ACEnglishteacher

All things EFL… A collection of practical ideas, resources for the classroom and thoughts on EFL today

What makes a good teacher word cloud


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Anyone who read my very first post Blogging and the art of procrastination will know that, among other things, it took me a while to find a name for this blog.

Why ACE?  What can I say, I’m an 80’s kid… Everything that’s “awesome” now, was “ace” in the 80’s (where I was growing up) and it’s one of my all-time favourite words. Synonyms are; excellent, outstanding, first-class, first-rate, brilliant, expert

So, am I an ace English teacher? Not always.  Do I aspire to be?  Of course, hence this blog…

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Flipped learning: A student’s perspective

Well, despite a few hiccups along the way, we made it! We flipped our EFL class all year and what started as an experiment has gradually become our way of learning English…
Those of you who have already read some of my other posts about flipping learning with my 2nd year students in ESO (secondary school in Spain) will know it hasn’t all been plain sailing. However, once we got set up with Google Classroom, this made organising and managing the flipped classroom much easier Flip learning with Google Classroom.
As always at the end of a school year, I sat down to reflect on teaching and learning; what went well, not so well and what was a complete disaster. This year flipped learning was one of my main considerations, had the outcomes been positive enough to continue with this model of learning with my 2nd year students and to introduce it to another class? My answer was yes, without a doubt, but what did my students think about it all?
It turns out that we all agreed 😉
We decided that a good idea would be to make a video about flipped learning for the students in the year below who will become novice flippers in September. In order to make the video, I first wanted my students to reflect on their experiences and write down and share their opinions about flipped learning, and so this became our last cooperative learning project of the school year.

Individual space:

Stage 1

Reflect individually on the experience of flipped learning
Students answer as many questions as there are teams, related to flipped learning and their experiences (in my case this was 6.)

  1. What is flipped learning?
  2. What are the good things about flipped learning?
  3. What kind of tasks/activities do you do at home?
  4. What kind of tasks/activities do you do in class?
  5. What should/shouldn’t, must/mustn’t you do in a flipped classroom? (This question because we had just studied these modal verbs ;-))
  6. Describe flipped learning using 3 adjectives…

Group space:

Stage 2

Share individual opinions/experiences of flipped learning
Using the cooperative learning discussion strategy Round Robin, students share their opinions (their answers to the questions) at different stations around the classroom.
Each question becomes a station. The question is written in the middle of an A3 piece of paper. Each team has a different coloured pen and they move through the stations adding their opinions to the piece of paper.
For example, at station 1 students share their answers to question 1 and student A collates their answers. They then move to station 2, read the previous teams answers (they cannot repeat any information) and then check their ideas and student B adds any information they have between them that isn’t already there. They then move to stations 3,4,5,6 repeating the above steps and changing the secretary each time.
*As each team uses a different colour pen you can check that they have read their classmates’ responses in order not to repeat any information.

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Stage 3

Prepare a script for the video
When teams have visited all 6 stations and recorded their responses to the questions they return to their original station. Using all the information collated on the sheet of A3 paper from their classmates, they discuss how they are going to present this information in the video and write a script.

Stage 4

Record the video
Each team presents the responses to their question in an original and creative way. Once all teams have recorded their part the teacher or students use an editing tool (I used iMovie) to put all the videos together and add titles, special effects etc…
And voilá, apart from reflecting on and sharing their flipped learning experiences in a collaborative and creative way, we have one video ready to teach the new flippers all about flipping next September…
If you missed my other posts about flipped learning…
Flipped learning meets cooperative learning #2: Student-generated materials
Flip learning with Google Classroom
Flipped learning. And we’re off…
Flipped learning meets cooperative learning: #1 the spider’s web
Making videos: Flipped learning
Flip writing in the EFL classroom
Why flipped learning has got me excited

penalty shootout cards


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Team revision, team correction and football fever…

The last week of May, that can only mean one thing, end of year tests and the World Cup are just around the corner…

Here are two penalty shootout activities to encourage team revision/correction and get into the World Cup spirit at the same time 😉

penaly shootout cards

Activity 1: Team revision

  1. Students get a set time to revise target language in class or they revise at home in preparation for class
  2. Students are organised into pairs or small groups. Each pair/group receives a set of penalty shootout cards (you don’t need to use the cards, students can simply mark their goals and misses in their notebooks)
  3. Students test each other on the target language (I have a set of example questions to help students formulate questions)
  4. If they are correct they score a goal if not they miss the penalty.

Putting students into pairs/teams encourages negotiation skills, collaboration and communication.  Weaker students also get support from peers. Students can change pairs/groups or opponents for a new penalty shootout depending on class dynamics/time.  After several penalty shootouts, students may feel confident enough to go it alone.

This activity provides plenty of opportunities for revisiting and recycling language.

To really get into the World Cup spirit students can choose a country out of the hat; the country that they will “play for” in the penalty shoot out.

penalty shoot out example

I also use this activity after a vocabulary or grammar test.  

Activity 2: Team correction

  1. First students look at the answers they have incorrect and do their corrections in teams while I monitor, guide and check. (To avoid students simply copying each other’s correct answers, they are not allowed to exchange tests and they must follow the protocol DDD (discuss, decide, do) for every question. In this way nobody can race ahead and students are either teaching or learning the correct forms.
  2.  Then the team divides into two smaller teams or pairs and exchange tests.
  3. Looking at the other team’s tests and using the example questions, they focus on the vocabulary/grammar structures the other team didn’t get right and have just corrected.
  4. If they remember the correction they score a goal, if not they miss the penalty.

I encourage students to provide explanations and repeat missed questions to encourage mastery.  This activity gets students to really focus on their corrections and not only their mark.

Revising/correcting in teams has lots of benefits for students and teachers.  It provides ample opportunities for peer teaching and learning and especially in larger classes allows the teacher to check that all students understand the target language as they are free to walk around class and monitor students.  It promotes teamwork, collaboration, cooperation, communication, negotiation, problem solving skills…

An important consideration when doing an activity like this, however, is student grouping.  Is it better that students are grouped homogeneously or heterogeneously for an activity like this?  Quite often this will depend on group dynamics. It is important that students feel comfortable with their teammates as they will be sharing their tests with each other in order to correct and “test.” My students usually do these activities in the cooperative learning groups that we establish each term, as, by the middle of term groups have usually established a good working rapport (but not always!)

For many, the summer holidays will soon be upon us and revision, tests and correcting will be but a distant memory (for a while anyway…)  However, until then, give your students all the opportunities they need to revise, revisit and recycle language until it truly becomes theirs.

And, if you’re a footy fan, enjoy the World Cup 😉

Penalty shootout cards

Revision questions

 


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Flipped learning meets cooperative learning #2: student-generated materials

One of the biggest considerations when you flip learning is how to best use class time. When I first started flipping classes, most of my attention was focused on the individual space (in my case the instructional videos my students watch and the accountability tasks they do)  Although it’s important that this side of FL is well thought out and presented, the group space is where all the magic happens…

It didn’t take me long to realise this and as soon as I did, I turned my attention to thinking about how best to make the most of it.

As a big fan of cooperative learning, I’ve been trying to incorporate some of the cooperative learning strategies my students are already familiar with to practise content delivered in the individual space.  Some of you will already know that one of my favourites involves nothing more than a ball of wool (no it’s not knitting, although I have been known to knit the odd thing) Flipped learning meets cooperative learning #1: the spider’s web  

I am also a fan of using student-generated material and when I heard Tatiana Golechkova’s talk on Using student-generated activities in class: problems and solutions at IATEFL 2018 I immediately thought “group space.”

Usually I post about tried and tested (by me) activities, but,  I have to admit I haven’t tried this one yet. However, I thought it was such a good idea for a group space activity that I’d share it anyway.

Task

Students create and share quizzes to practise target language.

Procedure

After checking understanding of content delivered in the individual space and clarifying any doubts in the group space, students work in teams to create a quiz based on the target content to test their peers’ understanding.

Students should be familiar with types of questions they can ask. You can provide models of questions depending on the content. You may want each team to prepare different kinds of quizzes e.g multiple choice, matching, closed test, true/false, fill in the blanks, open-ended questions…or all teams to prepare quizzes which include a variety of question types.

Your role will be to monitor, advise and guide students to create appropriate quiz questions.

When all teams are happy with their quiz, they can share with their peers.  I suggest setting up different stations for each quiz which teams move around, completing their classmates’ quizzes. You can set a time limit if time is limited or allow teams to work at their own pace.

For the answers, I suggest:

  • teams hand in their team answer sheet to the relevant station for correction at the end of the activity and each team member of that station can correct the other team’s answers

or

  • if you think it is more opportune that students receive immediate feedback, teams can prepare an answer sheet for their quiz which is made available when a team completes the quiz at that station.

Alternatives

One alternative is for students to create a digital quiz using a tool like Google Forms. Students can then create the quizzes in teams, pairs or individually and they can be easily shared with the class.  Think about how many different quizzes you will have for one content area!

Another alternative is for students to create quizzes on different content.  My idea is to use this activity to revise for the end of year exams.  One team, for example, creates a quiz on the present simple, one on the present continuous, one on the past simple etc… When teams have created the quizzes, they can move through the different stations revising content from the whole year.

Another option is to provide students with a rubric for creating the quizzes and to give them a mark for their quiz as part of their formative assessment. I think this is a good idea anyway even if you don’t grade their quizzes,  as clear guidelines (the rubric) help students to create high quality material.  Rubrics can also be used for peer evaluation of quizzes. Is the quiz too / very / quite easy/difficult? Are the instructions easy to understand? Are the examples clear?  etc…

I would also encourage students to leave their doubts/questions about the content at the station for their “expert” peers to resolve after the quizzes have been completed.

If you choose to set up this activity as a cooperative learning activity rather than a traditional group activity (as I intend to), students should be clear of their respective roles and responsibilities within the team and a rubric provided for self and peer evaluation not only of the final product (the quiz) but the effectiveness of their teamwork.  As a number of teachers at my school use cooperative learning strategies and activities in class, my students are already familiar with expectations regarding teamwork and the protocol for self and peer evaluation. Also the teams, and individual roles within teams are established at the beginning of every term.

If you choose to integrate  cooperative learning into your classes I highly recommend investing time in setting it up and preparing students for it in order to achieve optimal results. It is not something most students will do well without the appropriate “training.”

As I said, this activity is not tried and tested yet, but soon will be.  Stay posted for an update 😉 In the meantime I highly recommend Tatiana Golechkova’s talk which considers both the advantages and disadvantages of using student generated materials in class,  An evaluation of the use of student-generated materials by H Brown 2013 and Use of Student-Generated Questions in the Classroom teachingonpurpose.org 2016.

 


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Self-evaluation: a tool to help students achieve their full potential

Keeping students in the dark leads to confusion, frustration and stagnation…

The end of the first week back after Easter and we (my students and I) are all getting back into the swing of things.  The focus this week has been on going over the end of term self-evaluations and setting objectives for this term. This is something we’ve been doing for the past few years since I realised that some of my students weren’t progressing, not because they didn’t want to, but because they didn’t really know how to.  

Also, some of my students used to drive me crazy when it came to giving them their end of term marks.  Tears, tantrums, the silent treatment, I’ve experienced it all.

“Profe I don’t understand why I got a 7 when I got an 8 in all the tests!”

“Profe you can’t be serious, I got a 5 in all my tests and I’ve failed!?”  

Despite (in my case) tests accounting for only 50% of the final mark each term, they seemed to be the only marks that students remembered; understandable when so much emphasis has been placed on testing and exam results.  

We (educators) set out our criteria at the beginning of the school year, outlining our expectations and explaining how we will calculate their final mark and then quite often leave them to get on with the job…

Most students’ objectives are either “to get a better mark” or “to pass.”  The problem is that they don’t always know how to get there and the guidance they need isn’t always explicit enough (or it certainly wasn’t in my case.)  I wanted to help my students achieve their objectives but I also wanted them to see that their objective (“to get a better mark” or “to pass”) was a consequence of achieving other more specific and individual objectives depending on their personal situation.

My first challenge was to make them understand that the tests/exams we do are only a part of the learning process; that they are important, not because the results of these tests are what determine their marks, but because they provide evidence of learning and understanding and inform future teaching and learning.  Tests/exams influence students’ marks to a greater or lesser degree depending on teachers’ criteria, but they should not (in my humble opinion) determine them. Tests/exams help students and teachers alike identify strengths and weaknesses (individual and collective) and help in setting learning goals.  There are many more things, however, that we do inside and outside of class which, together with tests/exams, determine students’ final marks.

All this was crystal clear to me but how could I get my students to understand and remember this?

After posing this question to myself, I came up with a simple system of self-evaluation to address these issues…

At the beginning of term 1 students:

  • copy the criteria in their notebooks
  • stick a copy of their Learning Record in their notebook
  • set their objectives for term 1

Throughout terms 1, 2 &3:

  • On the Learning Record sheet, students copy their marks for tests/exams and continuous assessment exercises, activities and tasks including any merits or demerits they get.  If students copy down their marks as when they receive them, at the end of term there are no surprises as they have a record of their progress throughout the term.
  • Students revise objectives (copied into their notebook from the self-evaluation form)

Students are encouraged to regularly revise their objectives to check they are achieving them or at least working towards achieving them.  A general checklist is displayed in class which reminds students what they need to be doing throughout the term to make progress and reach their full potential.

End of term 2 & 3:

  • Students complete the self evaluation form to reflect on their progress and set objectives for the next term.  

I found that in the beginning students were having difficulties setting objectives.  They were mostly “get a better mark” “get a 10” or quite simply “pass.” I decided to change the self evaluation form in order to make setting their objectives easier.  Now we have a key and number system.

Key: 0 = never,   1 = hardly ever, 2 = sometimes,   3 = often, 4 = always

Students answer the self-evaluation questions and when they get to the objectives section they look at all their low scoring questions and convert them into objectives e.g

Did you complete exercises in class?            0      1       2      3       4

If they answered 1 (hardly ever) they know that this is something they need to improve. Using this system has really helped students set specific objectives which will help them progress.

I collect the self-evaluation forms and add any objectives they may have forgotten before they copy them into their notebooks.

In the final term students complete the self evaluation using google forms and at the beginning of the following school year we look at the class answers and reflect on common problem areas eg not handing homework!  (I am thinking that I may go paperless next year and do the self-evaluation in google forms every term.)

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The self-evaluation form is based on my criteria for my secondary school pupils in Spain. Everyone’s criteria and therefore self-evaluation questions will be different depending on their teaching context, syllabus, priorities, country etc.

Since using this simple system of self-reflection and self-evaluation,  I feel that my students are now much more aware of what they need to do to progress in order to achieve my objective for them “to reach their full potential” and their ultimate objective “to get a better mark” or “to pass”  (whether they do it or not is another matter!)  Also, there are fewer tears and tantrums and a lot more recognition of their own responsibility in the learning process come the end of term and report time 😉

 

 

 

Question marks


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The Question Box: Recycle vocabulary and grammar

– “Teacher, we haven’t done this”

– “Yes we have, cast your mind back to last term, last month, last week…” (in some cases!)

Sound familiar?

Aware that we are covering a large amount of content (defined by the curriculum) and that a lot of my students cram for exams then promptly forget everything they studied until they cram for the next one,  I’ve been looking for ways to revisit and recycle vocabulary and grammar.  And thus The Question Box came into being…

question box

The Question Box lives in the classroom of its owners (the students) waiting to be called upon at any opportune moment… The Question Box belongs to the class, it is the students who determine what goes in and what comes out.

Similar to the Word Bag concept, students write a question on a slip of paper to ask their classmates using vocabulary and/or grammar structures we are studying or have studied. Questions are checked by peers and/or the teacher before posting in the box.  Questions can be formulated individually, in pairs or in groups.  

Revising and recycling vocabulary and grammar with The Question Box helps students develop oral and written accuracy and fluency.

These are some of the ways we’ve been using ours…

Activity 1

  • Warm up/cool down…

At the beginning of class to get in the “English” zone. A 5 minute question/answer session to warm up as a whole class/in pairs or in groups.

The question box can also be used at the end of a class if you have 5 minutes to fill.

Tip

Some of you will know I’m a fan of Wheel Decide for, amongst other things, choosing students at random to answer questions. I also have an envelope with all the students’ names in for the days when we have no internet.

This can also be done as a Think-Pair-Share activity.  Students are given time to think about their answer to the question, discuss it with their partner and then share with the group.  Alternatively it could be done as a Three-step interview.  Students form pairs and interview each other then from a new pair and report their findings from the original interview to their new partner.

Activity 2

  • Round Robin

Using the cooperative learning strategy Round Robin all team members answer the question from the box. When all team members have answered the question, they prepare a one sentence summary for their group

e.g:

Do you like going to the beach?

Summary:

We all like going to the beach / Three of us like going to the beach but one of us doesn’t / None of us like going to the beach

How often do you study?

Summary:

We all study everyday / Three of us study everyday but one of us only studies the day before an exam.

Variations:

Using the same strategy, students write a (10) word answer practising complex sentence structures and linkers to develop written fluency.  Teammates revise and edit each other’s answers.

This can be done in pairs within the team if some students need support.

This activity can even be extended to writing a short paragraph in response to the question.

Each team can choose a different question from the box to discuss.  When teams have finished discussing their question using the Round Robin technique, they can move to the other teams’ stations to answer their questions.  The recorded answers for each team can them be read out by the designated speaker for each team when all questions have been answered by all teams.

Activity 3

  • Speed interview

Pick (5) sentences from the box and prepare the answers for a speed interview. Students make 2 concentric circles and discuss their questions with the person facing them.  When time’s up one circle moves one space to the left or right and students repeat the activity with their new partner (instead of concentric circles you can put students in two lines and they move down the line)

Students can write up their findings depending on time and objectives.

Activity 4

  • Guess the questions.

Individually, in pairs or in groups students answer the questions (spoken or written) and their partner/team/classmates guess what the question was.

Activity 5

  • Who am I?

Students adopt the persona of a famous person or even a classmate and answer questions from the box as that person.  Their classmates guess who they are.

Activity 6

  • Truth or lie?  

Students choose a question for a classmate to answer.  They can tell the truth or tell a white lie. Their classmates try to determine if they are telling the truth.  They can ask more questions to help them decide.

Tip

Prepare “tell the truth” and “tell a white lie” cards so students can’t change their mind about whether they were telling the truth or lying!

Any of the above activities can be used with fast finishers who can pair up or work in groups.

The Question Box encourages students to take some ownership of their learning. The box belongs to them.  It is kept in their classroom.  They are responsible for the content. Students could even design their own activities to do which involve using the question box.

As we know, learning a language is not linear, students will learn, forget and relearn vocabulary and forms.  They need multiple opportunities to encounter and engage with the language to be able to retrieve it and use it effectively.  The Question Box provides endless opportunities for revisiting and recycling language 😉

 

google classroom


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Flip learning with Google Classroom

This post is kind of the 3rd installment in my flipped learning “diary.”  Some of you will know back in February last year, I got very excited about flipped learning (Why flipped learning has got me excited.) after completing the EVO sessions.  I consequently started to dip my toes in and test out the water until last September when I decided to flip learning in earnest with one class.

At this point, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, brimming with confidence and enthusiasm, having done lots of background reading and completing the Flipped Learning Certified 1 course.  I was all “badged up” and ready to go…

In October I wrote a post about getting started, Flipped learning and we’re off…  I worked hard to get students on board and got in touch with parents to explain how flipped learning worked, the benefits for teachers and students and their role as parents in the flipped learning model.  I received no opposition from parents or kids, so far so good 😉   

Then came the dreaded slap in the face.  I knew it would probably happen but I wasn’t prepared for it to happen on such a large scale.  First assignment, only 14 out of 25 students did their prep for class (and despite my optimism, things didn’t get much better.)

This is how that post ended back in October…

Now, I’d like to say there’s a happy ending to this story, however the story is just beginning…
Things are looking up though, I’ve just assigned the next video task and although the deadline isn’t for another 2 days, half the class have already done it ….. so I’m feeling optimistic 😉
The only way is up…. (surely?)

Unfortunately it wasn’t.  I continued to struggle to get students to do the prep on time.  I tried to find out what the problem was…

  • Were the videos too difficult, easy, boring…? No.
  • Were the tasks to check understanding/accountability tasks too difficult, easy, boring…? No.

I came to the conclusion that the majority of the students not doing the prep just weren’t used to doing their homework (copying their classmates’ exercises at breaktime before class wasn’t an option anymore!) For some students it was a case of being so disorganised they were forgetting what they needed to do or where the task was, and if on the slight off chance they remembered and decided to do it, they couldn’t because they’d forgotten their one of many logins for different classes/platforms/apps etc…

I have to admit I was feeling pretty defeated.  Week after week of the same thing happening was getting exhausting and I was feeling alone and miserable (I’m a lone flipper at my school.)   I talked to some colleagues and asked for advice.  Would they continue in my situation?  Was it a lost cause?  Should I just go back to traditional methods after the Christmas holidays?  The one response that really resonated (and which was probably meant to steer me in the opposite direction) was Is it really worth it?  That’s when I was finally able to pick myself up, dust myself down and get on with the job…

Yes, it was!  I just needed to find a solution to the problem…

Fortunately I’d just received news from Google that our application for an upgrade to Google for Education had been successful.  That meant that I could now use Google Classroom.  Could this be the solution I was looking for?

And so a new chapter began… Continue reading

wheel decide


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3 more ways to use Wheel Decide

Back in 2016, I wrote a post about using Wheel Decide, a free online spinner tool.  This tool has proved to be a favourite amongst my students and makes a frequent appearance in class.  It has the power to transform something quite mundane (like a gap fill exercise) into something quite exciting.  

In my original post I shared 5 ways which I am using Wheel Decide to enhance teaching and learning in the classroom.  In this post I’ll share 3 more ways that I have used this tool successfully with my students. Continue reading