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

Monday, 28 January 2013

ROBOT & FRANK Is it Really About Technology?

Having just watched the excellent movie Frank and Robot, directed by Jake Shreier, and starring Frank Langella, I just had to write a post about how you could use it as a springboard for quality personalized answers to questions I have thrown together.  I don't want to critique the film per se, but suffice to say it is worth seeing and it certainly complements a relaxing holiday, if you are fortunate enough to be on one like me, & most of Teacher-Turkey.

The reason I think it is a movie that can get your students' cranial juices flowing is down to the sub-plot/theme that runs throughout the narrative.  Although we see the Robot come into Frank's life, and what he has to do to become friends, it is the sub plot of Frank's children and their unwillingness to sacrifice their own time for the sake of their ailing father.  His son is a busy guy in the city with his own life, and his daughter is half way around the world constantly travelling. His wife had left him 30 years previously.  However, Frank is starting to show signs of Alzheimer's, or some other elderly component, which makes for a thought-provoking experience for the viewer.

The film clip below is the first time that Frank meets his Robot "Butler".  You can see that he is living a life of a typical bachelor male (ageing or otherwise), and he is in a state of disrepair.  Set in his ways and lonely, Frank does not take kindly to his son dumping the robot to help him do chores, nor is he happy with his daughter who calls only now and again, and usually gets cut off from presumably Facetime or Skype (although there is no branding which I found refreshing).

Anyway the clip is designed to focus on the neglect of parents and grandparents by  selfish, uncaring off-spring.  This seems to be an ever growing problem all over the world, or is it?  This clip could be something your students find alien, or very common for others.  In Turkey, the care of the elderly is still primarily done by the family.  There are very few old people's homes, or retirement homes like there are in Britain and the USA.  So, wherever you are, the questions I have prepared below could act as a nice way to get your students discussion this rather sensitive and emotional subject.  

Strangely enough, I was reading a tweet tonight and the teacher was bemoaning the fact the Common Standards are moving away from these type of questions.  I was appalled.  This type of question is undoubtedly the best way to get students engaged.  They should not be droppped or ignored.  They are so important, and of course include more textual type questions, but these must stay.  It gives our students a voice and a sense of self for the classroom environment. (You see, there is always another reason for a post :-))

Sunday, 20 January 2013

BLENDSPACE: Reaching Out to Those Visual Learners

While sifting through my daily 400 Tweets yesterday, looking for anything interesting to help encourage more student engagement, I came across this new platform for presenting materials, BLENDSPACE (formerly known as Edcanvas). I was very impressed by its ease of use, quirkiness, and overall functionality. I will explain below how to use it through some screen shots, and then share with you a grammar lesson I made on another platform, but have now switched the content to Blendspace.

First you need to sign up as either a teacher or student.

Once you have done that it is a case of getting started on making your own canvas for sharing with your students. In fact, there is a short tutorial the platform makers have included, but I didn't even need to open that because they have made it so teacher-friendly to go it alone.

So you click on New Canvas and you are asked to give a title to your project. In this case, Mixed Conditionals, and Men In Black 1,2 & 3. On the right of the platform you have options for searching through all the most common media search tools from Google to YouTube, Flickr and Vimeo. In this case, YouTube is my chosen platform since I am using three movie trailers from the MIB franchise. 

 After typing in the film title the optioned videos appear. You simply slide the video over onto the canvas, and hey presto, you have the video ready for presenting to students. However, there are rows of three boxes which you can further fill with information or more visuals. So, what better than to make some questions that will get your students to respond to the videos. So, by tapping on the box, the option to write text is activated. You can see that I have prepared questions in mixed conditional forms, so that my students can see how they are written, used as questions and then they are expected to respond using conditionals themselves. 

Happy with the questions I realized that I would do well to introduce the activity by an image of each movie trailer. So, back over to the search area I went. Google images comes up automatically, and I typed in Men in Black.  All you do is slide the image over to the appropriate box. I decided to switch the video out and place it in the second box, thus leaving the first box empty and available for the picture. I now have my first row of activity stimuli in 

                    1: An HD picture that can be used as a predictive prompt
                    2: The video itself
                    3: The questions I want students to work n and respond to.

In the case of MIB, I have the option to add parts two and three.  But, you could add whatever is necessary to complete the activity you have given

Now, that you have your canvas, you can share it across Twitter, Facebook, Edmodo or as an embedded code in your blog. There is also the option to send the link via email, but I think posting it on Edmodo, my class PLN will act as an even more affective option. Now my students have access to it and it is a great add on to my homework paradigm, and one that my students have responded favourably this morning.

I believe that BLENDSPACE is going to become very popular with teachers and students alike. This blog goes out to the awesome developers who posted this yesterday on Twitter. I also want to thank them for their tweet they sent to me where they thanked me for their interest. I guess this post is like a thank you to them, and I really hope you try it out for yourselves.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Music-Videos are Much More Than Just the Lyrics

I remember when I started teaching ESL around twenty years ago how much I enjoyed lessons I had prepared for using songs as a means to engage students in listening for ESL purposes.  In particular, at that time, since it was pretty "cutting-edge" due to the introduction of pcs and the word processing options we had, as teachers, literally at our finger tips, gave us the ability to make quality documents that had gap-fill activities employed as the way to go with listening comprehension.  The students loved it, the concept was born and it became ubiquitous for all language teachers.  Course book writers and publishers jumped on the band wagon, and every teacher I knew bought into the methodology.  However, now, after such a long time of no advances in the genre of Music-for-ESL-listening, it is much more difficult to get students interested in that activity.  A typical sense of overkill in the ELT-sense comes to mind.  So, how better for me, with music in mind, when my colleague and I came up with a new way to approach songs in the language classroom.

I will describe below the new approach to songs in the language classroom for you all to adopt as a quality and engaging way for your students to use.  What's more we have prepared 50 different songs which are available on our blog TO THE RIGHT.  The songs are from many different genres and touch on various thematic considerations for you to share and work with in your classrooms.  The document has been organized into themes, so it is easy for you to choose the right file to download. 
NOTE: The powerpoints work best by using Office 2010 

The first step is to choose songs that have a connection to the themes of your program.  Otherwise, it is just another song, with no real sense of purpose and learning outcomes, let alone Student UNDERSTANDINGS.  The list we have compiled, thus far, focuses on themes related from Celebrity and Fashion to Social Concerns and Bad Parenting.  However, what makes the videos so useful for us, at least, is the mini powerpoints are designed and supported with two analytical models as the basis for reflection and analysis of the themes presented: SPRE (situation, problem,repsonse,evaluation) and SCASI (setting, character, action, style, idea).  The two models are not included in each presentation of the songs.  In fact, we have tried to keep the more literary type of songs for the SCASI model, and the songs that have a story to tell use the SPRE organizational framework.  

Once you decide on the song title and video you want to use, you should have, of course, made your students acquainted with each model of organization for analytical reflection and/or response (also available in posts on our blog).  Below are two examples of very different songs for you to consider as viable choices when trying to get over your thematic message or just to initiate quality critical responses from your students, both verbally & through writing.

Before you have the students watch the video, they should predict what the song's thematic message is about, by considering the SPRE model.  

Then they watch the video and listen carefully to the song.  Next they should answer the accompanying Essential Questions in the following slide.

The second video example for you to consider is based on the SCASI model of organization.

Just like the first example, but this time SCASI, you get the students to think of the song title.

Then they watch the video and listen carefully to the song.  Next they should answer the accompanying Essential Questions in the following slide.

What we can see from this new(ish) activity is that we have students really engaged in the video, but also further willing to focus on the subject matter they are doing in the other activty; whether it is reading, writing or discussion subject they are already involved in.  The nice thing for students is that they think past the song and look to the lyrics and thematic meaning.

Does this mean we believe in deconstructing every song that students are ever likely to listen to (and enjoy in their free time)?  OF COURSE NOT!!  But, in a strategy designed to get students more involved and engaged in textual or visual analysis in the context of typical academic contexts, this method may go some way to get more students engaged.

We hope that you try out this type of activity, so that you can see more student engagement in your ESL/ELT classes. Enjoy the already made ppps on this blog.

Watch, Listen and Tell: A Speaking Activity

Imagine this situation... You are teaching your students a new grammar point. You have introduced the topic via a PowerPoint presentation or by writing on the IWB, and your students have taken lengthy notes. Afterwards, you go through a page or two of practice in the grammar book. While you're checking the answers, you begin to notice that the classroom environment has gone rather flat. Students begin chatting to each other in their native language, they start rocking in their chairs, or they stare at the clock just hoping that the break time is coming soon. Then, all of the sudden, you tell some of your students to stand up and bring their chairs to the front of the class. You tell them to place the chairs in a row, but facing away from the board. Finally, you assign each of these students a partner, who then comes to the front of the class and stands directly in front of his or her partner.

At this point, the mood in the class has without doubt changed positively. The students are excited to be away from their desks without any materials, and they are curious about what they are going to do. You then explain to them that you will play a short video silently.  Since the students sitting down are facing away from the board or screen, they can't watch the video. Plus, by turning down the volume, they really won't have any clue as to what the video is about. Therefore, it is up to their partners to explain to them what is happening in the video!  Moreover, with all of the pairs speaking at the same time, the students truly have to listen carefully to their partners, or they will miss out.  To wrap things up, the students sitting down then have to relay the information they got about the video back to you, the teacher.

This is an activity that we call Watch, Listen and Tell. It has been a successful activity for us on days such as the one mentioned above. After doing several 'classic' academic tasks, such as grammar drills and sentence production, it is energizing for students to get up out of their seats for a bit and get ACTIVE.  It truly does change the classroom atmosphere in merely seconds. In addition, the students have the opportunity to practice several language skills at the same time.  First and foremost, it includes speaking and listening, not to mention the importance of teamwork. On top of that, though, you can structure it in a way to practice grammar or talk about the themes of a given book.  It all depends on the type of video that you wish to use.  That is the brilliance of the activity.  It is all in how you ADOPT & ADAPT it to your needs.

A Recent Example

To give you an example of how we have recently used this activity is when we taught the Past Continuous tense.  As stated above, we introduced the tense to the students via PowerPoint, and then completed several practice activities with the grammar in their books, and by sentence production.  We then introduced Watch, Listen and Tell.  

I decided to use a video that is several years old about a group of guys in Japan who are playing a card game in a library.  It seems like a routine card game until one of the players loses and is given an interesting punishment.  As they are in a library, they are not allowed to make any noise, and that's when the mayhem ensues.  The punished wants to shout, while the others are trying their best not to laugh at him hysterically.  It continues with even more and more interesting punishments as the game goes on.  You can check it out just below!

The reason I chose it is that it is extremely funny and engaging for high school students.  They simply couldn't believe what these guys were doing in the library.  Secondly, it gave the students a fantastic chance to practice both the Present Continuous and Past Continuous tenses.  While the video was playing, the students were allowed to use either/any grammar tense necessary to get the information across to their partners, but typically they used the Present Continuous tense to describe what IS happening in the video.  However, once I stopped it after only a minute or two, I then asked the students who couldn't watch the video what WAS happening in the clip.  Thus, they had to reply to me using the Past Continuous tense.  Finally, the partners swapped places, and we continued to watch a few more minutes of the video.

All in all, our students really enjoy doing this activity.  It is a great activity for those times when the students are a bit sleepy and need to get up out of their chairs. The bonus is that, even though it is fun for them, they do get to practice their listening and speaking skills.  However, it should be noted that the teacher needs to strictly state that only English can be used in the activity. Several students have a tendency to switch back to L1 whenever they can't describe something properly, or when they lose sight of the purpose of the activity.  Any students who constantly break the rule should immediately lose the chance to participate.  Whenever they are aware of this, though, students truly do try their best to use English throughout the activity, and that's all that we should expect of them.  After all, it is something fun that only comes along once in a while.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Grammar Speaking Circles

My colleague and I love teaching grammar. It may sound strange, indeed, because we know many of our colleagues complain about it.  They say that the students find it boring.  Grammar, like any subject, can be boring based on the way you teach it.  If you only teach straight from the grammar book with lots of gap-fills, it's not going to be engaging at all.  My colleague and I, though, are constantly looking for more interactive activities, whether classic or ICT-driven, in order to get the grammar point across to the students. For example, you can check my colleague's recent post on introducing the present perfect tense with James Bond. This post, however, is about a more classic activity that we do from time to time to get the students talking to each other and pushing them to use the new grammar point, yet in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Simply enough, we call it Grammar Speaking Circles.

Before class begins,  my colleague and I produce question cards that focus on the grammar that we are currently teaching.  The key, though, is not to only focus on the grammar.  We try to make the questions personal and about a topic that the students are likely to be interested in, like music, movies, sports, etc.  This way, the activity feels more relaxed as if we are just having a conversation, and the students will expand beyond simply answering the question.  To give an example, we recently had a grammar speaking circle on the second conditional.  Here are a couple of questions that we made:

Later, when class begins, you get the students to sit in a circle.  Each student is given one or two question cards, depending on how many students and how much time you have to spend on the activity.  My colleague and I typically give each student one card and spend about 20-25 minutes with the activity.  Then, students take turns asking their question to the group.  The teacher's job is simply to act as a facilitator and make sure that every student gets the opportunity to speak.  The teacher can also push students to expand on their answers.  As in the example question above about listening to only one song for the rest of your life, you could ask the students several follow up questions, such as 'Why is that your favorite song?', or 'What does that song mean to you?'  Again, the reason to have the speaking circle is to practice the grammar topic, but the main idea really is to just get students talking.

To sum up, it just so happened that a few months ago we were having a grammar speaking circle in class when an English professor, Michael Stout, from the University of Tsukuba, came to visit us.  He was simply blown away by the engagement and involvement from the students.  He couldn't believe that this was a grammar lesson.  Students were actively trying to use the grammar, but also talking to each other and not only to us.  He said that this type of activity would be difficult to do in Japan because students are more afraid of speaking in a group atmosphere there, so I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky in that respect.  It was an amazing coincidence that day, and it was so enjoyable sharing some of our practices and teaching methods with him. I truly believe that if you try this activity a few times, your students will enjoy it.  Our students now get really excited when they see it on the board as the upcoming day's activity.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013


ESL teachers in Turkey are only too aware of the difficulties we face when we try to teach the Present Perfect tenses to locals.  It is unclear as to why it proves to be so difficult to get the time-frame over to Turkish students, but since there is no exact comparative tense structure for the perfect structures in their mother-tongue, it may have something to do with the difficulties we incur every time we try it.  However, I feel that I may have come with a shaken-not-stirred part-solution for teachers to get their teeth into with students and make them engaged in the difficult structure: JAMES BOND, 007 and SKYFALL, which was shot in Istanbul.

Although I normally teach fifteen year olds at my school, I have a 40-year old neighbour who I tutor in my spare time.  He started at zero English, and it has been a tough job getting him used to everything related to English.  He came to the table with "old-school" perceptions of teaching, so those approaches have played a large part in our time together.  However, I do like to throw in visual imagery in order to get him to think past the gap-fill exercises and translation methods he always seems so happy with.  Although I know they have been proven not to work, I feel in his case they have a part to play.  It is what he expects, and so each time I have tried to wean him off it, he has become irritable and frustrated.  By, that won't put me off, and tonight I hopefully showed him that by not doing it the way he has preferred for the past year, he can see some real progress.

I started him off with a image of the structure so that he could see the time-frame. I always like to use this with all my students.  It makes perfect sense (pun totally intended) to me, and it has had some success over the years.  Then a few examples of what a typical sentence looks like in its grammatical form:
I worked through the things he has been doing that day and that week etc...This was the first lesson approach, and he did find it tasking and difficult to grasp.  That was why I came up with the excitement of James Bond in Istanbul to see if it would make a difference. 

FIRST of All,  I gave him around twenty verbs first in their infinitive form and he converted them to their participle form in preparation of using the Present Perfect Simple tense and, of course, the infinitive form would suit the Present Perfect Continuous tense forms.

SECOND, we started watching the first thirteen minutes of  SKYFALL, with the intention of stopping every few minutes to record the action he has been watching

 THIRD, my 40 year old student started making sentences in the context of the narrative.  The first few are basic formations, then he, himself, asked to pause the video so he could report what he had seen. His engagement was infectious[click on the pic to enlarge]

Finally, after we had a short break, we returned and he started to expand on his one sentence efforts and made mini paragraphs.  He was smiling and really enjoying himself.  I felt that impressed with his efforts that I asked if he minded whether I took these pics.  He was over the moon that I would want to post up a blog based on his work.                       [click on the pic to enlarge]

The lesson came to an end, and it had rushed by.  Both of us had a look of serious FLOW. Now, although I am used to having considerable success with my teen students and video, this was the first time it had really connected with this student.  However, I am sure that videos like this will continue to interest him and help him to push his own boundaries and self-confidence.  At the end, he asked me to witness his recording of both papers into his IPHONE recorder.  I am sure he will be listening to his own sentence constructions on his way to work tomorrow.  I only wonder if he will feel like a Bond-styled Martini after this evening; because I know I feel definitely more Shaken-AND-Stirred...