Monday, March 26, 2012

A class full of Super Heroes

Does not happen to you that your students are always complaining about writing?

Motivation and involvement are the keys. They need a purpose to write and we must offer them an amazing and an amusing prompt to develop this basic language skill.

In elementary ESL classes we usually write descriptions (personal, physical, animal, objects), talk about our daily routines, places in a town or rooms in a house, habitats, food, sports and hobbies, ... in a non connected way; all of this because these topics comes in separated units.

A year ago, in a British Council Seminar in Barcelona, I discovered a web site that allow children to design their own Super Hero, with hundreds of possibilities (different parts of the body, clothes, weapons, mascots, colours...)

HeroMachine 2.5
The idea came to me as a sort of final task in Primary (year 6) which involved all the above mentioned topics in one single activity. Using the Heromachine 2.5 Generator, giving some simple rules and using some individualised supports, the writing process has become much more enjoyable for us all. I especially have noticed that my students are more willing to finish their assignments. As an added bonus, they have learnt about publishing through the process of writing.

In the following PowerPoint you will have an idea of the process, as we were taking some photos and recording our “steps” towards the final goal.
And now have a look to our Super Heroes and descriptions!
After publishing it, in our school blog, we did some extra activities: 1. We had to read aloud the descriptions we made and record our voice voices. So, we used the script as a support for reading and speaking.
This is Oumaima's Super Heroine...
Or Rafa's Super Hero...
2. Finally we had to post a comment about our work, telling what we feel or what we think about doing this activity.
    Of course, there are many other possibilities using this type of “prompt” for writing (or even talking!). If you have new ideas, please share!

    Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    Different ways to use wikis for teaching and learning

    If you are one of my followers you may remember a post talking about the differences between Wikis and Blogs, as we use them for teaching and learning purposes.

    Blogs or wikis to work English language in the school?

    R. Birne (Free Technology for Teachers) recently pointed to five ways to use wikis for teaching-learning purposes:

    1. As a digital portfolio of student-created videos.

    2. As a place for students to share notes on each unit of study in your courses.

    3. As an alternative to textbooks. Work with colleagues in your school or department to create a multimedia reference site for your students. Include YouTube videos that use the "choose your own adventure" model to allow students to pursue areas of interest.

    4. As an alternative to textbooks. Have students create reference pages for units of study in your course. When you do this students become responsible to each other for creating accurate and meaningful content that they can refer to when it comes time for assessment.

    5. As a place to track, document, and manage on-going community projects.

    I would like to suggest having a look to this wonderful Wiki:
    This is a site in which you can find great tips for using technology with kids and to explore exciting tools for getting the young learners to love learning a language. 

    Some more wikis to get some more ideas by your own: 

    Wikis in EFL

    Wikis in the TEFL classroom
    50 ways to use wikis for a more collaborative and interactive classroom

    Or my favourite one!  Escola Ruiz Amado English 6th grade

    Monday, March 19, 2012

    Create your own stories and poems

    Sometimes the only thing you want in your elementary esl class is o have some fun! But if the students can learn some language at the same time... much better!

    Why don't you encourage your students to write and read their own "kooky" tales?

    You may think that this is a difficult task, impossible to do with the level of your students. You should try Wacky Web Tales. It is a simple web site with lots of funny stories, and when you add the wacky words, it’s even funnier!

    Last week I recommend my upper primary students to do one tale as a homework assignment and to print it for reading in class. The surprise was to realize that even the more lazy students had made more than two or three tales!

    Read one of the tales they’ve got:

    The New Kids in School

    This year is sure to be an amazing year at Els Convents. There are several new kids at the school and they are working hard to make new friends. They just moved here from Cartoonville!

    In the first grade, Lisa Simpson is the newest addition to the group. She is learning about sitting at a pen and about maths. In fourth grade, Pocoyo is studying macaronis.

    Both kids are trying hard to fit in. Since Lisa Simpson is a cartoon character, she can bend her leg unlike any other kid. This makes her really popular playing skipping rope on the playground because she can get out of the way of the other kids very quickly. Pocoyo is also trying to fit in. He had many friends in his cartoon, but they do not live here. He's become popular because all the other kids are asking him what it is like to be a cartoon character, and what Spiderman and Batman are really like. Both cartoon kids are sure to make this a special year!

    It is funny and motivational for further writing and reading activities, and to understand (finally!) what an adverb, or an adjective or a plural is!

    Found on the web of

    Monday, March 12, 2012

    Listenings for primary ESL/EFL classes

    For very young children, the main reason listening comprehension is difficult is that there are simply too many new and unfamiliar words. Even upper primary or secondary students who have studied for years - and who know hundreds or thousands of English words - often still find listening comprehension quite difficult.

    The problem with listening comprehension is that when they listen to an English speaker, they have to recognize the words very quickly. Unlike reading, where they can pause to think about what a word means, listening usually doesn't allow them to pause at all.

    So it is very important to build "listening fluency”. Obviously, this is a skill that is built mainly through practice - lots and lots of practice.

    The most important thing is to find listening practice material that has the right level of difficulty. If you face your students with something that is very easy to understand, it will not challenge their listening skills to improve, and they will probably become bored. But if you use listening that is too difficult, your students will not be able to understand it even if they listen many times, and they will become discouraged or frustrated.

    Here are some sites for choosing material for listening practice. Here you can find hundreds of easy short stories for children and ESL/EFL beginners to practice reading and listening. They are very useful for quick listening comprehension activities. Simple dialogues for non native speaking children.

    This is a blog full of podcasts about different topics. Some of them can be used in primary classes. A free site with lots of short stories and conversations for ESL/EFL learners to practice listening and speaking.Hundreds of easy conversations, short, interesting, with slow audio.

    ESLPod Lots of listenings some of them useful for primary students A great variety of listening games for beginners.

    British Council. A classic web site with some easy listenings for children.

    La Mansión del Inglès. Listening resources divided up in three levels of difficulty.

    Real English. Original videos & interactive lessons, with some sample listenings..

    Adele's corner. Easy online listening activities with blank filling exercises. English listening comprehension exercises for basic listening skills such as the alphabet, numbers and simple dialogues. Blog with a variety of graded podcasts. I just link here the beginners section.

    Beenleigh State School from Queensland Australia. It has a long list of easy stories to listen apart from other very interesting things such as literacy or ESL activities.

    is a BBC site with a huge archive of videos provided by ordinary people talking about different topics. Probably too difficult for primary students but you can select parts of the videos to watch and listen to.

    Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab. This is a site with all level of difficultiy listening quizzes.See the section "Basic Listening Quizzes" with short listening activities for beginning and intermediate students. is an interesting site with oral ‘postcards’ from different English speaking communities. You will find them graded by levels of difficulties.

    ESL/EFL Conversation questions under different topics for the ESL Classroom. They are not listenings but they are very useful for designing roleplays and dialogues.

    Remember! If you cannot find listening activities with the right level of difficulty, it is usually better to choose easier listening rather than harder - but not so easy that your students cannot learn anything new from it.

    Thursday, March 08, 2012

    Is Learning the constant factor?

    "If learning is to be constant, space, time, technology, pedagogy, curriculum must be the variables" (SpeEdChange). If all students are to succeed, everything else in and about the school must be flexible. But... How far? and how deep?

    Watch this video from The Guardian open journalism: Three Little Pigs.

    This advert, screened for the first time on 29 February 2012, imagines how we might cover the story of the Three Little Pigs in print and online. Follow the story from the paper's front page headline, through a social media discussion and finally to an unexpected conclusion.

    Is this the new way learning can happen?

    Monday, March 05, 2012

    Do you use picturebooks in your English classes?

    • Do you select titles that challenge your students to look, listen and think?
    • What do you think about using picturebooks with upper primary students in particular?
    • If you don't use picturebooks, with any age group, why don't you? What stops you?
    "A picturebook is much more than an authentic narrative, nonetheless, in ELT we tend to select picturebooks because our students will benefit from hearing the words they contain - but what about the pictures? What about the pictures when they are part of a dynamic dance, a dance with different moves?" Sandie Mourão in Picture books for all. British Council web site.

    Why don't you select picturebooks that challenge your students to look, listen and think, especially with older students, for they have the language baggage which will enable them to talk about their thoughts?

    Today, I would like to suggest you a publisher web site: Flashlight Press. It is a small independent publishing house that was founded in 2004 and it is dedicated to creating books that explore and illuminate the touching and humorous moments of family situations and social interactions through captivating writing and outstanding illustrations.

    But ,I think it is better to have a look to some of their books and think for yourself how can you exploit these stories in your ESL classes. Just click on the images and enjoy a world of resources for your daily English teaching practice.

    I would also like to suggest you to read the article "Picture books for all" by Sandie Mourão, published in the British Council web site.

    Friday, March 02, 2012

    Interactive Whiteboard in Teaching English To Young Learners

    "IWBs are seen as a valuable tool supporting interactive whole class teaching, the focus of some attention in recent years. One of the reasons this is seen as desirable is that it provides an ICT alternative to rooms with banks of computers which came to be seen as giving individuals access to technology yet reinforcing the idea that using ICT is something apart from rather than integrated into the normal work of the class (Ofsted, 2004)".

    "IWBs are widely perceived to improve teaching and learning, adding value to the learner's experience in the classroom and increasing motivation (Kennewell and Morgan, 2003).

    But, it is better to see an example!  At school Joan Marques Casals, in Terrassa, near Barcelona, one of the English teachers, Josep Ramon Vidal has opened the doors of his classroom to share with us the experience of teaching English as a second language, to a group of young learners (Year 1), with the support of an InteractiveWhiteboard.

    Interactive White Boards used in the ESL classes ...
    • add a "wow" factor to the class as learners appreciate modern technology;
    • allow for productive whole class teaching by providing a visually engaging presentation tool;
    • allow for interactivity by making use of the different ways of manipulating the applications that are running on the screen - for example, layering pictures or text, overwriting, highlighting, hiding, revealing, dragging and dropping text, pictures etc.;
    • allow the learners to manipulate the information on the screen. They can do this from their seat, taking the pen or using the fingers and working at the IWB in front of the class;
    • allow for the showcasing of learners' presentations;
    • give us an electronic flipchart with as many pages as we want;
    • allow us to prepare multiple electronic flipchart pages before the class and to select the order of presentation. We can add text or drawings to the pages according to how the learners respond and revise the lesson by reviewing the flipchart sequence page by page;
    • allow for a vast array of text type, colour, symbols, pictures, hyperlinks to sound files, video clips and internet pages to be incorporated;
    • support different learning preferences – allowing for visual, auditory and kinaesthetic input - it has been said that the IWB is where VAK meets ICT;
    • give us quality computer graphics which allow for the visualisation of concepts otherwise difficult to represent;
    • are claimed to improve levels of information retention;
    • allow us print off anything that appears on the board and give copies to the learners.
    Any comments?
    Any new interesting ideas to work with IWB with VYL of English?
    Suggestions will be welcomed!