Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Micro Writing in the ESL class... Another Good Idea!

I've been searching for a long time the way to motivate my students into writing. Here in this blog you can have a look to other posts with prompts, creative writing ideas and some "juggling" and tricks for to engage children writing. I don’t know about you but my students in the school seems to have less and less need to write with every passing day, so soon they won’t have any need to do it.

Writing texts clearly and comprehensively is a difficult task because you have to bring into play a series of different processes and different skills. The days of communication via Messenger or ‘whatsapp’ are numbered according the new apps that are appearing (voice whatsapp , apps for converting voice to text, on line ‘intelligent’ translators, , ... ) .

So what should we do to motivate our students to write?

The following PowerPoint is from a session of Ceri Jones at the British Council in Barcelona that I found simply extraordinary, not only for the simple idea of "micro- writing", but also for the high motivation that arouses in children this way of "playing" with language .

It is about exploring how a range of micro writing tasks can activate language, encourage communication and aid class cohesion. Micro-writing comes from the Write to Learn tradition, which is also popular in L1 content teaching.

I’m sure I will use some of the proposed activities and strategies with my students this year. I will tell you more in next posts.

Here are a few links to articles and blog posts exploring and explaining the Write to Learn approach.
“Writing is one of the most effective ways to develop thinking”. (Syrene Forsman)
  • More about Writing to Learn                                                                             "I don't know what I think until I write it down." (Norman Maler)

You can also find some other posts about ‘prompting to write’ in this blog:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Setting up a Project. Some Tips

I have been working on Projects in my ESL classes since... (Dear me! I don’t remember! I’m getting old, for sure!), and I’m totally convinced that Project Working is potentially the most motivating way for children to “spend” their classroom time. You either can call it TBL or PBL, but anyway...

Based on my experience setting up projects in primary ESL classes and doing some teacher training on this topic, here are some tips adapted from Diana Fried-Booth in her book Project Work (OUP 1986) (yes, I know it is a 20 years old book but there are things still worth considering!)

It is not a closed list and it doesn’t mean that you must follow all the steps! It is just a model that you could think of following.

Setting up a project

1. Stimulus
  • Doing some kind of speaking activity, or reading and speaking, to stimulate interest in the project.

2. Definition of the project objective
  • Discussing and negotiating what the students will achieve exactly with this project.

3. Skills work
  • If the project involves data collection or writing up, then this stage could be to prepare them with the language they need for that.

4. Design of materials
  • Questionnaires, maps, grids for data collection. These can be made together in class.

5. Group activities
  • This is actually when they go and do the project.

6. Collating information
  • Reading and discussing what was found out.

7. Organization of materials
  • Designing the end product, again perhaps in class.

8. Final presentation

You can also have a look to the following PowerPoint from a Project Work Teacher Training Session, conducted by Patricia Meneses and I in Vic, Barcelona.

In the Issuu paper you can get some ideas and hints (developed by the teachers in the seminar) in order to plan, design and develop your projects in the ESl class.

Hope you find them useful!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

You Should Start Thinking on Assessment From The Begining!

Last school year, I had the opportunity to do an inservice training session on assessment to a group of teachers in my area. While preparing the speech and all the materials I visited one of my favourite websites of ESL teachers: . There I found a very useful article entitled Top 10 Ways to Assess Your Students, written or compiled by Susan Verner.

Today, I like to transcript this article and offer you a Power Point on Assessment Primary ESL. Oh! And for those who don’t know, here you are a short video just with a bit of whole you can find in this web! Enjoy!


Just a reminder of ten of the most popular ways to assess ESL students.

Oral Interview
  • You can do a one on one interview with each of your students to get a good idea of their listening and speaking abilities. You can schedule these types of interviews during class (perhaps take each student into the hall to have a private discussion while the rest of the class does seat work) or schedule with students individually. Asking questions that use grammatical structures and vocabulary that your class has studied will help you know exactly what each student has grasped. Do not penalize a student for not knowing content if he or she can compose grammatically and situationally correct statements or questions in response to your questions.

Class Presentation
  • A presentation in class assesses a different aspect of spoken language. When you ask a student to speak in front of the class, he is able to prepare and practice what he wants to say. He can also research information on his topic. In this case, the grade you give your student should be based on both content and presentation.

Role Play
  • Another way to assess your students’ speaking abilities is by having them perform role-plays in front of the class. By giving them a situation and roles to play, you can see how creatively your students are able to use language with one another. Be listening for content and grammar as with any oral assessment, but you can also be attuned to how your students are making creative use of their language to communicate with one another. Even if they show grammatical imperfection, are your students able to understand each other? Are they able to use the language skills they possess to get their point across to their partner? These are important skills and ones you should foster in your students.

Cloze Exam
  • A cloze exam is an atypical way to test the understanding your students have of grammar. To write a cloze exam, write an original paragraph or take one that your students have used in their studies. Then replace every fifth or sixth word with a blank. Ask your students to fill in the blanks with words they think would be most logical and grammatical. You will see a variety of answers among your students, but as long as the answers are grammatically and logically correct, the student should receive full credit.

Fill in the Blank
  • A fill in the blank test may seem similar to a cloze exam, but this type of test is used to test a specific grammatical structure or set of vocabulary. You can write individual sentences or an entire paragraph for your students, but it is probably best to provide a word bank in either case. You may choose to supply more words than will be necessary to fill in the blanks to make the test more challenging. This will force your students to choose the best answers rather than matching ten words with ten blanks.

Writing Sample
  • Having your students give you a writing sample is another good way to assess their proficiency with grammar. If you have them write something for homework, you run the risk that someone other than your student will do the writing. Often friends or native speakers will correct a nonnative speaker’s writing with the intention of helping, but this will not give you an accurate picture of your student’s writing. To avoid this, have your students do a periodic in class writing. Give them an adequate amount of time to write about a subject that you assign. You will then get an accurate look at their grammatical and writing proficiency. Follow up your assessment with some mini-lessons on common grammatical pitfalls that the class exhibited.
  • To expand the material you base your students’ grades on, why not assign each person to assemble a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of work samples that cover several aspects of the assignments your students have completed. This is an especially effective way to assess your students if you have the same class for reading, writing, listening, speaking and grammar. Ask each student to compile a collection of ten works for you to grade. You can include specific assignments on the list, but you can also give a category and ask your students to present their best work. Ask for a grammar homework assignment, a writing sample and a vocabulary exercise, for example. Your students can then choose the work that they are most proud of. They may feel more encouraged to be graded on their strengths rather than their weaknesses.

Online Quiz
  • You do not have to spend as much of your class time assessing your students as was often necessary in the past. With the extensive collection of online resources for ESL students, you can require your students to spend time at home or in a language lab period working on exercises and quizzes available online. Have your students print out their final scores or e-mail them to you. In so doing, your students will still get feedback on their work and knowledge, but you will not have to give up valuable class time for it to happen.

Multiple Choice Exam
  • Sometimes the classics are often the way to go when assessing your students. If you choose to give a multiple-choice exam, keep these pointers in mind when writing the questions. Make sure all the answers are grammatically correct. Your students should not be able to eliminate an answer based on grammar alone (unless, of course, that is what you are trying to test). Also, try to keep all the answer choices around the same length. If you choose to include the options “all of the above” or “none of the above”, make sure they are options for additional questions. If you keep these tips in mind when you write your multiple-choice quiz, you will get better results from your students.

True/False Quiz
  • The true/false quiz is also a classic that is used by most teachers. When you use this type of test, do not give trick questions that focus on minor details. Even more important, have your students correct the questions that they say are false. If they are making the corrections rather than just identifying the mistakes, you will make sure they are answering from what they know rather than making lucky guesses. You can assign one point to each answer and another point to each correction on the test.

There are many other ways for assessing your students. The more variety you use in assessing your students, the better your picture will be of their overall language skills.


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Mind Mapping with Second Language Very Young Learners

The approach on when ande how introduce Mind maps to Younger Children will vary depending upon the age and maturity of the children involved.

I've just found this post written by Michael Tipper on that explains clearly how to do that (and this is the way I do it!)

"First of all I never tell the kids that we are "Mind Mapping" or doing anything special. I tell them that we are going to learn about, for example, a farm.

I will have a huge piece of paper (at least flip chart size) and will either ask them to draw what a farm looks like or will get the kids to cut out pictures from magazines so that there is a central image of a farm. If I don't have any child safe scissors I usually cut out a load of pictures myself but if I can encourage the children to sort through magazines and find their own pictures, providing it is safe, I'll let them cut them out.

I then ask them what sort of things do we see on a farm. I either suggest or try to encourage them to come up with generic words like Animals, Buildings, Crops, People, Machinery etc. These form the Key Images on the main branches because I will either ask them to draw an animal or a building etc or once again get them to cut pictures out from Magazines.

Then having captured the main branches I will go deeper into one of the topic areas for example I will ask what animals they may find on a farm and again sub branches for sheep, cows, pigs, hens etc develop and once again the children will generate these branches themselves. Now my description of this process is somewhat linear because as you are no doubt aware, young children will just tell you everything that they can think of without following my adult-orientated logical approach. I describe it in this way for ease of explanation but essentially what happens is that the mind map will grow and it will consist entirely of pictures structured in Mind Map form. In fact capturing the information this way is a great way of harnessing children's creativity and spontaneity. A more linear, topic by topic approach may stifle a child's natural desire to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. Another good thing about doing it this way is that the children can work together in teams, one doing the "Animal" branch, another doing the "Machinery" branch etc.

If this approach is adopted when covering any topic, it will just seem natural to the children that it is the most sensible and fun way to capture information. Then if you ask the children to tell you all about the farm (or whatever the subject is) they will "see" the Mind Map, particularly the bits that they were responsible for, and will give a very comprehensive and structured account of a farm. If you are dealing with very young children who are just learning to read, you could label the Mind Map Images with large lettered words to help them recognise the words from the pictures.

For parents this is a great way of bonding with your child and exploring a subject together. For teachers it is a simple way of engaging young children in an activity that will help them learn and process information about a topic".

This three minutes clip, provided by MacGrercy Consultants ( shows you the basics of how to make a mind map.

The intention is to show you the main points to get you started.

Try it and let me know how you get on with it!

More about Mind Mapping on this blog: