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

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Students Get Serious About Bullying

Each and every year of our program, I still get genuinely excited at the start of the second semester.  After a long and tiresome first semester, in which the primary focus of our syllabus is building our students' core English language skills, we return from the mid-year holiday break, and our attention turns to building academic skills and the importance of group work through three different thematic-based units.  

The first of which is based upon There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom, written by acclaimed children's novelist, Louis Sachar.  This is a story of a young fifth-grader named Bradley Chalkers who is a loner and a terrible student.  Because of his serious lack of belief in himself, as well as receiving minimal pastoral support from his family, Bradley turns to bullying his school peers in order to make himself feel better.  It isn't until a young, unorthodox school counselor named Carla Davis begins to take him under her wing that Bradley gradually starts to change for the better.

Although much of the novel does center around the personal growth and change in Bradley, my colleague and I decided that our core target while teaching this unit would be bullying.  As educators, we have become all very aware of the prevalence of bullying in schools all around the world, and the terrible consequences it has on those affected.  Even in our own private high school in an outer suburb of Istanbul, though physical bullying is rare, mental, verbal and cyber-bullying all do occur on a regular basis.  

So, with this in mind, we wanted to first remind our students of the seriousness of bullying,  teach them the different types, the consequences, as well as the reasons behind it through the use of various videos and non-fiction articles.  One video I highly recommend that you watch and discuss with your students is called the Bullying Experiment, made by a couple of university students in the U.S.A. Check it out below...

The Project

After spending around two weeks discussing the various aspects of bullying and what we can do about it, we assigned our students a group project that they would work on autonomously in and outside of school time for the following two weeks.  Their task was to create and promote their own Anti-Bullying Campaign which they would not only present to us, but also, in conjunction with our counseling department, present to the middle school students. The only requirement that we gave them was that they had to use one or more ICT tools to create their projects.  For example, they could create their own bullying scenarios and record them on IMovie; they could create their own Stop Motion videos; or they could make promotional posters on Glogster.  

The key, we believe, is that we gave them the freedom to be creative and produce whatever inspired them about bullying.  This also left us to be very curious about what what they would come up with, and in the end, several of the groups left us speechless...

Emre and Kaan

Despite waiting until the last couple of days, this group made a massive effort in producing their own Stop Bullying website using wix.com.  The image below is the home page of their site, and you can see that they included the different types of bullying, how to stop it, and the reasons why people get bullied.  Finally, they even add a link to a video about bullying that they thought gave a great message. 


Gözde and Mina

The other example of a magnificent group effort that we would you like to share with you is these two students decided to make their own IMovie about two girls... one is the bully, and the other is the victim.  Using only strong facial expressions and short messages on cards, they explain why children become bullies, and how it feels to be a victim. We were simply blown away by it.  Have a look at it below...

To be quite honest, I was definitely worried a few days before the deadline of the project.  When asking the students where they were in terms of getting their presentations ready, many admitted that they still had lots of work to do.  I was thinking at that point that leaving them to their own devices was probably not the best idea.  In the end, however, they had all proved me wrong. 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


Have you ever wondered where toilet paper originated? or Do we get wetter in the rain when we walk or run? or the old classico, What came first, the chicken or the egg? 

So I came across this really interesting book last year, written by Andrew Thompson. The publication is packed with curious and interesting facts that we all take for granted, and probably never really think about it.  The way Thompson has laid it out, and the simple explanations he uses means EFL students at around pre-intermediate/B1 level can grasp the content and do some non-fiction reading.  Here are the other chapters in the book, first:

So, you can see that the list of topics is really quite extensive.  The activity I thought about using, and has now become an integral part of Wednesday mornings, is one student each week presents one topic to the class.  They have to make a blendspace of what they highlighted, write two or three EQs, then have an open-ended class-discussion on what they have learned from reading the article.

I chose the topic above since there was a really great thing that happened on the first week of the activity.  One of our really inquisitive boys, Rüzgar, had chosen this topic since he really wants to study science in high school.  So, this physics type of question was perfect for him.  So, he went away and did all the that was asked of him, and he came back excited about what he had learned.  While he was presenting our Deputy Principal looked in to make an announcement.  But, when he saw what Rüzgar was telling the class he took a seat.  Mahir, the DP, is also a physics teacher. So, now Rüzgar was presenting to his future physics teacher, and he had many facts to impress him.  It was brilliant to watch both the excited student, and the willing science teacher engaging in the subject. It was also great for me tıo take a back seat and see another teacher at work on my lesson. 

The really great thing about having Mahir in the class was that he really knew the subject
before, and he came up to the board, posed some other questions, and made diagrams
to explain the topic even more.  It was wonderful to see the students learning science in English, and normally the activity lasts fifteen minutes, but this time we were engrossed for forty minutes.  It was great to have some collaboration with an administrator, and also the science department.  It was a clear example of how important it is to share such activities with other departments, so that more solidarity between all parties is developed in school.

Monday, 24 March 2014


Carl Reiner's 1979 comedy masterpiece, The Jerk, is still one of my favorite films of all time.  The Reiner-Steve Martin co-writing, directing and starring is so clever in ever respect, the irony of the title could never be more striking.
Basically, Navin (Martin), has grown up in an African-American family thinking he was born Black.  He has no rythym, his favorite meal is a Twinky and a can of Tab, but he has no sense of purpose for his future.  That is until one night while listening to the radio his toes start to keep beat to the music.  Then his whole body and mind find 'it' as he realizes his purpose; in fact, his SPECIAL PURPOSE. 
The way Reiner and Martin have weaved the satirical plot to address so many US cultural norms such as Southern folks,  African-American families and their habits, people with learning differences and stereotypes of Jews, Blacks, hookers, carnival workers, drug dealers and big money men is superb. 

This is the reason I wanted to show my students the idea of having a PURPOSE for doing anything in life, and the lesson went like that.  I am sharing it with you along with the clipped vidos I prepared, then you can read some student responses after the clips.

I also prepared a Blendpsace tutorial should you wish to follow my lead in your class?.  I find the Blendspace platform to be versatile, simplistic and really effective.  It eliminates so much of the formatting issues associated with Power Point.


The film opens with Navin now living on Skid-Row.  He then starts to tell the story and it cuts away to earlier in his life, and how it all began...


This shows Navin finding his SPECIAL PURPOSE through music from the radio. One of the funniest scenes in a movie, ever, for sure.  I only wish Steve Martin could recapture some of what he had back then..


Navin decides he has to leave home, go out into the world and there he will find his purpose.  The metaphor and comic imagery will have you howling; while, at the same time, you can convince your students that they need to have a purpose and especially one for their education, if they're serious about doing well at school and university.

These clips are all included in the Blendspace, plus there are some questions for you.
We had the students write a response for THEIR OWN PURPOSE, and you can see jpeg snips of them below.  In line with our PLN-EDMODO policy, we don't edit or correct responses, as we prefer to let the students write freely for general L2-practice. Therefore, you can see some errors of syntax; however, they do not generally affect the communicatve meaning for the reader.

I hope you can use The Jerk as a springboard to having your students consıder the importance of having a Special Purpose for doing anything they are assigned to do. The responses are clear in their message and although it may appear to some that it is a bit over the top to get students to consider this, I firmly believe teenagers need such direction and "purpose".  If anyone would like to leave a comment regarding the Jerk, the format or even the activity & content, please do so. We would love to hear from you.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Are You in a Dilemma? This Will Fix It...

We are all faced with dilemmas at some or many stages of our life.  The fact that we have these tough decisions, and usually have to deal with them ourselves, does not mean another one won't pop up whenever we are not expecting it.  So, when you point this out to teenagers, and you get passed the translation (it took quite a while explaining it to our Turkish students), you can start to hear some pretty good situations, stories and anecdotes.

We have just finished our peunultimate novel, and a link to a previous activity we did on it, There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom. The book is perfect for teenagers as it highlights so many teenage issues, behaviours, parenting, schools and education, insecurity, sibling rivalry, bullying and peer-acceptance. As a final activity for the book, we came up with the idea of incorporating grammar through dilemmas faced by the book's characters as a way of practising the structures the students had been learning side-by-side with the book.  The three main areas of new explicit grammar were:

3rd Conditional:  If I had known you were so horrible, I wouldn't have sat here.

"Regret" + Gerund:  Mrs Ebbel regrets turning to Bradley and telling him to shut it.

Wish / If only:  Bradley wishes he hadn't broken his toy dinosaur.
                         If only he hadn't shouted at his dad. Everything would be okay now.

However, before getting to the the final part of the lengthy activity, we did lots of scaffolding exercises, as well as of course, reading the book.  The students would then be expected to use their prior knowledge of the constructions, and recall information with what came out in classroom discussion regarding the dilemmas.


We gave the mechanical constructions of each grammar part, in typical fashion (p-p-p + visual/video springboards) over a period of two weeks. Apart from the visual references, drilling and practice found in their grammar reference book, Top Grammar, we also had them create a google doc and write out personal situations that typically need these grammatical components to work.  This was done over the same two week period, thus the students could go back via the google drive service, amend their original efforts, and more importantly have a digital record of what they had written.  Here are two examples of those:


The students are split into groups.  They are then given page numbers from the book, and asked to read the dilemmas already chosen by us from the story.  The groups then work on each dilemma and discuss possible suggestions using the appropriate grammar. Once they are happy with their suggestions, they come up to the whiteboard, and under their group they write out the suggestions.  

The student writing is clearly enjoying the activity.

Two boys from her group eagerly look on, as one dictates.

All groups go back to amend their already written suggestions. 

  • The focus of the finished suggestions is first the grammar, then logic and finally punctuation and spelling.
  • The teacher then checks each one quickly, and marks next to the sentences which errors or problems there may be with the suggestions.  
  • The same groups are then allowed to confer with their peers and make changes.
  • The teacher then checks again.  If there are still problems, the needed corrections are opened up to the whole class.
  • Once every group's answers have been amended and corrected, the activity is done.

The activity, a variation on a classic ELT lesson, also uses the support of ICT (google drive, i-reader).  However, it is the classic style of getting up off the seats, going to the board with support and confidence of the group as a whole that makes this very enjoyable for both students and teachers.  In addition to them discussing the book's characters, they get to think of soulutions for dilemmas, while at the same time practice the grammar of English.  I doubt whether any teacher could say this type of activity is not better than gap-fills on photocopies.  But, hey if there are, please leave a comment below and we can have a debate...

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Touchcast is now even cooler with video backgrounds!

Fellow ESL and other teaching colleagues around the world... if you have an IPAD, and are looking to integrate more technology into your lessons, or adding 'flipped classroom' videos for your students to follow after school, there is a free app that you simply have try out.  It's called Touchcast

Nowadays, there are tons of apps out there that enable you to make short videos from your IPAD, but I have yet to see one as cool and quirky as Touchcast.  This app allows the user to make up to five-minute videos with the effects that make it look and feel like a real news cast.  You can add a title frame, which has a running news banner across the bottom, not to mention you can import pictures and websites onto your video in real time.  These, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg.  There are so many more features in the app, one of which is the focus of this blog post.  However, before we get to that, if you aren't too familiar with the app, I strongly suggest that you take a couple of minutes to watch the following introductory video of Touchcast by its founder...


My colleague and I have been so impressed by the app that this is, in fact, my second blog post on it. In my previous post (which you can reach by clicking here) I wrote about a project that we began in semester one, called a Peek at the Week, where we had a different student from the class make a Touchcast video about the upcoming assignments and projects for that particular week.  To give you an idea of the project, here is an example from last semester...

For us, the Peek at the Week project was a huge success.  The students had never seen a video like it before, and all of the feedback from other teachers and parents was all extremely positive.  The problem, however, is that we teach 14 and 15 year-old students who seem to get bored of just about everything.  Just the other day, for example, a student wanted to play a song that he really liked on his phone for me.  After about 20 seconds of listening to it, and again this is a song that he really liked, he changed to the next song.  When I inquired as to why he had changed it, he said that it was because it was the best part, and he usually only listens to songs for his favorite parts.  

Anyway, the point being is that after a six-week period of making these weekly videos, most of the class became bored of them. It was only interesting to them if their close friend had featured in the video.  Therefore, we decided to take a short break from the project, and return to it in the second semester.  Luckily for us, three amazing things happened during this off period... 

To begin with, and the whole purpose of this post, is Touchcast introduced some magnificent new features to the app, the coolest being video backgrounds.  Now, just like a news program, you have the ability to put any video, either your own, or any video from the web, into the background of your Touchcast.  Just watch how easy it is to do, again from the Touchcast founder, by clicking on the image below.


As soon as my colleague and I watched the tutorial, we jumped at the chance to make a new video.  However, in the process of trying it out, we quickly realized that we needed two essential items for making a Touchcast with a video background.  First, you need to have at least an IPAD 4 or above, and second, you need to have a proper green screen in order to make your video come out looking professionally.  At the time, we had neither.

Then, just by chance, we ended up getting both of these things last month.  My colleague, David, needed to upgrade his IPAD2 anyway, and did so during the semester holiday.  Furthermore, unbeknownst to us, our computer science department had ordered a green screen for anyone in the school to use, and it arrived just a few weeks ago.  Now, we were in business!   

We decided to go back to our Peek at the Week project, but instead, this time getting another student in the high school to be the news anchor.  In addition to providing a nice change, it would also give our preparatory students someone to look up to, as the student we chose, Deniz G., is a very successful 11th grader with fantastic English skills.  So, without further ado, here is our first attempt at adding a video background to a Touchcast video...

We had so much fun putting it together, and we have gone on to make several more.  In fact, we are even adding a Touchcast video to our next exam for listening comprehension.  If you are lucky enough to have a new IPAD and access to a green screen, give it a try.  It is worth it.

Sunday, 16 March 2014


The debate these days in many ELT departments is whether it is feasible, justifiable or even worth the effort to continue with literature as the primary resource for teaching English to Turkish teenagers.  I, being an opponent of such curriculums, at least as the main resource, have been at loggerheads for years trying to make foreign national teachers realise that most Turkish students do not have to learn English in this way. Although there may be data out there to justify its inclusion, and how it gives a deeper understanding of English and love for reading to the masses, I believe the conclusion of researchers has never been made by asking Turkish students whether they feel the same way about our classic literature base, especially if they are expected to wade through dense prose as young teenagers.  In fact, the vast majority of Turkish students that I have met don't want to read in their mother tongue, let alone in English.  So, it is necessary that we start a paradigm shift with regard to this, and try to make English a much more interesting and enjoyable experience by using the English novel as the support-tool for learning our language, not the only tool as a means to helping Turkish teenagers develop their skills in English. 

I came across Mud City, written by Deborah Ellis, a children's novel  based on a young Afghani teenage girl who, after running away from her family in Kabul, dreams of travelling to France, where she will find her ultimate happiness.  So. we are taken on a road trip with Shauzia, the protagonist, and her trusty canine friend, Jasper.  Throughout the narrative the audience is exposed to the horrors and experiences far too many children from that region have to live day in day out.  The author has included 37 different issues, problems and attrocious situations that the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan have suffered since the 1980s.

Not wishing to only read the novel and do comprehension and Essential Questions, I came up with the idea of using the novel as a springboard for students to do research based on the 37 social, polictical and human issues I identified from Ellis' novel.  
Below is a list of the 37 thematic considerations I found in the book.

We numbered the topics.  Then the students gave us two numbers from which two topics they received they had to choose the one they liked the most to research.  The final research and presentation topics were as follows:

The first layer of scaffolding is to give background the book, country and foreign policy. This is taken from Ellis' own chapter on a very brief history of the Afghanistan conflict since 1980.
The students read the three pages of information, and then they are given a TRUE/FALSE quiz based on those three pages.  This is done on Edmodo, our class PLN..
After the quiz, the students are to be given a blanl map on A3 of Afghanistan and the border of Pakistan.  They will then be required to plot the cities and regions of the countries as a further layer of scaffolidng, this time for geographical setting.

The students are assigned to read the first two chapters, which is around 20 pages.  It is so important that you only get them to read in short chunks.  We like to do a couple of chapters at a time, normally, as it gets them hooked or keeps them interested.  We always follow up those bite-sized reading chunks with group comprehension sheets in class.  Oh yes, the reading is NEVER done in class, ALWAYS in the library.
  Here is a breakdown of the activities, actions and learning outcomes

As the students read and work through the book, we will also assign time for them to get on with their research of the topics assigned to them.  Since they will be making two posters, two presentations and two imovie trailers, it is imperative they have school time.  We cannot get this generation of students to go above and beyond the call of duty for homework, so if you can't beat em....class time is allowed as long as it is used effectively and not wasted.  This requires consistent monitoring, and although we don't want to smother them, and that they remain autonomous, we are not naive enough to think they will do it on their own.

This post is the pre-task and project description.  In three weeks I will update it with the students' imovies and presentations.  I

Here is the video that has the students imovie trailers:

Now here are the students' powerpoint (googledrive) presentations via URL-DROPBOX links

And here are the students in action on the presentation day put into an IMovie trailer for your enjoyment!

Finally, here is a student's written response (Gözde Ç) about her experience...

Wednesday, 12 March 2014


Teaching 14-15 year olds for 24hrs a week is not only exhausting, draining and, at times annoying, but also it offers one, (so old now), the chance to really connect with how their minds work; which is, I must admit, rather surprising at times.  Because of the 24hrs, it simply cannot be a copy of the old teacher-student dichotomy of, "US & THEM".  Those days are gone for me, and we, as English teachers, also have to get down to their level so that we can make that connect.  Of course, we must set the boundaries with structured frameworks, so that things can run smoothly, but on the whole we manage to get results (for most, not all!).
In consideration of that we are expected to be interested parties for the students as PASTORAL CARERS as well as the teachers who give them the mechanics and inspiration to motivate them into reaching B2 after one year of instruction.  So, along the way you are faced with bored teenagers.  What do you do?

The question posed at the end of the last paragraph is one we ask oursleves every week, and we search for new and quirky, interesting and challenging activities we hope the students find worthy of their time.  On the weekend I came across an interesting story in my Twitter feed that caught my eye. Andrew Whyte, 39, from Southsea, Portsmouth in the UK, takes a lego character with him around London for a year.  He then takes pictures from the perspective of the little character.  The results are inspiring.

As teachers we know that in order to engage any learner, we must make a connection to the students own world.  We have to find ways of convincing them that anything we tell them, show them or make them do has a purpose for each of them, indiviually, no matter what; otherwise, they won't enter into the activity, or idea you have spent time preparing.  This activity lends itself, to me, as one that teenagers will find interesting. We can also show their mastery of the present simple and past with continuous constructions also in there to make it a useful ELT tool and EFL activity. I came up with the following:

Teenagers are well reknowned for their petulance, indifference, dissent, anger, frustration, irrational desires and hot flushes, right?  These are the emotions we all have, of course, but they are particularly accentuated during adolescence.  So, they also feel depressed, manic and scunnered with their humdrum existence.  They really do live in the teenage rat-race, and feel like they are bereft of any way out.  That is why I felt that a good way to show those (genuine) feelings was to record a week in their lives through quirky pictures.  They have to take one photograph, each day for one week, then present
it to their peers.  The quirky part comes from following Andrew Whyte's model of using a toy figure to show parallels to their own lives.  This way, psychologically, it masks their own bearing-of-their-souls-to-the-world by using that inanimate plastic character to represent themselves.  In addition, it gets them using English as the means of recording the activities when they present.  It also introduces perspective, a valid reason for taking photographs and shows their creative snap-taking skills.

Since we have found that BLENDSPACE is a fabulous ICT-ELT support platform to use with teenagers, the old days of powerpoint or keynote and prezi have been resigned to the bin.  Therefore, our student-presentations are now done using this effective means of getting their message over to their peers.  Here is our introductory presentation...


The proof of the pudding is certainly in the eating, so here we have a selection of our students images for you to see how they roll, and to prove it is possible to get into their minds, and under their skin for positive outcomes.  We believe you'll be impressed... 

Well, there were seventeen students who were supposed to do it, and they did. HOWEVER, for many different reasons (their excuses) it was only these three boys who took the whole activity seriously; and it shows!  The others were badly thought out, not well-taken or the pictures had flaws of reason.  So, we gave these boys 92 from the criteria and the rest ranged from 85 down to 10!!  You can't win 'em all, but it is so nice to see teenage boys, instead of it only being the girls, making an effort in order to grow for high school.