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

Thursday, 27 February 2014

There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom: WHAT A COMIC LIFE!

Our students are reading Louis Sachar's highly acclaimed bestselling children's novel, "There is a boy in the girls' bathroom."  Although many, if not most, students detest reading at school, we have found this title to be one that taps into the adolsecent-psyche. We can only put it down to its subject matter: sibling rivalry & bullying. 
Bradley, the protagonist, is a young teenage boy going through his indifferent and beligerent behavioural stage, where he hates everything and everybody; especially authority figures - like,  e.g., teachers.  As he experiences the consequences of his actions he utters this epic retort to Carla Davis, the new school counselor: "Nobody can hurt me, not even myself..."

I chose to share this quote because we, as adults and teachers know, he could not be further from the truth.  A teenager's biggest enemy IS himself/herself. So, with that in mind, and the connection to students reading at school, I believe that if students were more interested in connecting to reading lessons, and simply giving it a chance, they would benefit greatly from well-chosen books, interesting reads and the self-knowledge that grows from it.

We have found that one way of getting students to read on their own (WE HATE any classroom situation where a teacher would think it is ok to read pages and pages of a novel to their teenage students!!) is to instill in them the power of the inner-reading voice in the library.  By using an adapted style of S.S.R. (a previous post showing another  example of S.S.R.), a stipulated number of pages in 30 minute chunks, and carefully prepared worksheets that relate the characters to the students and their own environment, it opens up the possibility of getting the majority of your students willingly into the novel.  Furthermore, it leads to healthy class discussions, written responses and group work.   However, we feel that variety is essential with young minds. So, in order to alleviate the boredom that inevitably creeps in, we have come up with this ICT-Supported activity.

We have reached half way through the book.  It seemed like a good time for our students to reflect on certain parts of the book; in order to see which enduring understandings they had garnered and acquired as thematic considerations.

Therefore, we looked to see the SIX most important parts of our protagonist, Bradley's, demise through bullying.  This we felt was better identified by us, since it was to be the first time any teacher had asked our students to do up till this year.  The resultant table is below, and this was past on to the students via the BLENDSPACE of the activity.

We arranged the students into SIX groups (5x3 & 1x2), and directed them to the BLENDSPACE, so they could make this reflective activity totally intrinsic.  We reminded them we would not offer up any support, at this time, since we wanted to see how they could cope doing group work alone.  Below are the steps as a jpeg:

We gave the students 50 mins to complete ONE page of a comic.  Even though they managed to submit their group-efforts in that time, the standard was well below what we expected for this time of the year.  However, we took it as an opportunity to give feedback to each group on how they could improve their comic strips.  Here are the tips and feedback we gave them to make their first efforts better:

When I was giving the feedback in class there were visible signs from the majority that they were not pleased at the constructive criticism. I soldiered on, and convinced them to engage.  They then got a further thirty minutes to redo their comic life pages. You will see the difference...

Now, I know theye are not up there with the quality of Marvel Comics (a previous post about another comic book ELT activity)but at least they tell a message, and it is their own doing.  They got creative, eventually, and that was rewarding for us all.  I think the most important aspect of this activity is the reflective recall of the excerpts of bullying from Bradley in the book.  It gives students a more interesting and productive way for going back to the narrative, rather than simply looking at notes, highlights and annotations.  We hope you can try it out, and let us know...

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Hot off the Press! - News Video Monday

A few months ago, just a couple of days after the world learned of Nelson Mandela's passing, I had a short conversation with a former student, who is now in the 11th grade.  After sharing some pleasantries, I asked him if he had heard that Mandela had passed away over the weekend.  To put it bluntly, the reply that I got from him was something I simply could not have predicted.  First, he asked me who Mandela was, followed by his own question of, if I had heard that Paul Walker, the actor, had also passed away recently.  Was he really comparing Nelson Mandela and Paul Walker?  

Right then and there, for the sake of my own sanity, I realized that I had to get my students to be more aware of what's going on around the world. The majority of them rarely, if ever, watch the news on television, let alone pick up a newspaper.  Even though they all have smartphones and could download a handful of free news apps, they are frankly not interested.  On the other hand, as much as we want to blame them for being lazy and uncaring, we can't.  If we were to stop and think about ourselves at their age, we weren't interested in the news either.  I certainly wasn't, to be honest.

So, with all this in mind, I wanted to come up with a short project that would give the students a reason for checking out the news, and then presenting their findings to their peers.  After brainstorming with my colleague, David, we came up with something we call News Video Monday, where one student each week is assigned the task to find an engaging world news video in English, and prepare a Blendspace tutorial based upon it, for which they receive a project grade.  The tutorial requires the students to fill in six boxes on Blendspace, all of which will be explained through the very first News Video Monday presented to our class from Kaan.  He chose to make his project about the recent flooding in the south of England, as pictured above.

Note: The language used by the student in the pictures below has not been corrected to show total authenticity.

Box 1

In the first box of the tutorial, we ask the students to place an image that depicts the subject of their news item.  On Blendspace, it is easy to drag and drop Google images from the right-side toolbar of the website.

Box 2
In the second box, the students write an introduction to their chosen news item.  The key here is to give their classmates the basic information of what their tutorial is about. 

Box 3
The students then include the news video in box 3.  The video can come from any English news website, though they can also easily be found on Youtube.

Box 4

Next, we ask the students to come up with at least five discussion questions to ask their classmates after watching the video.  We advice them to refrain from asking surface questions, and focus more on open-ended essential questions that we can all talk about as a class.

Box 5 

In the fifth box, they must state their reasons for choosing this particular news item.  They should write about why it's interesting for them, as well as why we should all be aware of the situation.

Box 6 

Finally, the students are required to make a five-question multiple-choice quiz on Blendspace.  The reason for this is that we post the student's tutorial on our PLN, Edmodo, and after school all of our students have to return to it and take the quiz.  Moreover, they must also leave a comment and give feedback to the student who presented that morning, as pictured just below.  This gets all the students involved in the project, and gives them an opportunity to tell their classmate what they really thought of his / her tutorial.

Although it has only been one week since we began this project, I felt so inspired by Kaan's effort that I wanted get it on the blog as soon as possible.  It was clear to both my colleague and I that he spent at least several hours over the weekend making it, and it led to a engaging discussion on climate change.  If the upcoming News Video Monday projects are anywhere as good as this one, we are in for a very successful semester.

To reach Kaan's News Video Monday project on the England floods, please click here. 

Furthermore, another student of ours, Sima, presented her news tutorial today on the recent acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook, and that can also be reached by clicking here.

Finally, I would like to leave you with the most creative effort we have seen so far since we began this project back in February.  Our student, Sinan, asked if he could produce his own news video, as opposed to just finding a news video on the internet, and, of course, we permitted him to. We always love it when our students want to be creative and make their own projects, and we were simply blown away by what he produced on IMovie. Check it out below... 


Wednesday, 19 February 2014


When working with teenage Turkish EFL students in a private high school, Academic Writing is a very important aspect of the teaching/learning process.  Certificates like the European Driving Licence, although good for adults wishing to relocate to an English speaking country for work, it simply doesn't get students to the appropriate level for university should they wish to study abroad in places like UK, USA, AU, NZ, SA. etc...So, the duty of all EFL/ESL high school teachers is to teach ( not expect!) their students how to write essay-types from various genres in each of the four years of high school.  This should start at running personal narratives leading to mini-opinion pieces at the end of seventh grade, and then moving on to simple organisational models for academic writing that include discourse markers (for writing), expected norms of syntax and phraseology; but never too restrictive to remove the creative process and autonomous nature of personal writing.

Before I share the activity, I must vent a little about this subject.  Unfortunately too many of the teachers I have met in my double-decade here believe that students come to them equipped with the necessary tools to write well-organized essays. However, and naturally so, THAT IS NOT THE CASE!  The majority of, if not all, EFL students, and teenage native-speakers for that matter, have to be taught and shown how to organize their essay writing, and this takes a lot of time, plus great patience (on the part of teachers), as it is NOT an easy thing to do (for either party). So teachers, please stop just assuming that your young teenage students can write an organized essay for an assignment or exam, when they arrive in your class at the beginning of the year. It simply is not the case for most, and they need to have extensive feedback (preferably on more than one draft and with Video Feedback to boot) over a month for each piece of writing, and...oops, my vent is turning into a rant. 
I will stop here and get on with the activity that I want to share with you for now...

I am aware that what I am about to share with you is generally my answer for everything "engaging": VIDEO PROMPTS.  But, that is because I have found that it does offer a pseudo-solution to lethargic, bored and uninterested teenage students, and lead them into classroom-activity engagement.  So, although I can hear many of you thinking, "oh not again; not another video prompt; give them a story any time, it's better etc etc," please take a look at this short film from the mid-70s, which is based on Jack & the Beanstalk & is titled: This is the House that Jack Built.  

Please watch it below.  The lesson activity will follow..


The thematic considerations of this short movie-fairy-tale are obvious to even the most unassertive and lethargic EFL-student.  The themes are, but not restricted to:


Depending on how vocal your students are, you can further scaffold the Writing Activity that follows, by having a discussion with the themes stated above, or have the students group-discuss the themes they, themselves, have identified.


The myriad types of essay organization, used in academia, have been well documented. The choice of the "5-paragraph essay" for teaching purposes by many teachers, school-boards and examination-committees, has in my opinion offered many EFL/ESL students the opportunity for a standardized organizational model.  It has both opponents and proponents; especially from those teachers and students who hate to be constricted by external forces.  However, the framework does offer up the opportunity for students to understand that all good academic writing must be well organized.  It is the expected norm that students' opinions and/or findings can never usually hold up unless coherence and cohesion are shown to be well understood.  Thus, I provide this basic structure as a strong model for my students, then start moving out of the framework and expanding on their ideas as the main focus for assessment.

For this activity I have organised the writing response around a 4-PARAGRAPH organizational model as seen below:





We gave this organization-exemplar and model for the students to write their own responses on the weekend using Penzu Classroom, our writing journal cloud.  However, unfortunately, only one student from the whole class was able to recall this framework when they left for the weekend break.  Even though we posted the       BLENDSPACE TUTORIAL on Edmodo for them to flip the instructions and work with at home.

So, the results were really weak, and both my colleague and I felt disheartened. However, the perfectionist in me, and the OCD-nature of Brentson, kicked in and we thought of another strategy to try and get them interested and engaged in the writing process: A Group-Google-Doc.
But, before that, rather than railing into them, which falls on deaf ears in any case, I prepared a simple reflective Blendspace that asks the students what they need to do...

We intended on focusing this further piece of scaffolding as one that only looked at organization & cohesion of the 4-paragraph essay/response.  

Since we have our (new) classroom organized for management and group work already, it was an obvious next phase of the writing process scaffolding we have found ourselves in. FIVE Groups with either 3 or 4 students in each one.  Their task was to watch another video, and prepare an ICT-supported Group-Google-Doc.  

Here is the second video:

Now, being that these are 14-15 year olds, and Amnesty International is not known to them, the reason this works is by having the post-watching focus on the power of a person's signature, which is the thread that supports the main theme of human rights abuses running through the video.  We also gave the Thesis Statement that they would have to work around, plus 2 Essential questions for the main body paragraphs.  

I am aware that we give them a lot of scaffolded support at every turn, but that is exactly what I am referring two in my rant (in red) at the beginning of this post.  As teachers, we really need to focus on many aspects of writing before assuming they "get it."  It is difficult for teenagers of 14-15 to write effectively in their mother-tongue, let alone in a second or third language.

The Thesis Statement we provided was:

                                "If WE don't approach our responsibilities to others 
                                 with seriousness, people will never take US seriously." 

EQ 1                     "Why are our signatures so important?"

EQ 2                     "Do you think that all humans, no matter which country they live in,                          should have the same rights?"

Now the students were set up, and all they had to do was confer, delegate who would write each paragraph, and fill in the 4-Paragraph order.  ABRACADABRA & HEY PRESTO, we got some really great responses.  So, we opened up the Google-Docs this morning and did a 30-minute reflective lesson, with the whole class looking at the others' Doc via the SmartTV.  We believe in this transparency for such an activity, even though some students can get embarrassed, since it is a group activity and  they have the opportunity to see that everyone is in the same boat when it comes to this academic writing activity. 

ROLL ON ONE WEEK after two intense workshop-lessons on the Writing process, planning and organization of students for their own academic writing.

Here is an example of one student from the class, Sinan, who went onto his computer (unprompted) to make his plan.  There are a couple of grammar issues, but that is certainly NOT a problem. He has the idea and the plan is concrete. Well done young man! It appears that this week's (essential due to little or no effort last week) has had some effect. We shall see on Sunday, but if Sinan's plan is anything to go by, it all looks extremely promising.  
I would just like to add a thanks to my colleague, Brentson, who helped make this week a great one for Hisar Hazirlik.

                                                                                                       Sinan Orhun, 2014.

So, as I close this latest edu-post, you can be safe in the mind-set that I have not given up (yet) on my attempts to introduce different response-types within the Academic Writing Process to my Turkish teenage-students.  It does beg the question of how much scaffolding students need though, and it is a lesson to learn from this experience.  No group of students are fundamentally the same in any respects.  We need to always be aware of that fact when we needs assess and reflect on what and how we approach lessons.  I will endeavour to keep this in my tool bag from now on as we go forward.

Thursday, 13 February 2014


"I love teaching the Present Perfect," exclaimed the EFL-teacher.  You know that only an ESL-EFL educator could ever come out with such a statement, don't you?  Well, I am that teacher, and what's more, so is my colleague, Brentson.  We love the structure primarily because it is a huge challenge to teach it to Turkish students, young and old.  The reason: Turkish does not have this tense in its framework for communication; therefore, it takes more effort to make it stick in students' minds.  

So, SCAFFOLDING is essential, with various activities from presenting with examples and the structure, to the more engaging:


"What do you think he HAS BEEN DOING?

Video Prompts: 

FLIGHT - "What HAS JUST HAPPENED to the plane?"

JAWS - "What SHOULD the woman HAVE DONE before she entered the sea?"

The MATRIX"Who HAS BEEN CHASING Trinity over the rooftops?" 


Rihanna's "Where HAVE you BEEN all my life? 

Clearance Clear Water's classic, "HAVE you EVER SEEN the rain?"


The reason for this post has finally arrived: Posed Questions on Post-Its.

First write some sentences, ONE for each student.  The question prompts all started with,

"Have you ever..."

Once the questions have been written down, the post-its are folded then placed inside a utensil for selection in class.



"Said thank you to your mum, simply because she has that role in your life?"

"Been on holiday to England?"

"Lied to your best friend?"

"Betrayed your best friend?"

"Cheated on an exam?"

"Plagiarised an assignment and sworn that you did it to your teacher?"

"Eaten something strange?"

"Ever regretted doing something so bad, that you couldn't sleep?"

There are millions of course, and these are just some ideas for you to build upon.

This was thought of at 7.35 a.m. by Brentson and Myself

The NEXT STAGE is having the students pick a question.

THEN in their groups they ask a group member their question.

FINALLY, a discussion is encouraged with students sharing the information with each other.

The students really liked the quirky nature of choosing their question at random from the pickle container.  However, they did seem to get bored of my questions pretty quickly, and they simply stopped talking.  I guess everyone at that age prefers to do their own thing, and I totally get that.  So, in the afternoon, we repeated the activity, but this time they made their own questions, which were then redistributed to the others and a much more enthused discussion ensued. Thus, we can totally support the idea that force-feeding material that loses any autonomy for content, can seriously hamper the students' interest, engagement and understanding of the lesson.

After we did these scaffolded activities on the Present Perfect, we put the students into pairs and asked them to create their own story with verb-cards that showed the Past Participle /Verb 3.  This was then posted on our PLN, EDMODO.

HERE is a BLENDSPACE TUTORIAL that Brentson made while I prepared the questions.  We have both said how great it was to do some creative lesson material building for the students appeared really grateful.  CLICK ON, HAVE YOU EVER

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


Every year, when the OSCARS come around, there is a celebrity buzz of excitement that is probably only surpassed by huge sporting events such as a Grand Slam, a Superbowl or a YouTube video of a cat playing the piano that has gone 'viral'.  And this year is no different!  In fact, this year's offering of top quality movies, which have been included in the Best Picture category, is going to have the actors, players and producers on the edge of their seats at the Sam Goldwyn theatre in Beverley Hills, on March 2nd.  All the pundits are already spouting forth that it will be the closest run contest for years.  

Since my colleague and I teach EFL-fifteen year olds, thus forbidding the inclusion of American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street, due to their seriously adult content, the list of possible Best Film(s) that I would like to use for this edu-lesson post is as follows:

Brief Synopsis

A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.

EQ: Possible THESIS Theme Prompt for Research & Opinion Response

Should Space Exploration, Research & Development be continued, even when it costs a lot of money and can lead to the loss of lives?

Brief Synopsis

The true story of Captain Richard Phillips, and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years.

EQ:  Possible THESIS Theme Prompt for Research & Opinion Response

Why do modern-day pirates believe they are justified in their actions, and how are they able to continue with their thievery?

Brief Synopsis

Set in the United States, around 1840, Solomon Northup, a free black man from Upstate New york, is abducted and sold into slavery.

EQ:  Possible THESIS Theme Prompt for Research & Opinion Response

Slavery has been a very prominent, and contentious subject for the past 200 years.  Why then does it still happen today, when it has so many opponents?

Brief Synopsis

A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that is designed to meet his every need.

EQ: Possible THESIS Theme Prompt for Research & Opinion Response

How can modern-day (computer) technology's pervasive nature affect users in  negative ways?

Brief Synopsis

In 1985, Dallas, electrician and hustler, Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need, after he is diagnosed with the disease.

EQ: Possible THESIS Theme Prompt for Research & Opinion Response

Why did AIDS, and the horrors it brings to people, take so long before governments and health organisations took it seriously?

So, the next stage of how to get your students working on producing THESIS statements, for OPINION ESSAY Responses, is having them watch clips from the above movies.  Normally, due to copyright considerations on YouTube, it is nigh on impossible to post clips; and certainly impossible to find clips you need anywhere on the net. Therefore, you can do it yourself.  There are many options available for editing software, especially with windows users, and once you have your clips chosen, upload to google drive, and then post them to your Blendspace tutorial as seen below...

Click the above link to see where I take the students into group work for producing well thought out THESIS statements.

NOTE: I do not go into the workings of a THESIS in this tutorial, since our students have already had several sessions on this. However, hopefully, these visual prompts and ideas can get them to think more about the topics from the movies, and even go to the cinema to watch them in their full glory before the Oscar Ceremony on March 2nd.

p.s. I am rooting for 12 years a Slave, and Dallas Buyers Club as the top 2. Both incredible movies with astounding performances from both protagonists. Very impressive, indeed!!

Now, that the students have spent some time in groups researching the themes laid out in each film, and built their Blendspaces, I have added them below.  You will see that there are a few language errors, but that is why they will be assessed accordingly.  However, technically, and effortwise, it is undoubedtly a winning project format. Please try it out..

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Remind 101: Connect with students via Text Message

Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed by the amount of educational applications, tools and websites coming out seemingly each week?  Even as an avid user of technology in and out of the classroom, I feel the same way sometimes.  With working long hours during the day, and often grading homework, quizzes or exams after school, it can be difficult to keep up with all of the new technology coming out.  Even so, because I am so interested in technology, and love the excitement of trying out new ICT tools, I still manage to have a look at the latest educational websites a few times a week.  While the majority of the websites that I scroll through don't particularly interest me, or fit in with the age group of my students, once in a while I will come across something that amazes me, and most recently it was Remind101.

Remind101 is a website that allows you to send safe text messages to students and parents for free.  To get an idea of how it works, check out the video below.  After that, I will tell you why it has become useful for us.

For the past three years, my colleague and I have been strong believers in and users of Edmodo.  We introduce it to our students on the very first day of school, and thereafter it becomes the 'go to' place for information about our program.  We post all of our assignments and projects there, as well as any other day-to-day information, pictures or links that we want to share with our students.  

The reason I am mentioning this is because, even though we stress the importance of checking Edmodo everyday to our students, after the first few months of the school year, many of them stop. Despite Edmodo having an app that is available for both Apple and Android devices, some students just can't be bothered.  Therefore, they often miss out on important information that my colleague and I share after school.  This is where Remind101 comes in handy for us.

With Remind101, we can send simple reminders to students via text message.  Our students, who are either 14 or 15 years old, are on the mobile phones all day long.  They can't live without them, even for just a few hours.  So, if there is something important we need to share with them after school, we can do it through Remind101.  The benefits for us are twofold.  The first being that none of our students can say that they didn't check their phones, or didn't receive a text message.  The second is that Remind101 saves all of your sent messages.  Thus, even if a student tries to say that he/she didn't get the message, you can show them via the website.  In other words, it becomes a way, like Edmodo, to cover you back if you are ever in a sticky situation with a student or parent.

Signing up to the site is a snap...

1.  Register your class with the website at www.remind101.com.

2.  The site will give you a phone number and a code for your students to sign up with.

3.  The next time you meet with your students, tell them to send a text message to that number with the code in the text body, like pictured above. 

(Note: The website is based in the U.S.  So, if you teach in a different country, your students need to put +1 before typing the given phone number.)

4.  Remind101 will then send a reply to your students asking for their name and surname.  They simply have to reply to that message, and they are signed up!