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 April 2014

Google Drive and Blendspace: A New Way to Flip Any Video

Google Drive and Blendspace (formely known as Edcanvas) have become two of my absolute favorite educational technology tools in and out of the classroom.  They are both very effective tools for 'flipping' the classroom, albeit in slightly different ways.  Google Drive is fantastic for creating documents and presentations that students can work on together in real-time.  There is no longer any need for student groups to huddle around one computer when working on a project.  They can now all access the same file from their own computers 24/7 from any location, be in at school or at home.  Google Drive, in addition, allows teachers to store worksheets, PDFs, presentations, or any other document in the 'cloud' that can be shared with students in a zip.  On several occasions this year, I have had students message me saying that they accidentally forgot their homework at school.  In seconds, from any device, being my computer, IPad, or IPhone, I sent them the homework without even composing an e-mail.  It is a magnificent resource to have in these tricky situations.

Blendspace, on the other hand, isn't for collaboration, but rather an excellent tool for 'flipping' your lessons. You can edit text, upload images and documents (provided they are less than 1 mb), link to Youtube videos, and import anything from the web (including your Google Drive files) all into one Blendspace tutorial.  Once your lesson is made, you simply share the URL with your students on your PLN, like Edmodo, or send it to them via e-mail.  From there, your students can access the tutorial, again, 24/7 from any computer.

The purpose of this post, however, is more specific than just mentioning these two useful websites for education.  It is about how we can make short videos, even copyrighted ones, more accessible and effective for our lessons, and these two ICT tools can help accomplish that in just a few steps.

Using videos in lessons is certainly nothing new in the ELT world.  It has been used for decades.  The difference today, though, is that with all of the technological tools at our disposal, particularly Youtube, we no longer have to show entire films or television programs in the classroom and waste precious teaching time.  We can just find any short video we want on the web, and show it to the class.  For many teachers (myself included), however, there are several shortcomings with always depending on Youtube to make visual-learning lessons.

To begin with, many schools around the world have restricted teachers and students from using Youtube to prohibit watching videos with inappropriate content while on campus.  Even worse, in Turkey, where my colleague and I work, the government has recently taken more control of internet access to control information it deems provocative, so Youtube is constantly being blocked.  And although Youtube is undoubtedly an amazing resource for education, the problem we face constantly is the copyright infringement policies on the site.  For example, as mentioned above, we no longer have to show entire films to our students.  With ICT trimming tools, we can cut the best scenes from any film or television program to make an engaging resource to use in class for listening, discussions, or prompts for writing.  The problem, of course, is that Youtube won't allow you to upload these trimmed scenes due to copyright, even though we are only using it for educational purposes.

Now, with Google Drive and Blendspace, we can easily get around these obstacles to show any short video we want in just a few steps...

Step 1: Open your Google Drive account, and click the 'upload' button on the left side of the screen.  Click 'Files', locate the video on your computer, and then click 'open'.  Conversely, you can simply drag and drop the video file from your desktop.

Step 2: Tick the box of the video, and click 'share'.

Step 3: A box with the URL will appear.  Copy the link, and make sure that the settings is on either 'anyone who has the link', or 'public on the web'.

Step 4: Now, sign into Blendspace, and either create or open a saved tutorial that you wish to add the video to.  Once opened, click the blue 'world' button at the bottom right of the screen, paste the video's link into the box, and then click the magnifying glass next to it.

Step 5: The video file's name will then appear just below the box. Drag and drop it into any of the empty boxes.

Step 6: Your video will then appear in the box. 

This method of sharing and teaching with videos has been a revelation for us, so much so, that very soon were are intending to purchase more cloud space from Google Drive.  You can buy 100 GB of space for only 1.99 dollars a month.  That is an absolute bargain for the power of being able to control and share your videos and other files.  You no longer have to worry if the Youtube videos you want to use have been removed or deleted due to copyright or other issues.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

FAWLTY TOWERS for Funny-ELT-Consideration...

Is it remotely possible that any British person born in the 2oth century has not heard of this iconic comedy series? I also reckon millions of Americans, Indians, Australians, Canadians and South Africans have all had the joy of watching this wonderful "televisual feast" (Bernard Cribbins in Hotel Inspectors).  

So, I thought to myself it only fair that my Turkish students get to watch this also at 14 (it is when I first saw it), and do some scaffolded work that I have prepared through making edited clips and word/phrases lists for them to thoroughly enjoy. But before I share that particular avenue of happiness and joy (John Cleese in Hotel Inspectors) enjoy Cleese talking about his legendary show in this short video interview.

I am sure you enjoyed that little insight to the great man? So, what have I done?

First of all, when I thought about how to balance out our very heavy 6 week unit on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Auschwitz, I wanted to give the students a sense of light relief, while at the same time get a handle on more cultural comedy, language and the happiness they will feel once they can get into the style of sarcasm Cleese et al utilize and display with an impressive mastery.  So, first I started surfing for the episodes.  THAT was really easy, since everything is now available in this medium on the net (it wasn't when I first had the idea of making comedy Fawlty ELT units).  Next I had to find the srt or subtitles for each episode.  There would be little or no chance in keeping the students interested by listening and viewing alone.  That did take a little longer, but I found them courtesy of a Canadian site which had each one in place.  Next I wanted to edit the episodes so I could scaffold the experience for the students. However, that would be really tricky, difficult and boring to then re add subtitles with all the mixing I'd have to do. It meant I had to first hardcode each episode with the subtitles.  Once that was done, the editing just meant watching each episdoe again and deciding on the chunks of comedy.  In fact, when you do this you get to see how each hilarious part of the Fawlty Towers shows were written and directed.  The result is a sizeable number of comedic vignettes you and your EFL/ESL students can work on and ultimately enjoy. (btw the whole process took over twenty hours, but I believe well worth it). 

Order of Events
Search for the episodes in mp4 or avi
Search and locate the srt subtitle-files for each one
Hardcode each episode with the appropriate subtitles
Watch each episode again and decide on parts to cut
Upload the edited segments onto google drive
Transfer the GD-urls to BLENDSPACE for each episode
Watch the edited pieces again and pull language out
Record the language and grammar phraseology on word
Write surface-questions and add those to BLENDSPACE
Convert the word documents to PDF (all platform use)
Upload to the GoogleDrive folder for adding to website
Copy the shared links and add them to our blogsite
Give FAWLTY TOWERS its own special place on site

That was THIRTEEN STEPS (and I am on holiday!).  I kept at it because I believe in this
as a way to get more language over. It may not work, but I doubt it.  Perhaps the fact it is from the 70s may have a negative impact, but I believe because of the slapstick element to it, even though so much of the sarcasm will be lost on the young Turks, I am sure they will remember Fawlty Towers for the rest of their lives, like I have from 14 years of age.  I recognised much of what was being said, and I have to be honest it appears I have modelled a lot of my own attempts at humor on Cleese et al.  It is a great thing to realise that, subconsciously, I have kept the memory alive of those shows within me for teaching purposes.  I don't mean setting fire to the school canteen, or building new walls to keep people out, but just the little mannerisms, and witty quotes that make Fawlty Towers what it is: COMEDY GOLD!.  



After almost every episode segment there are lists of new words and grammatical reminders for your students to learn and practise with. But, I find it most useful to also give the students mini quizzes of the words, to which they resepond very favourably in terms of the benfits they get from the. They do tend to mump and moan a bit at first, but they really try, and more often than not, they surprise us with the results (ahh, to have a teenage memory again!)

With the brilliant EDMODO, our class PLN, there is a quiz
function which is perfect for vocabulary learning and formative assessment. There is only multi choice or true/false, and I am aware that production gives a more accurate view of true-understanding, but for these vocabulary flurries I believe it is a perfect support tool, and NOT a waste fo their time.  

The richness and intelligence of Cleese's writing is therefore shared in someway with the youth of today in Turkey; a mere 40 years after the magnificent Comedy Gold that is FAWLTY TOWERS was brought to our UK tv-screens.

Now the students have just completed their first ever Fawlty Towers comedic experience, we asked them to write a response on our PLN, Edmodo.  Here are the prompts with snips of students feelings below (unedited).

What did you think of the first episode?
How much did you enjoy watching it? 
How does British comedy make you feel?
How many new vocabulary items did you learn from watching and studying it?
Are you looking forward to watching more episodes?

I really like how honest most of the students are here in their responses.  Not only do they write how some parts were not easy for them, but they also say how much they enjoyed the laughter in the class.  In fact, only one student claimed he didn't enjoy it, but I believe that was more to do with the fact he doesn't like anything, and even Fawlty Towers couldn't adjust his non-conformity nor engagement.  However, the rest were really vocal about the enjoyment and benefits of learning such wonderfully crafted English phrases.  I asked them if they wanted any more, and the response was a wholehearty-YES!  So, next week we will give them The Germans.  Lets see if they enjoy the 1970s stereotyping from Cleese and the blatant prejudice and at times, racist remarks, he and the others (ignorently) make. 
                                    Good old 70s Blighty (not really!)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Why Do WE think we have the right to do this...?

A friend of mine shared a YouTube video last week, and after I watched it I told myself that I simply had to share it with my students.  The video was made by a brilliant animator who felt so empassioned by humans' disregard for nature and its wonderful inhabitants. The creator, Steve Cutts, has put together a very clever allegorical tale of how we, as the human race, have walked on the planet solely for our own needs, and without any consideration for animals.

I first made a Blendspace, which can be seen here

So, my intention was to get students to critically think about themselves, and how much
their own attitude to animals mirrored that of the film creator and director.  I pre-empted the video with a predictive question of what the video would be about.  I then asked for some examples that prove humankind treats the animal kingdon with respect.  I asked if anyone knew what had happened to the DodoBurd.  There was not one student able to do so. I concluded that even the importance of knowing what has happened to extinct animals is being excluded from natural history and science lessons.

We then watched the video, and followed it by asking questions.

Finally, the students wrote on Edmodo about the video and its really powerful (and embarrassing) message. These are the responses from a small group of Turkish 15yr olds, who have been learning English for only 8 months... (no editing therein)

Remember, the Dodo was an animal that we wiped off the face of the Earth 375 years ago. It seems like we want all species to go extinct in the same way. We MUST stop the insatiable desire for "progress" at the expense of the animal kingdom. Showing your students such videos may not directly help save the animals, but it might start to make our youth more aware of the faults our ancestors began, and we  still continue today.

Saturday, 5 April 2014


Being an EFL Educator means you always have to be aware of including new vocabulary for almost every lesson.  It means you cannot be complacent when preparing what the students are hopefully going to enjoy and participate in with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, for most EFL students, the boring drilling and memorizing nature of vocabulary building is an irritation, even though they know deep down that is an integral part of their learning curve if they hope to be genuinely proficient in L2,3 or 4.  Flip over to us, the educators, and our conundrum is knowing which lexical items to include for activity-focus. That is why it is never easy.  However, with the inception of thousands of ICT-APPS in the past four years, the task can be made easier for us, and even a bit more interesting for our students.  Here is one way to approach lexical-items inclusion for a research project.

By using the website, VISUALTHESAURUS for making wordlists, you can have a very quick list(s) for the benefit of your students. The book the students have been reading, MUD CITY (previous post on the research activity), is the background to getting students both to read a novel in English, quickly, and to enter into serious research on subjects ranging from the Taliban to child-kidnapping and refugee camps.  So, I took the e-book version and opened it up in CALIBRE on my PC.  I then cut-n-paste each chapter into the Visual Thesaurus Vocabulary Grabber.  The results are excellent and the site provides you with the following visuals.  Here is chapter three in graphic form.

We asked the students if they liked the colored images over b/w word lists and they all responded in the affirmative.  Now, you may being saying to yourself, "So what? I do this already, what's new about it?"  This is where I reckon the new idea comes in.

1: We assigned the students one chapter each.  
2: They chose 20 words they felt would be good to learn 
3: They then submitted those words in a prepared table 

This was done using GOOGLE DRIVE, the ONLY way to collaborate (seriously)

(previous posts on GoogleDrive: ONE, TWO , THREE)

Once the students had chosen their words, found the correct Turkish meaning (we helped there, as well as by using their laptop bi-linguage dictionaries), they then had to put in a false meaning to box two.  This was so we could make a class set of multi-choice quizzes on our PLN, Edmodo.  The students thought this was really cool that they could be the test maker for their peers.  So, again, ICT really got the students engaged, and I DO mean all of them.
Here is a visual of the top scorers and an analytical breakdown of words.  You will see that "collapse" has many wrong answers. In fact, it is because the student who prepared the definitions put down the wrong one. But it was OK because we identified it and got everyone focused on the word at the same time post results.

We have had a 15 minute pop quiz each day on the students' chosen words. The kids actually love doing these types of quizzes for vocabulary, and it is the real reason for this post.  Don't baulk at giving these types of quizzes. They are acting as formative assessments plus the students get to see them again and again. The seventeen pop quizzes average will be taken and that grade inserted into the students' performance note.


The activity covers several areas of interest for us, and the students of course.

VOCABULARY from the current text
SESLI SÖZLÜK (English-Turkish digital dictionary)
Memorizing of the Lexical Items for pop-quizzes