recruited moderators would be those with other offline professional duties)
Most moderators have other offline professional duties. This course should have made you aware of the need of having good time management skills. I guess the wiki in this unit will help the group share some tips for this. Mine would be: “Find your magical time… and make it happen at least 5 days a week, if not the 7!”
Is it necessary for the local BC to recruit a mentor who can understand the working context of moderators in that country in order to sort out their problems efficiently?
Usually, mentors are assigned by the central office. Bear in mind that the mentor is not a co-moderator, so it´s not a “full-time” commitment with the course you´ll be moderating. Mentors can only spend 1 hour per week in supporting you, so you´ll need to have a clear idea of your doubts/weakness, so that you can use this time efficiently. This reminds me of a quality that Dave mentioned in a forum in Unit 5: “self-awareness”."