Our Educational Message

Hi, and welcome to our blog. This space is designed to share ideas and methodologies that we use to teach Turkish teenagers. In particular, there is a strong focus on ICT-ELT, which means if you like visual and technological support for your style of teaching, this blog is for you. My colleague, Brentson Ramsey, has been working alongside me for three years. He is also a big proponent of the ICT-ELT Paradigm, which means he will also be posting from his own teaching perspective on the blog.

2010 was the beginning of this new journey, and although there is no definitive ICT-ELT road map available for everyone to follow, it is exciting to explore the technological means to make teaching more fun and affective for students. Our main message is for teachers to ADOPT & ADAPT the paradigm shift for their own needs, and remember that

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Weekly KWL Essential Questions

As educators, there are probably two questions that we hear most often from students throughout the academic year, and I am sure you are familiar with them. Although, 'What time does the lesson finish?', certainly ranks in the top five as a question you know only too well, it didn't make the top two. Another, 'What is the next lesson?', is also a strong contender.  But, surprisingly instead, we have, 'What are we doing today?', as our top finisher, and coming in second place is, 'Why are we learning this?' Of course, this is not a scientific study by any means, but in our high school English classroom, these two questions are what we are hearing several times daily, and they far outweigh any other. 

While the first question is one that pushes our patience, since we post our daily program on the board first thing in the morning, we actually enjoy hearing the second question. From the very first day of class, we encourage our students to ask, "Why?". Not only does it get them to critically think about what they are learning, but it also encourages us to give a proper explanation.

With that in mind, my colleague and I came up with a class and homework activity that gets right to the heart of what and why we are teaching each week. At the beginning of the week, when we have finalized our weekly plan, we write down two or three 'why' questions based on the most important topics or thematic units we are teaching that week. We not only post them in the classroom on Monday morning for all the students to see, but we also share them with the students via Google Docs. We call this activity: Weekly Essential Questions.


Step 1: After making your weekly plan (We recommend a brilliant online lesson planning website called Common Curriculum), think about what you expect your students to learn during the week. Then, come up with two or three questions based on the activities that you are doing, as pictured above. Of course, you can write down as many questions as you wish. It can certainly be more than three. However, my colleague and I prefer to focus on a limited number of topics so that the students can concentrate on those.  Furthermore, we try to focus on 'why' questions, but they can also be questions beginning with how, when or what. The main idea is that you avoid 'Yes/No' questions so that the students must provide an answer with reason.   Another goal is to get students to think about how they are going to connect what they have learned to their life.  That is when 'real' understanding takes place.

Here are some recent questions that we have asked our students:

When do we use the simple present tense?

How it is beneficial for me to check Edmodo everyday after school?

Why do we always do silent reading in the library instead of the classroom?

Step 2: After brainstorming and finalizing your essential questions, we highly recommend making a Google Doc.  The major reason for this is that Google Docs are so simple to share with colleagues and students, not to mention saving lots of paper. In our format, we type the essential questions at the top of the page, and include a classic KWL chart at the bottom, the reason for which will be explained below. We then make a copy of the Google Doc for each one of our students and share it with them first thing on Monday morning.

Step 3: Procedure on Monday

In the first lesson on a Monday, my colleague and I open the Google Doc on the classroom IWB for all the students to see and read.  We introduce the essential questions of the week and then have a small discussion about each one.  Primarily, we focus on the first two sections of the KWL chart; what the students (K)now about the topics, and what they (W)ant to know.  After chatting for a few minutes, we then have our students open their computers and fill in the K and W sections of the chart.  Once they finish, we examine a few of them and check what the students have written.

Step 4: Weekend Homework

During the last lesson on a Friday, we then remind the students of the essential questions of the week, and that it is their weekend homework to fill in the final section of the chart, what they have (L)earned.  The benefit of this is that visit the essential questions twice a week, and they can more easily realize what they have learned about the given topics during the week. We further explain to them that we expect this part of the KWL chart to be filled in properly.  We give our students until 6 p.m. on Sunday to complete their KWL charts on Google Docs. As they do, we give them feedback on their answers.

Here is an example of a student's recent work:


It may sound like a hassle and a lot of extra work when doing this activity week in and week out. However, once you try it, we promise that you won't regret it. In fact, it is just an extension to your already planned week ahead, and requires a few more minutes formulating the questions for posting on the wall and sharing a Google Doc with your students.  When I think back to my own high school years, I used to constantly ask myself why I was being made to "learn" certain things. Why was doing what we were doing necessary? I wish I had had a teacher back then who would have explained the reasons to me. And even more importantly, got myself to ask the right questions and autonomously find the wright answers. 

For certain, this activity will not completely eradicate the banal, irritating and vapid questions normally associated with most teenagers' questions. That is just part of the adolescent brain it seems. But, these questions just might give them a sense of what and why they are learning the subjects we are teaching, as well as what they have learned in the process.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Is Digital Native the Proper Label? Simple Answer: NO!!

I presented at the Istanbul ESU conference on Thursday and represented my school.  It was a genuine honor to do so, since getting one's school to admit they need PD is often not an easy job.  Well, that used to be the case at the last place I worked, but thankfully, my current place of employment has a very hands-on approach to professional development, especially ICT PD.  However, this post is not about PD.  It is about labeling kids with the wrong thing, or anything for that matter; but, in particular, the use of "DIGITAL NATIVE" for young people.  Before my rant starts to gather steam, please watch this awesome short video.  Well awesome, that is, until the minutes 2:02-2:06.  See for yourself.

Now just as I warned you, the video is brilliant, right?  It is a true reflection and perception of education in today's world, with facts and figures and the only solution is ICT.  Well, maybe the message isn't all about ICT as the savior of our children, but it does definitely lead you to think that way.  However, I used it in my presentation because I liked how it had comments from children talking about what they want, need and expect to get for their time in education.  That to me is awesome when students start to properly believe that they are the ones who can change their education, and we are definitely starting on the road (again) towards ICT as a part-solution to our needs.  My own message is that ICT is not a solution, part or otherwise, it is a TOOL, and should always be considered so.  But that is for another day.  For now, I want to focus on "DIGITAL NATIVES".

According to Wikipedia:

A digital native is a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technologia and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts. Alternatively, this term can describe people born during or after the latter 1960s, as the Digital Age began at that time; but in most cases, the term focuses on people who grew up with the technology that became prevalent in the latter part of the 20th century and continues to evolve today.
Other discourse identifies a digital native as a person who understands the value of digital technology and uses this to seek out opportunities for implementing it with a view to make an impact.

I really have a problem with this definition. It basically covers everyone born since the middle to late 60s, or people who grew up at the same time as the first Microsoft desk top, or even more unfortunate, someone like MYSELF: "...a person who understands the value of digital technology and uses it to seek out...etc etc."  I know that Wikipedia is not to be fully trusted on first read, and it is there for me to contest with better sourcing and definition, but surely we cannot possibly be expected to accept that everyone is a digital native as long as they were born during the height of the Beatles?!  No way!!  But, my rant is not about Wikipedia's definition.  It is about the misuse of Digital Native to describe young people at school.  

I teach classes of students born in 1998.  YES! 1998!!! And I have to try and get them prepared for a life of English at high school.  My main focus is English, but I have the fortunate task (no irony intended) of also integrating students with ICT-ELT.  This has been an extraordinary awakening of two years for me battling with technology and compatibility of emerging systems, but mainly it has been a huge undertaking to get these thirteen year olds able to use a normal, run-of-the-mill netbook.  A mini lap top, in fact.  A gadget that is very functional on Windows and is only slightly bigger than an iphone 5, (well eight times larger, but you get my drift that they are small).  

Let me tell you, that has been the most difficult part of addressing young Digital Natives (now irony is on the desktop!) From both intakes last year and this, 2012-2013, there has been one in each year; both boys.  The rest fall into several other categories ranging from football fanatics, shopaholics and procrastinators who simply don't care what a netbook does apart form access Facebook, Youtube and Video Games like World of warcraft.  In fact, even the two boys who have been identified as the only people capable of being labeled "Digital Native" also came to school unaware of the basics; it has just been that they pick it up very quickly, and don't need telling twice-one hundred times.

It took my colleague and I eight school days to instruct our students on how to access files, save files, passwords, sign ups for sites, our PLN , writing journal and sending email. Eight days means we were together for nearly forty periods.  Of course we did teach English as well, but this can put it into some sort of perspective that they have no awareness of what is going on around them, so they forge ahead exploring, making errors, getting lost and ultimately giving up.  This has been when we, as the teachers, came in and had to retell the basic instructions. Surely, if Digital native was an a accurate label, those kids would have come already aware, kitted up for our ICT-Language bootcamp.  But NO!! They have not been, and I don't see it changing even remotely soon.  Children are skeptical that they can actually benefit from it.  Their initial reaction was, and has been, leaning towards only having short-term fun on the device.  One can only concur that education has clearly never been a consideration.  

So, I propose DIGITAL EXPLORER as the new and accepted lable for teens and computers.  Kids love to explore the internet for things that make them shocked, first, and laugh, second.  They are definitely experts at FB, YouTube and ─░nteractive games, but I know that they are not comfortable with the tech-side of things.  That has never changed since I was at school.  So, lets not kid ourselves. It is up to us to make them sound in their practices so that they can really benefit from all the hoo haa about ICT-ELT.  I love the fact we have this opportunity, and if, by doing more to encourage students getting on board in my lessons, I am all for keeping them interested and exploring for more.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Interactive Flipbooks: A Quirky Way to Read

Let's face it. The majority of our students don't like reading. Not at all. Even with all the cool gadgets available, which allows to keep thousands of novels in one place, students are just not interested it seems, but I empathize with them. I also wasn't into reading in high school. With playing sports, doing homework, watching my favorite television shows, and keeping up with friends, sitting down and reading for pleasure just never came to mind. It wasn't until college that I discovered reading can be fun and interesting.

So, what can we do? Our suggestion is to get ICT involved. According to statistics, young adults and children read more on their IPads, tablets and mobile phones than they do from books, and that number is only going to increase in the coming years.  Whether right or wrong (I also love buying books), we are going to have to use technology to teach reading, in order to keep up with the times. It probably won't make your students enjoy reading, but it might engage them for a bit longer.

Interactive Flipbooks

If you have been teaching for a few years, you probably have lots of short stories in Word document form that you have printed off for your students. I also used to have hundreds of photocopies made every week. Well, here is one way to reduce the number of copies you make, in addition to getting a little more technology in the classroom. We call them  Interactive Flipbooks.

Simply put, there is a brilliant website called flipsnack.com that automatically converts your documents into a visually engaging flipbook on the net. It even makes a quirky sound when your turn the page.   On top of that, you can also add any external links from different internet websites, which would then make your flipbook truly interactive.  As your students are reading along, they could click on a link, and it would automatically take them to a site to further improve their understanding of the text.  For instance, if you are reading a short text about bullying, you could add a link to a Youtube video that could be a real-life story of bullying and how it affects people.


If you are keen to give it a try, just follow the steps given below:
1. Prepare your reading document on Microsoft Word as you normally would.  However, for best results, you should make the font size at least 26 or 28.  It will expand your documents by several pages, but it will make the document much easier to read, especially if you are planning use a projector.

2. Include any internet hyperlinks that you want.

3. Save the document as a PDF. You do this by clicking on File, then Save As. Click on the little arrow, and then there will be an option for PDF. However, this option is only available on the least versions of the Microsoft Office Suite.

4. Go to flipsnack.com, sign up for free by using your Facebook, Twitter, or Gmail accounts.

5.  Click on New Flipbook, and upload your PDF by clicking the Browse button.

5. After uploading, click Next, and then you can choose the cover and background color.  There are several options to choose from.  We enjoy using the coil flip.

6. Click Finish, and copy the URL link and share it with your students. You should also save the link for yourself for future use.  Then, of course, have a look at your newly made interactive flipbook!


We have also prepared a video tutorial showing you these same steps.

Again, these interactive flipbooks are not going to solve the huge problem today of children who don't like to read.  Nonetheless, it is likely to be something that your students have never seen before, and that will engaged them.  It may even get them excited about reading for a bit. Just make sure, as noted before, that if the font on the original Word document is too small, it will be difficult to read on an IWB or projector in front of the class.  Thus, make sure that you use a large enough font before converting it to a flipbook.  Furthermore, it is even more effective if you students have their own laptops or tablets in the classroom.  That way everyone can read it easily, and at their own pace.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

QR-CODES: A Real Opportunity for Engaging Administrators and Students

Every once in a while something comes along that captures the interest of the many rather than the few: the spacehopper, the rubiks cube, space invaders, facebook and twitter to name but a few. Now, we think the new 'fun' thing to emerge in the past eighteen months that is going to make a huge impact on our lives is The QR CODE. 
QR Codes are fast becoming everywhere in our lives from supermarkets, to airports, corner shops to hug shopping malls, and as smart phone technology gets on the bus for keeping ahead of the game and qr code readers now an integral part of any 'with it' user's hand set, the opportunities for using the codes are limitless.  Apple are talking about the new iphone 5 promoting the codes for tickets, shopping and even money transactions as one of the major new upgrades to their new ios and forthcoming mobile.
So, we thought we would introduce the quirkiness of the codes to our upcoming new intake of fourteen year olds next week.  However, it is the interest the activity has created with our colleagues that has spurned me on to write this post before we have even tried them with students.  Let me add that of course we realise we are relative "johnny-come-latelys" to using QR Codes, but we just want to share the fabulous reaction we have had thus far.
The activity is actually an extension of one we did last year  when we had students go around the school to find and meet administrative personalities with whom we had already okayed the activity by dropping them an email explaining the whole thing. It was hugely successful, and when I saw QR Codes being promoted on several tech-ed tweets and blogs, it struck me how we could bring the activity into 2012 by incorporating the technology. Below is a step-by-step explanation of what we have planned on doing during our first week back at school.


Find administrative colleagues who are willing to participate enthusiastically. Your school has scores of people who are in favour of participating in meeting students, and equally as important, in love with the idea of the ICT-in-ELT Paradigm.  We have found that it is always beneficial to send a detailed email of the activity first, and then a follow up face-to-face confirmation that they are committed to giving up their time, albeit in this case, very little time, for the activity. This supports the idea of appreciation of other's time in your busy school.

Preparation of the QR Codes for each administrator. We contacted our IT manager, and asked him to send a PHOTOGRAPH of each person we had already asked to participate. The pictures are in the school archive and easy for IT to access and send them via email.  Once you have the pictures you can then go about making the QR Codes.  This is where the fun starts as you go about utilizing the technology and making the activity a reality.

Now that you have the pictures at your disposal, you now need to transform your picture into a URL. We decided to use GOOGLE DRIVE  for this since it means the pictures can be changed at any time, if perhaps the person is off sick.  Once you have the picture uploaded on google drive and added onto a blank document, you can add a PRESENT SIMPLE QUESTION for the students to ask the administrators.  We prepared the first question for the students, but the next one they have to make the question up in their pairs.  This makes the students work towards producing authentic questions independently.

NOTE: Since we are at the beginning of the school year, our focus is on the Present Simple classwork we will have been doing during the days leading up to the activity. Therefore, the students will have been presented the grammar, practised it on several levels before they venture out to meet and use it with confidence and aforethought.

The google drive document is ready, and url can now be uploaded to make your  QR Code.  We chose KAYWA simply because it is first in the google search.  However, it has proved to be very efficient and easy to use.  Three clicks and you have your code ready for saving on to your desktop.

Use Kaywa to generate QR codes for free.

The fifth and final stage is how you get the activity over to the students.  The administrators will be put on a list, each with a number.  You assign a number to each pair of students.  This is their starting point for completing the task.  Students are required to visit two administrators on the list.  Here is where the QR Codes come in.
We will have sent the code for the next person in line to the administrators.  Once the students ask the question they have learned by scanning the QR Code on the class wall with their mobile phone (see code at the top, try for yourself), they then get the next person to visit by scanning the person's laptop screen which has the next person's QR Code displayed.  Once both pictures have been scanned and the answers to the questions written down either on their phones or in their notebooks, the students return to class and we collate all the data and get feedback.
Feedback is further entered into with students being asked to complete a MINI QUESTIONNAIRE also made on Google Drive's survey facility.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Interactive Worksheets: An Easy Move to ICT

My colleague and I have been using ICT in ELT full-time for the past two academic years. One thing we have realized over that time is that when you think you are up-to-date with what's going in the world of ICT, you're not anymore. Day by day, there are new programs, apps and other materials coming out on the web. It can be a frightening thing if you are just getting into ICT. You have probably been bombarded with tons information already, and you might be feeling confused on where to get started. If so, this post is going to show you a simple, yet effective way to welcome ICT into your classroom.

Why spend your time at the photocopier?
As English teachers, we have all become incredibly efficient in making worksheets, whether it be for grammar, reading, writing, or vocabulary. You probably have a pile of them sitting on your hard drive from over the years, just like us. We particularly make a lot of worksheets for the readers and novels in our course, some of which are nearly 20 pages in length. Year after year, we printed all of the reading worksheets out, and took them down to the photocopy assistant to have them made into booklets to hand out to the students. You know the routine well, I am sure.

Then, one day, while I am in the midst of getting the booklets copied, I asked myself, why am I doing this? Why am I using all of this paper when I don't need to? If I make these worksheets on our computers, then why couldn't our students fill them out on their netbooks? From there, the idea for the interactive worksheets was born.

Sounds easy enough, right?  However, just to give these worksheets an extra ICT kick, we decided to add hyperlinks throughout the Word document, essentially making it a central location for all of the worksheets, PowerPoint presentations, vocabulary lists, Youtube videos and any other relevant information already prepared for that particular unit. 

  An Example

One of the major units of our curriculum is the novel, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, by John Boyne, as pictured just above.  As you can see, on the very first page, even before the students begin reading, we have placed three links into the worksheet.  

The first link leads our students to the Essential Questions we expect them to answer by the end of the unit.  Even though they have not read the book, nor are aware about the themes of it, we believe it is still highly beneficial for them to read the questions, as it gives them insight as to what the entire unit is about.

The second link leads the students to the opening PowerPoint presentation that we use to begin the unit.  It gives the historical background to the novel.

The last link, as pictured above, is the first set of vocabulary items the students must learn before reading, as it will assist them in understanding the novel.

To view the full-length interactive worksheet for this unit, click HERE.


For Dropbox, upload and copy the public link.
In Google Docs, your settings should be set as such.
To prepare such a Word document, you first need to gather all of the vocabulary worksheets, PowerPoint presentations and links to any other media that you might use during the given unit.  

Next, you should upload these documents to the cloud, be it through Dropbox, Google Drive, or SkyDrive.  

Once uploaded, you should first make sure that the    settings are set to public, so that anyone with the link can access the documents.  Then, copy the links and insert them into your main Word document. Finally, to make the links stand out differently, we place them in a text box with a thick width.




Reasons Behind The Effort

Despite being a cool and innovative way to present the worksheets to your students, there are several reasons for preparing such worksheets.  To begin with, it is all about TRANSPARENCY. As soon as the students receive the worksheets, they can see what they are expected to complete throughout the entire unit.  It doesn't matter to us if they go ahead and click on the links ahead of schedule.  They will make them even more prepared when the times comes to complete that particular activity.

Secondly, by including all of the links into the worksheets, your unit will now be that much more ORGANIZED.  For example, let's say at the end of chapter two, you want to show a short clip on Youtube.  When the day comes, you might forget. Now that it is in included in your worksheet, you can easily see it and just click it when the appropriate time comes.

Finally, it is all about NO EXCUSES. Since the students have downloaded the worksheets onto their computers, there can no longer be any excuses about how they lost their paper worksheets, or how they forgot them at school or at home.  They might try the excuse that they forgot their computers at school, but this doesn't fly either. The worksheet is always available on our PLN, Edmodo, plus they should always save a copy onto their flashdisk or in the cloud via Dropbox or Google Drive.

Grading Strategy

So, once you have the worksheets prepared and have introduced them to your students, what's the best way to go about checking them after you have assigned a section for homework?  You certainly don't want to receive 25 e-mails from you students in one evening and read them all.  Of course, you must do so when necessary.  However, one strategy that works well for us is to choose a students at random via the brilliant program created by David Riley, Triptico. Whichever student is chosen, he or she will send us their homework via e-mail, and we will then project their answers on the IWB.  This way, every student must be prepared because Triptico chooses them at random, even if one particular student has been chosen before. Then while discussing his or her answers with the class, you can walk around and check and see if the others have also completed the assignment.  

A Great Way to Introduce ICT in the Classroom

Again, if you are looking for an easy way to get started using ICT in the classroom, interactive worksheets are a simple, yet effective way to begin.  Your students will complete the worksheets on their netbooks or tablets, thus saving you from constantly making photocopies.  Furthermore, with the added links, it allows true transparency for students and better organization for your given unit.  Finally, students can no longer make excuses about not having the worksheets with them.  Give it a try, and we are sure it will be a positive step for you in terms of ICT in the classroom.

The CIRCUS: is this really entertainment?

Water for Elephants (2011) starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christopher Weitz is an excellent movie.  Set in the 1930s, it follows the lives of a travelling circus and the hardships the people had during the Great Depression.  However, I use the movie to highlight the horrible conditions and abuse animals had, and unfortunately still have, working for greedy and unethical circus owners.  The first two videos below are from the movie and show the cruelty of the circus owner towards his star act, but the third one  is actual footage from 2011 and how the abuse is still going on in circuses, all in the name of "entertainment".

Questions for your students:
  • Do you like circuses?
  • Do you think that they constitute real entertainment? 
  • Circuses were popular during the Great depression.  Why do you think that was so?
  • How does the fact many people were drawn to work such as this during the Great Depression tell you about survival and the human condition?
Now that you have thought about the circus and the Great Depression, we would now like to highlight something sinister that was going on in circuses: animal cruelty and abuse.


Questions for your students:

  • Why do people feel the need to control with violence?
  • Why do many humans think it is okay to hurt animals? 
  • Do you think there is cruelty inside all of us? 
After you have watched the circus owner show his method for control, now look at the next video where he resorts to horrific violence towards the elephant.

  • What is it that makes people take out their frustration on animals?
  • Describe why you think the owners workers allowed him to do what he did.
  • If you were there, how would you have reacted?
This last video is the most shocking.  It is so because it is actual footage taken secretly by an animal rights group.  It shows very shockingly the cruelty and abuse inflicted on an elephant who had the misfortune of being kept prisoner in a circus.

 [WARNING: the images you are about to see are truly shocking. DO NOT SHOW to children under 10] 

Although Ann the elephant has since been retired from the circus, she is no doubt in a lot of psychological pain.  Her trauma cannot simply have gone away because she is now retired.  You know that when you see an abused child or family pet, they are far from happy or normal.  They live a life of total misery every single day.  This is surely what Ann, and hundreds of other animals like her, are going through.

GRAMMAR & the use of modals:


  • What SHOULD we do to help these poor victims of abuse and cruelty?
  • What MUST we do to make changes to the laws?
  • What do we NEED TO do to get these people arrested and imprisoned?
An example sentence:

WE HAVE GOT TO start petitions and send them to politicians, so they can start the process of changing the law on animal abuse and cruelty.

Everyone, please write a letter showing your disapproval to David Cameron the UK Prime Minister.  If you live somewhere else that has exposed such practices then write to your own leader.  No matter where you are, if we get those people interested in the subject, things will hopefully change.