Monday, October 29, 2012

Improving English Language Skills Through Music

Some days ago, one of my Year 6 students brought to class the lyrics of the song “Call me Maybe” sung by the singer Carly Rae Jepsen. As she was really interested in the lyrics and she spread the rest of the class with the idea to sing it all together, I had to admit to do something.

I prepared a filling the gaps activity, choosing the right level of difficulty for my students, hiding some vocabulary, re-typing the lyrics, photocopying the worksheet...

But to my surprise I discovered a new online tool to do these kind of activities.

With LyricsTraining you just choose one of the hundreds of available music videos and select one of three mastery levels: beginner, intermediate or expert. As the video begins to play, the lyrics appear underneath with several words missing. The goal is to fill in the missing words as they are sung, with the help of the keyboard.

If students get stuck, the video stops playing until they type the correct word, but the clock continues to run! In this way students can compete against each other, who is the one who fills all words with less time. Click on "Give Up!" button to see the words that fill the blanks.

It is a great tool for practicing listening and recognition of phonemes in different English dialects and registers, improving writing and spelling vocabulary, and enhancing reading and writing speed.

And not only English! The site offers videos in six languages (English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Dutch). It is free to use and does not require registration, but if you set up an account, you can save the results of their efforts.

My students are delighted with this new web music tool. Needless to say, the fun is guaranteed!

Lyrics Training

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Physical Break Chants

As we are having overloaded classrooms, with small space, and mixed ability groups, learning English as a second or third language can become an extra boring task which keeps our pupils away from their friends, computers and other “more interesting” subjects in the school.

During the hour long sessions, the concentration span of even the most diligent pupils drops considerably and those who are tired or without motivation, often distract me, away from my teaching and on to their behaviour.

My pupils need a rest and so I stop teaching midway through the lesson and gave them 4 or 5 minutes in which to do some physical exercises.

They have called this break time as a “five-silly-minutes” and it is an opportunity to “go wild” a little.

The success of this break time depends to a large extent on the general dynamics of the group and the mood of the day; but I found that if I set clear limits –now it’s time to work, now it’s time for “fivesillyminutes”- The children generally accepts it and responds well.

By now “fivesillyminutes” has become a valuable routine to encourage and maintain my pupils’ participation in class.

The idea is not to take the pupils’ minds completely off English. So we “compose” our own Physical Break Chants (or use some very good published chants) as a way to use English without straining children powers of concentration too much.

First, they memorised the Physical Break Chant with the help of the IWB and some illustrations for support. Then I give them a combination of the chant’s rhythm and rhyme pattern, the pictures and appropriate physical actions, made it easy for them to learn it. After my pupils have said and performed the chant, I usually give 2 or 3 minutes free.

Children like a certain ritual element to their language learning and these chants provide just that. And with them (unlike many nursery rhymes) the language needn’t to be too childish.

An important step would be the use of these few guidelines to help you compose a Physical Break Chant and make it memorable and effective (at a later stage you can let your pupils make them up!)
  • Use the rhyme.
  • Devise mime gestures to go with the words.
  • Alternate stretching and contracting, immobility and movement.
  • Include touches of humour.
  • Illustrate it with cartoon pictures.

As a result, you will have children’s positive reaction and a decrease of “some” negative feelings about having to learn English.

This just an example of a Grade 3 (8 year olds) chant, composed by the pupils, (with a little help from the teacher, of course!).

One, two, three, four

This is a hat, this is a hat,
What do you wear on your head?
A hat!

These are two gloves, these are two gloves,
What do you wear on your hands?
Two gloves!

Look at these shoes, look at these shoes,
What do you wear on your feet?
Brown shoes!

New ideas are welcomed!

Here you are some stuff it may help in your way of using Physical Break Chants:
  • GRAHAM, C (2006) Creating chants and songs. Oxford: OUP
  • WILL, S and REED, S (2010) Primary Music Box. Cambridge: CUP
  • PHILLIPS, S (2010) Young learners. Oxford: OUP
  • REILLY, V and WARD, S (1997) Very young learners. Oxford: OUP
  • GRAHAM, C (2001) Jazz chants old and new. Oxford: OUP
  • GRAHAM, C (1993) More jazz chants. Oxford: OUP (American English)
  • GERNGROSS, G and PUCHTA H (2001) Do and understand. Longman.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Contribution of Plurilingualism to Creativity

"Creativity and innovation have been a key focus of attention around the globe in recent years. This is partly due to the need to develop human capital to adjust to the Information Age and strengthen economic performance. Human capital includes skills such as innovation and knowledge, which contribute to economic performance and social cohesion.

An ability to use more than one language is termed ‘multilingualism’, while creativity is viewed as ‘imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value’. There is considerable anecdotal evidence that the ability to use more than one language leads to creativity in individuals and thus for the societies in which they live. At issue: do people with more than one language have certain advantages over monolinguals?"

This study was conducted during the period May 2008-June 2009 and compiled by David Marsh and Richard Hill on behalf of the Core Scientific Research Team and the Core Field Research Team.

Extremely interesting!

This study has been commissioned by the European Commission, Directorate General Education and Culture. ©European Commission

Monday, October 15, 2012

Re-Thinking Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning (PBL) is not a question of "on or off", do PBL or not do PBL... It can mean different things to different people. There are a lot of variations (like in any other educational methodology) and any teacher can construct their own version just by adding or changing some parametres.

Peter Skillen suggest to consider some parametres and to study many of the great resources that are available to you and then create your own working definition and effective PBL practice. (You can find some of these resources below.)

The following diagram, enhanced by the critical eye of Brenda Sherry, can help you figure out what’s important to you and your students, just by sliding from one side to the other the level of each parametre to be considered in your PBL practice.

You could likely add other dimensions to consider (for instance, time management)  as you build your own understandings and beliefs!

Who is in control? Who is initiating the project? Whose passion is being honoured with the project? Who is setting the goals, timelines, and motivation? Are you scaffolding the students’ success through templates, calendars, checklists, rubrics or are you unwittingly stealing their locus of control and micromanaging them. Been there. Done that! Thought I was helping them by giving them lots of assistance!

Who is asking the question to be investigated in the project? The student or the teacher? Is the question a ‘deep, driving question’? Is it a ‘fat’ question or a ‘skinny’ one?

If the projects are collaborative in nature, you may wish to consider the amount of interdependence that students have with one another. Are they merely gluing their parts together to make a whole or do their conversations and co-creations lead to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts?

Is the content a rich, deep problem space or is it a more narrowly focused content area? Are there natural links to other domains that provide a context or is the content deconstructed to remove seemingly distracting and disparate information?

Are the students involved in constructing new meanings and understandings or are they simply retelling in their own words information they have found during their research? Have you built in mechanisms (blogs, wiki, vokis, public journal writing, etc.) so that student thinking is made visible, transparent and discussable or is most student process hidden and unavailable to others?

How authentic is the problem under investigation? Are students ‘being’ scientists, historians or geographers and so on, or are they ‘studying’ science, history and geography? How much is the project based in the real world of the student? Is it purposeful for them?

Great Resources for Project Based Learning

Chart: Effective PBL Continua by Peter Skillen & Brenda Sherry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This post originally appeared on Jul 13, 2012 in Voices from the Learning Revolution, by 

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Internet and Language learning

From EnglishCentral, post published August 4, 2012
“ In the electronic age, we wear all mankind as our skin”
- Marshall McLuhan

"The internet offers the best way to learn language other than immersion in an English speaking milieu. (and even then, it offers support and a great way to assist language acquisition). The advantages of online learning can be summarized under the following headings:
Access – the internet offers the possibility to experience English without the need of travel. Even without the need of leaving home or bedroom.
Flexibility- the internet allows for users to learn language when they want, where they want.
Response – the internet offers the possibility of instant feedback to learners. This greatly enhances the learning experience.
Repeatability – the learner can encounter the language in a repetitive fashion until mastery is achieved.
Durability – the internet is 24/7. It never tires. It doesn’t take coffee breaks.
Modality – the internet is a multi modal learning tool. It stimulates in a rich sensory and cognitive manner and thus fertilizes language acquisition successfully.
Specificity – the internet allows the language learner choice and variety in both what and with who will be learned. Differentiation.  Learning can be tailored to the language learner’s precise makeup and needs.
Cost – the internet is a business model which due to economies of scale, can offer services for pennies. It also offers to widen access through a “pay as you can” dynamic."
I really recommend you to read the full article at EnglishCentral "Web 2.0 and Language Learning". August 4, 2012. You will find a complete rationale and guiding principles of this new kind of learning.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Are you trying to get started with this new gadget called IWB?

At this time of the year, when teachers are trying "to get started with their IWB and to get going with the IWB basics", it is always a good idea to stop for a while and and direct them to a blog with a lots of basic and very handful tips.

As Danny Nicholson mention in his new post "Interactive Whiteboards #101 : A short primer" "if you are a newly qualified teacher soon to be embarking on their teaching career at their new school, an existing teacher moving schools, or simply having an interactive whiteboard installed in your classroom over the summer for the first time, then here’s a couple of handy tips to get you started".

Do not forget to check the related posts at the bottom. Some of them are really interesting!