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Peer error correction using Schoology

In my last post I wrote about how students were writing more in the classroom using blogs and the learning management system (LMS) Schoology. By using the add discussion option within Schoology, I created a space for students to write and reflect on what they, and others, had written.

In this blog I would like to share how I have started showing students how to spot and highlight their peers mistakes and how I have adapted this to work on an LMS like Schoology.

Before asking students to look for mistakes in their partners work, they really need to know that they are not there to correct the mistakes, but simply to highlight the errors.

The first task was to have a lesson where students were given some writing with different kinds of spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes, which can be found in many coursebooks such as Headway or New English File from pre-intermediate levels upwards. Before touching the computers, students had to underline any errors and show what type of error it was by using a key, e.g. Spelling mistake = Sp  “I’m enjoing the party.”

Using the computers for error correction is a little harder. You’re not able to underline, highlight, or circle errors, so I had to think of a way that students could work around this.

I set up a discussion called ‘Correcting mistakes’ and, after adapting examples from the same coursebook, showed students how it should look using this new system:

Sp = Spelling – e.g. I’m <enjoing><Sp> the party.

WW = wrong word – e.g. They went <in><WW> Italy on holiday.

WO = word order – e.g. I have <two brothers younger.><WO>

Gr = grammar – e.g. She’s got some new <reds><Gr> shoes.

T = tense – e.g. He <arrive><T> yesterday.

P = Punctuation – e.g. They <arent><P> coming.

^ = word missing – e.g. She’s <^> doctor.

From here I set the task for students to highlight the mistakes in six sentences, making it clear they should not correct them.

One great thing about the add discussion resource is that you can set it up so members have to post before revealing other peoples responses. By doing this I was able to type in the correct answers, so that when students had finished they could compare their answers.

Since doing this with my class, students are used to highlighting their peers mistakes. At the start of any writing class on the computers I will first get them to work in pairs and use the key to correct writing from the previous lesson. They seem to enjoy spotting mistakes and appreciate their classmates input. Once they have finished highlighting mistakes they will then have to correct their own work.

This type of activity has saved me a lot of time as a teacher. Students all expect a certain amount of individual focus, but in a large class it is impossible to devote this time by correcting every piece of writing they do. Another thing is that it has also made my classroom much more learner focused. I have made it a permanent, twice a week, fixture with the class and would definitely recommend that any teacher give this a go, whether using Schoology or another LMS.

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Blogging and English Language Learners

Writing is something that I feel gets neglected a lot in the ESL classroom. Motivating students to write more is a struggle, but it is a necessary component for learning and mastering a language where students can improve their skills.

I have used discussions in Schoology for some time. They are so simple to set up and they are a fantastic way of encouraging students to participate in writing activities.

schoology_discussions

Discussions are a folder option in the virtual learning environment Schoology which can be used just like a Facebook wall. Students can write as much as they want to, and the teacher, or other students, can reply.

In the discussions I post a question to which students respond to, often around a subject we have discussed in class. Since they have already had the discussion, following on with writing helps students to repeat the information, and use the vocabulary, which would otherwise be forgotten.

Recently I found that these discussions can be assigned individually, which gave me  the idea of assigning students with their own discussion wall and calling it their “blog”, where only the assigned student and myself can see what has been written.

I am really pleased with how well the blogs have worked so far. Students are motivated to write on their blogs and many do so several times a week, using it as a diary for their learning. It has really encouraged students to learn more independently, as they have taken ownership of their blogs.

The blogs have made it easier for me to spot common errors amongst my students. I am able to reply to their writing, just as you would reply to a comment on Facebook, point out errors in their work, and paste direct links to websites where they can practise improving their English. Students will later reply with their errors corrected.

For this class I decided to make it so that only myself and the assigned student are able to see the blog. My reasoning behind this was that I had one student who seemed very shy about their writing because it was of a lower level than his peers. I thought by not allowing others to see his mistakes, it would encourage him to write more. With my future students I want to try more peer error correction, perhaps assigning students into groups, where they will write on their own blogs and correct their group’s work.

I would recommend that all teachers of English should consider student blogging. I use Schoology, but there are many different ways of doing them on-line.

I shall definitely be making blogging a permanent fixture with my classes.

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Timing in the Classroom

This blog is for me to reflect on my teaching, as any learner would, and recently I became more aware of how important timing is in the classroom.

The lesson in mind was a 60 minute speaking lesson, but I felt my timing let me down so much that the students had little time to actually do much speaking.

Time management makes for good classroom management and in my next classes I want to improve my timing. Here I will examine what went wrong and what could have been done differently to make the class more successful.

For this class I think I let some activities take longer than they should have. I let a 5 minute activity run on for 15 minutes. Something that should have been brief ended up costing a quarter of the lesson.

One thing I usually do is break my lesson up into different parts. As a new teacher I like to note down how long each part should take. In a lesson I will have 5, 10, and 15 minute activities. I would rarely do one for 20 minutes. I realistically think about how long something should take including the time it will take to set up and complete. Moving forward I will be more strict with my time frames. I will think about where I should be by a certain time and not let things drag on for longer than necessary.

Another thing I did for the class was to try include everything that I had on my plan. I spent too long on explaining something that the students already had a lot of knowledge about. In this instance I should have prepared concept checking questions that would have helped check students understanding quickly to be able to move onto the next task more effectively. I should also know where to drop certain tasks that I feel are not as important as others. For example, a speaking lesson should have had more speaking in it then say writing.

After searching for more information about timing in the classroom I came across Scott Thornbury’s blog, T is for Time. I would definitely recommend this to anybody else who might think they need to improve their timing a little. I especially like the ideas around developing classroom routines so that students get into a rhythm of knowing what will come next, and also setting homework activities for things that take up a lot of time in class such as reading.

For now I will continue to improve and reflect on my timing. I will be strict with the times of activities, not let shorter activities eat into the time of longer ones and know when to drop activities when things are not going quite as planned.

Thanks for reading,

Tom

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Warmers, Fillers and Activities

English as a foreign language is a great subject to teach as it has endless possibilities of ways that you can teach and practice the language.

One thing that I always try to include in my lessons are fun ways to start and end lessons. I call these warmers and fillers, since they can warm students up at the beginning of the lesson to get them motivated, or they fill in an amount of time at the end of the lesson if students have finished all the tasks earlier than expected.

In this blog I want to write about my top five favourite ten minute activities that I use regularly in class and that work well. I am always interested in trying new activities so if you are reading this and want to comment on what works well for you then please feel free to do so.

1. Countdown

Countdown_titles_2012Countdown is a well-known TV program in England. The basic rules are that a player chooses 9 letters from a selection of consonants and vowels. After choosing the 9 letters, teams have 30 seconds to make the longest word possible. The longest word wins and the winning player receives as many points as they have letters in their word. If there is a tie then each team receives the same points.

To work best in the classroom I change the rules slightly from the TV show. I use a bag of scrabble tiles and choose the letters at random for the students. I do this mostly to save time, however I have divided them into consonant and vowels on occasion.

The reasons why I like this as a short activity is that it generates motivation and competition. It also gives students a chance to think of the way spelling works in English and it tests their vocabulary knowledge. From my experience, it is a winner every time.

2. Backs to the board

Backs to the board is a game where teams compete to describe a word written on the board where a member of their team cannot see it. Their back is literally facing the direction of the board. The student’s team have to try help explain what the word is but without actually saying the word.

I change the rules from class to class, but the basic principle is that the teams have a minute to guide the student to the word.

The reason I enjoy this game is that it is helpful in revising vocabulary that we have covered in class and it also allows students to use as much English as they know to communicate and give meaning to a word. Again it’s competitive and gets students motivated as well as having the benefit of checking students understanding of vocabulary.

3. Find someone who

This activity is a classic used by many teachers as a first day of class ‘get to know you’ activity, but I think it can be adapted to practice a whole array of different things.

First start with table with enough rows for your sentences and enough columns for the names of other students. Students have to walk around the class and ask questions to each student filling out their tables.

One thing I don’t include is the question. I elicit at the start of the task how I might make a question using the board. For example, I will write ‘Find someone who…… has the same favourite colour as you/prefers dogs to cats/has been to Scotland’  and then elicit back ‘What’s your favourite colour?/Do you prefer dogs to cats? Have you been to Scotland?’.

What I like about the ‘find someone who’ activity is that it is adaptable for lots of things and that it gets students out of their seats and mingling with students that they wouldn’t usually speak to. It also gets them producing the language necessary to make questions on the spot. One thing I have found about this activity is that it works best with a big class. I will sometimes drop this activity if student numbers have been too low.

4. Who/what am I?

This activity is very similar to 20 questions since you have to guess who or what you are, and the person you ask is only allowed to give yes/no answers. In this activity I usually start by reviewing how to ask yes/no questions and eliciting examples, e.g. Am I a man? Am I American? I might demonstrate the task first by asking students to think of a person for me to guess. It doesn’t matter if I don’t guess correctly but it helps them to understand the way the activity should be done.

In my version of this game I like to stick a famous person onto the backs of the students. Instantly this generates interest and smiles as students look at each others backs. Students then have to stand up and mingle with other students asking their yes/no questions. If I think students are talking to the same person for too long I will shout ‘MIX’ so students stop who they are talking to and move to a new person. It helps to pre-teach this word first to avoid any confusion.

The reasons why I really like this activity is that it gets students out of their seats, gets them laughing and smiling, and it gets them really thinking about the best questions to as in English. It can be also be adapted, so instead of being a famous person they will be a phrasal verb, or a country, or any other lexical area you are covering that week.

5. Act or Draw

Act or draw is a mixture of charades and pictionary. What I do is have a bag of vocabulary that students learnt in previous lessons. I allow students to choose a word at random and then roll a dice deciding whether they will act out the word or draw it, 1-3 is act and 3-6 is draw. I set a time limit and if students don’t guess the word in time then I’ll pass it onto the other team to have one guess.

Splitting students into teams really helps with the competitive nature and students are able to laugh at each other trying to act out or draw a funny phrasal verb or other word and it’s another great activity for reviewing vocabulary.

There is always a place for a short activity in a lesson and these are only a snapshot of the ones out there. I have tried using lots of different ones but these five are my fail safe options for a motivated class. Of course the types of activity used in one class do not always work for another. Factors such as age, culture, personal character and the size of the class all have an effect and it is important to consider that what one class finds motivating another class won’t. It helps to know your students well before attempting anything new but I go by the motto ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, so even if an activity doesn’t work well the first time you try it it helps not to be disheartened but to ask yourself what went wrong and what you would do to make it better.

Thanks for reading.

Tom

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Using Smartphones in the Classroom

This week was the first time I have got my students to use their smartphones in the classroom. I hadn’t planned to use smartphones in the classroom but the positive results really got me thinking about my future lessons and how to include the use of smart phones more.

The first opportunity arose after I was told that the printer wasn’t working one day as I came into the college. I was covering for a sick teacher so no printing had been done in preparation for the lesson and I was left thinking about what to do instead.

smartphones

Entering class I had decided to just work from the book, but after looking around the classroom I noticed that every student had a smartphone. I had 7 students in class and all, whether it be a Blackberry, an iPhone or an Android, placed their phones in front of them as soon as they sat down. An idea popped into my head and I started to direct students to the website where I had a gap fill exercise as a downloadable document. Luckily I had an IWB to use in class so directing students to the right website and links wasn’t too difficult. Once there, I instructed students to download the task sheet so that they had it ready to use later in class.

Really all that I did was swap a paper copy of a task sheet for a digital copy. The task sheet was a gap-fill activity so students, unable to fill in the gaps on their phones, still

had to write their answers on a separate sheet of paper. There is nothing incredible about how I got students to use their smartphones, and I would still have preferred a paper copy of the task sheet to an electronic version, but just being able to use them for the first time really got me excited about their potential in class.

The second opportunity came again during another class I was covering. It was an IELTS class and the teacher I was covering for had kindly planned the lesson thoroughly. The teacher had included some IELTS speaking cards for the students.

The IELTS speaking cards usually focus on a topic where students have to describe a personal experience, for example a teacher who has had an important influence on your education. The card also gives hints about what you should include such as where they taught you or what you liked about their teaching.

There were only 4 students in class so the first activity we did as a group. I got one student to pick up a card and read it to the group. The student then had one minute to prepare and immediately after the minute was up they had to try and speak about the topic for two minutes. After this I instructed students to give some feedback on how the student performed, sandwiching one constructive criticism with two positive comments. This task worked really well and the students were using their iPhones to monitor the times.

After each student had spoken I split them into two pairs. I told the students to use their iPhones as voice recorders and continued the task as before, having one minute preparation then two minutes talk time, followed by feedback. The only difference this time was that after feedback students could listen to the recording of what they had said and then discuss if they agreed with the feedback and what they would have done better. The task worked really well and all students said that they would be trying this task at home independently.

I’m really excited about other things that I can do with smartphones in the future and I am sure they have lots more potential.

If you are reading this blog and have used smartphones in your classroom then please make a comment. I would really like to hear your stories.

Thanks for reading,

Tom.

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Dumb Ways to Die – #ESL lesson plan

  • Look at this picture. What do you think happened to the characters?

Image

This picture is from a song called ‘Dumb Ways to Die’.

  • What do you think it means by ‘dumb’?

– dumb is an adjective to describe someone or something as silly or stupid.

  • Look at these 4 pictures and discuss in pairs how you think the four characters died.

  • Now listen to the song and check if you were right. (First 20 seconds only)

– Class feedback – did you guess correctly?

  • Now listen to the rest of the song. There are 17 MORE ways to die. Try to remember as many as possible.
  • Discuss with your partner and write down as many ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ that you can remember.

– Class feedback – how many did you remember?

  • Read the lyrics to the song and insert the correct missing word to the end of each sentence.
fork hair inside superglue bear date work pie platform
internet place pet season bait fly ride space reason

Dumb Ways to Die

Set fire to your                                    
Poke a stick at a grizzly                                 
Eat medicine that’s out of                   
Use your private parts as piranha                  

Dumb ways to die, so many dumb ways to die, dumb ways to di-i-i-ie, so many dumb ways to die

Get your toast out with a                    
Do your own electrical                                    
Teach yourself how to                                    
Eat a two week old unrefrigerated                 

Dumb ways to die, so many dumb ways to die, dumb ways to di-i-i-ie, so many dumb ways to die

Invite a psycho-killer                          
Scratch a drug dealer’s brand new                
Take your helmet off in outer             
Use your clothes dryer as a hiding                 

Dumb ways to die, so many dumb ways to die, dumb ways to di-i-i-ie, so many dumb ways to die

Keep a rattlesnake as a                                 
Sell both your kidneys on the                         
Eat a tube of                           
“I wonder what’s this red button do?”

Dumb ways to die, so many dumb ways to die, dumb ways to di-i-i-ie, so many dumb ways to die

Dress up like a moose during hunting                                    
Disturb a nest of wasps for no good                          
Stand on the edge of a train station                           
Drive around the boom gates at a level crossing
Run across the tracks between the platforms
They may not rhyme but they’re quite possibly

Dumbest ways to die
Dumbest ways to die
Dumbest ways to di-i-i-ie
So many dumb
So many dumb ways to die

“Be safe around trains. A message from Metro.”

– Pair feedback – check with the person next to you and compare your answers.

  • Now listen to the song again and check your answers.
  • Follow on task – in groups discuss and think of 4 more ‘Dumb Ways to Die’.

Dumb Ways to Die_task sheet

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Wikis and virtual learning environments – testing the water (part 2)

On today’s blog I’d like to talk about the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) which I have been using called Schoology. I have been using Schoology for less than a month but in that short amount of time I regard it very highly.

I think every school, whether small or large, would value from a VLE. Which VLE to use, Moodle, Blackboard, Frog, Edmodo, or Schoology, depends largely upon how you will use it and who for. I think VLEs are amazing things. I missed having one in my own education and I am envious of students having all this amazing technology available to help their learning today.

The VLE I have set up is for classes of ESL students. My class sizes vary from 4 to 15 students max. I am using the VLE as a study space for students to come and use resources that I have selected appropriate to their level and set small assignments in class. The VLE has so much more potential than this, but it’s key role is to make learners more independent and autonomous.

I am no stranger to VLEs mind. A few years back I had a short role as a trainer for a Moodle sales company. In the UK the government made it compulsory for all primary and secondary schools to have a VLE. The company I worked for set-up your Moodle and charged for its hosting and training.

At the time I saw Moodle as a brilliant VLE. It’s used by the Open University, and many other universities across the world, and was the most widely used, and probably still is, VLE in the world. It was open-source too, which meant the code wasn’t locked down, so many people could work on Moodle to make it better. I think what happened though is that it became too much and too difficult to understand everything that went on in it. Too many IT technicians and not enough educators working on it was a likely cause. Luckily for me that gave me a job to instruct confused teachers on how to create courses and resources. What they didn’t know though was that I found it very confusing at times too. I bought the guide on how to use it and would always get lost somewhere.

Anyway, let’s focus on Schoology.

The school I currently work at does not use a VLE, which gave me some freedom to try out Schoology as a potential candidate for future use. It is the first VLE I have tried as a teacher and I am very happy with it.

The first thing you notice about Schoology is that you already know how to use it. It’s pretty much the old Facebook layout with a few extras. My students even commented on this and how much they liked the idea of having something like Facebook for the classroom. One advantage I think of straight away is no training! This means no extra costs for the school and no unpaid training sessions. Bonus!

Another thing about Schoology is that it’s free. You can pay for a premium package if you’re a big school, but if you’re using like me, in a small language school, then there are no costs involved. You can of course download Moodle for free. Be wary! To do this you will need a fast computer and access to somewhere that will host it online for you. You might as well pay for all that fuss. Schoology is accessed online. There is no download. All you need to do is sign up using your email account. Two mature students I had didn’t have an email account – no problem I said – and it took about 5 minutes to set them up on Gmail and allow access to the VLE.

At the moment I have set up two classes on to the VLE. A beginners class and a pre-intermediate class. The type of content obviously varies for different levels, but the basic set-up is the same.

The first thing I have done is create courses. Courses can be seen as classrooms on your VLE.  In the courses/classrooms you can start to add materials. There are 6 options of content that you can create in the materials section and you can hide or make visible, just like in Moodle, and decide what you want to show. The 6 are: assignments, online tests/quizzes, files/links, discussions, albums, pages. At the moment I have only got as far as using 3 of them and hidden the others.

Assignments can be used as in-class assignments or homework assignments. I have wanted to watch how students use the VLE so I have only used it in class so far. It’s easy to create an assignment. All you do is click into assignments, choose create assignment, give it a name and then give instructions to your class. You can also provide students with files to look at or links to click on. If you were setting an assignment as homework then you can set a date, allow grading options and allow students to upload finished documents.

In the files/links section you can add files and links. Definitely useful. In here you can separate them into different folders. Great for independent learners. Say a student is struggling with the present perfect, then they can click into the folder and practice using all the links and files you have provided in previous lessons. I think about how much time I spend looking for good resources. I think it’s great how I can now save all these in an accessible place for both myself and students.

Discussions are also a great way to get students interacting with each other. The other week I tried a live discussion with the class. It’s pretty similar to a Facebook wall. I can definitely see the potential in this by getting students to practice their English outside of class. It would be great to set a week long chat on a topic so students can contribute and continually practice what they’ve learnt.

One final thing I’d like to mention is the Schoology network. Schoology is also a social networking site. It is not just a VLE. On here you can join groups such as Schoology Educators where other people who use Schoology will communicate with each other on technical issues or anything else. There is also a system where you can upload your resources from your computer. You can decide if you want to share your resources to the larger Schoology network of teachers. I currently use GoogleDrive as an online drop box for all my resources but I am considering moving them over as it may make things faster in the future when using Schoology, but if you don’t keep files online already and you don’t have Schoology then I would recommend signing up and uploading your resources here.

I hope you have enjoyed reading.

Thanks,

Tom

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