Taking the Chaos out of Drawing Activities

If you’re looking for a class idea that is: A.) Easy to run, B.) Fun for students, C.) Promotes creative thinking, and D.) Reinforces vocabulary and grammar structures, then a group drawing project might be just what you’re looking for. For the most part, this activity simply involves putting students in groups, giving them an idea to draw, then having them present their ideas. And generally just this alone will meet with fairly positive results. However, there are a few things to know and follow that can help make drawing activities a lot more organized and effective. In this article, we’ll take you step-by-step through the process for doing a group drawing project in an in-person classroom.

1. Decide on a Theme

This is the easy part. There are many topics that can be made into a drawing lesson. Superheroes, robots, monsters, fashion, houses, inventions, spaceships … all these and more are good topics that students of all ages will find interesting.

Next, decide what kind of vocabulary and grammar you want to target with the lesson. For example, an activity where students create inventions might target conditionals: “If you press the button, it will do your homework.” Alternatively, you could target ordinal numbers: “First, put your homework into the machine. Second, press the button.” A lesson where students design the perfect pet might focus on words such as “wings,” “tail,” “fur,” etc. Modals (“can,” “could,” etc.) are a good fits for superheroes, animals, and robots.

In many cases, you might have the vocabulary and expressions first (if you’re using a textbook, for example.) This is fine; just try your best to fit the vocabulary into the activity.

2. Prepare Materials.

If you don’t like “crafty” lessons, don’t worry—I don’t either. So if I can do this, you can too. All you’ll need is a few basic drawing supplies, and a few handouts.

If possible, I recommend using some small, personal white boards. If you don’t have these available, I highly advise asking your school to invest in some, as they can be a great material for projects, games, and more. For a typical public school classroom, you’ll probably need no more than 8.

If you’re unable to get white boards, you can try laminating white pieces of paper and, if this isn’t an option, you can use regular paper. Paper can be difficult for a classroom to see, but I’ll show you a trick later that you can use to make it work.

Of course, you’ll also need at least one marker per board, but it’s good to have more in case some of them dry up.

Erasers aren’t necessary, as most students will have tissues or toilet paper. And if they don’t, they’ll figure something out. (They always do!) This is an important note because those boards and markers can be surprisingly difficult to carry, and erasers add one more thing to manage.

Finally, you’ll need some sort of handout or worksheet. Trust me, just having students describe their drawings to the class usually doesn’t meet with great results. I recommend just a simple template with about 5-8 blank lines on which they can write sentences describing their projects by using the key words. For added effect, you can also provide sample sentences, and scaffolded sentences with blanks, in order to focus on specific vocabulary or grammar. This can be provided right on the paper, or you can put it on the board as the students work.

Following is an example I use for a lesson on drawing monsters, with vocabulary selected to help students describe animals in real life.

This is the handout students receive. Note the space at the top for a student’s name and class number. This can be helpful if you plan on collecting the papers, then returning them for a subsequent class (but as we’ll see later, I often don’t do this.) Also, note the “extra” portion at the bottom, which allows groups with more advanced students to exercise some extra creativity. P.S.: no student has ever filled this part out, despite my recommendations.

And this is a sentence template I put on the screen so students can more easily create sentences. Of course, you would want to give them examples for each pattern, such as “It has a tail,” “It has a bat’s wings,” “It is covered with fur,” “It is eyeless,” etc.

3. Teaching

Nice and simple. The students sit in their chairs and listen to you while you tell them what they need to know. Don’t put them in groups, yet, as this will result in students having their backs to you, talking with their friends, and goofing around.

Bonus tip: Students, especially boys, think it’s the height of comedy to draw their classmates’ faces on their projects in some way. While sometimes this is done in good faith, other times it’s used as a means of teasing or bullying, so it can be good to take a moment to tell students that if they do this, or if they draw … ahem … inappropriate material on their pictures, there will be consequences (of which you’ll have to think of on your own. I usually just tell them I won’t show their work, and they will have wasted all that effort).

4. Form groups

There are two methods of this: a simple way and more complicated way. And, as you can guess, the complicated way meets with slightly better results.

For the simple method, just have students form groups by turning their desks towards one another. Generally groups of 5 work well: Smaller groups often result in too many groups to manage, and larger ones result in too little capacity for individual student input. A quick note: often students won’t know that they have to move their desks together, so, if you don’t speak Korean, it can be helpful to tell one group of students: “You five, please stand up. Okay, now move your desks into a table. Okay, that’s your group. Now, everyone else, do this.” And yes, you’ll probably need to do this every time you make groups; for some reason even high school students who can do trigonometry are completely baffled when it comes to forming the same group they did two weeks ago.

Korean co-teachers: if you are doing this activity with a foreign teacher, they will find it very helpful if you guide the students into groups, as this task is surprisingly difficult for those not fluent in Korean.

For the more complicated method, give each student a role. For example, one will be the drawer, one will be the “scribe,” or writer, several can be decision makers, another can be a captain (whose job it is to settle disagreements), and so on. Assigning roles can take a lot of time, but it can give each student a stake and sense of ownership in the group. If you choose this method, consider setting aside a day for making groups and assigning roles, then using the same groups throughout the year.

Whichever method you prefer, start passing out the materials to each group. You might want to have a student help you in order to save time.

5. Group work

Now the students do their work! But your job isn’t done. Make sure you walk around and give suggestions or feedback when necessary.

Also, time management is important. I recommend giving students a time limit, otherwise they’ll deliberate and work until the end of time, or until the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse come to usher in the End of Days, whichever happens first. A helpful way to spur students on is www.onlinestopwatch.com You can set a time limit (about 15 minutes is usually good) and put it on-screen for students to monitor. Alternatively, you can appoint one student as a “time keeper” (and thanks to Betsey for this idea) to give students a bit of ownership and responsibility.

IMPORTANT (kind of): It’s likely you might not have enough time for all students to present in one hour. If you think this is the case, go around to each of the groups with a marker, and write their class number (for example, 2-1) somewhere on their boards. You’ll see why later.

ALSO Important (also kind of): Students of all ages will be tempted to start wandering around the classroom during this time. Don’t let them. I know, kids (and even teenagers) have lots of stored-up energy, but they also need to know there’s a time and place for it, and letting students wander will create a bad atmosphere in your classroom; students will think they have free reign of the place.

Oh, and what about letting students use Korean during group work? That’s really up to you, and it depends on your goals with the project. Personally, I find that my goal is to get students to strengthen creativity and group work skills, then implement the relevant vocabulary, and I don’t think they need to speak English all the time in order to accomplish that.

6. Clean up

Now it’s time to finish. I recommend you allot about 5 minutes for this. Yes, 5 minutes. Tell the students to move their desks back to their original positions. Don’t leave them in their groups if you have further things to say to them; as I said before, they’ll have their backs to you, will keep working, and won’t listen to you.

Also, take their boards and makers, or else the students will continue doodling and won’t pay attention.

7. Presentation

Okay, every team is finished, and now you have all the boards. Now choose a board, have the team come to the front of the room, and have each student read some of the sentences they prepared. Yes, in a perfect world, students would not need to read pre-written sentences, and could instead take turns saying a few things about their designs, but unless you’re teaching adults, or students with a high degree of autonomy, this won’t happen.

8. We’re out of time!

It’s quite likely that you won’t be able to have every team present in one session. Not to worry. Simply take pictures of their boards. Remember in part 5 how I told you to write their class numbers on the board? Well now, because of that, when you have all these images stored in your computer, you can tell which class they belonged to just by looking at the numbers you wrote on the boards. This is also how you can present images drawn on ordinary paper: By taking a photo of it, it can placed on a large screen.

What about those papers they wrote their English on? You could collect them, but I prefer to let the students keep them. In a previous post, I wrote about the value of teaching students accountability for their materials, and this is an instance in which you can help reinforce this skill. If a student loses his or her team’s paper? Well, they’ll have to try their best without it, most likely getting embarrassed in the process. Welcome to the real world, kids, where it’s important to keep track of your documents.

Conclusion

And there you have it. While even some guy off the street can probably teach a drawing lesson (and many years ago I was that guy off the street!) teaching them in a smooth and organized manner is something that takes a bit more practice and experience. Hopefully the information above can make your drawing activities run like a well-oiled machine.

Teacher Tech: Making Your Own Video Subtitles

There’s some debate about whether it’s worthwhile to add subtitles to video clips that are shown in class. While that’s a good topic for another day, there likely will be times when, for whatever reason, you’ll want students to have subtitles to read as they watch a video. But what if you’re unable to find subtitles? Well, it’s actually possible to add your own. This article will show you one way to do this, and it doesn’t require any money, subscriptions, or tears on your behalf. Well, maybe a few tears, but at least it won’t cost you money.

First, the bad news. Adding subtitles isn’t as easy as it used to be … or, at least last time I checked. Years ago Windows had a free app known as Windows Movie Maker that allowed users to effortlessly add subtitles to their videos; however, this program was discontinued and every other method of adding subtitles now requires a bit more work: enough work such that fully subtitling a feature-length movie is probably out of the question. The good news is that, while a bit time consuming, it’s not terribly hard, and once you get the hang of it, you can subtitle a short video in under an hour.

Before We Start:

Before we learn how to add subtitles, it might worth talking about why you might need to use them in the first place. I’ve found adding subtitles can be useful when:

A. The English is too fast for students to understand, or uses unfamiliar pronunciation,

B. You want students to focus on the video’s overall meaning, rather than interpreting the English,

C. The English is too difficult, in which case a “simple English” (or even Korean!) translation can be
provided through the subtitles.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s learn how to do it.

Step 1: Download Shotcut

Yes, I know: I hate installing random programs, too. But Shotcut is, in my experience, one of the better free movie-editing apps out there. I’ve experimented with quite a few and, while Shotcut isn’t always intuitive and takes a bit of practice to figure out, it tends to have the best usability-to-hassle ratio among other free programs out there.

Here’s the link where you can download the program: https://www.shotcut.org/download/

Step 2: Select Your Video File

Easy enough: Simply open Shotcut, then drag and drop the file to which you want to add subtitles:

Your video will now appear in Shotcut.

Step 3: Add your Video to the Timeline

You’ll notice a big blank spot at the bottom of the Shotcut interface. Drag and drop the video window down to that area …

… and this will happen:

Step 4: Split the Video

Now’s the hard part. You’ll need to split the video at any point you want to add subtitles. To do this, first click anywhere above or below the blue timeline. DON’T click on the timeline itself. Once you do this, a white vertical line will appear where you clicked.

The white line is the cursor. You can drag it wherever you want on the video. NOTE: pressing the spacebar will cause the video to begin playing at the cursor, and pressing the spacebar again will cause everything to pause.

If you press S or the ][ symbol on Shotcut’s interface, this will happen:

You’ve now split the video at this location. As with a word document, you can press Ctrl+Z to undo it if you’ve made a mistake.

Find a place where you want to add a subtitle, and split the video at the beginning and end of the part where you want the subtitle to show, like this:

If you look at the picture above, you’ll notice two black bars sectioning off a portion of the video. This will be the frame where your subtitles will go.

Step 5: Add the Subtitles

Now, click on the frame where you want to put the subtitle. You can click directly on the blue timeline this time. The frame will be highlighted in red.

Now, go to the menu at the top of Shotcut, and select “Filters.”

Next, hit the + button below the window in the upper left.

A menu will pop up. Type “text” in the search bar. Then you can choose from either “simple” or “rich.” So as to not get too confusing, we’ll go with simple text for now, but if you have time, you can experiment with rich text later.

Now type your subtitle!

NOTE: If your subtitle isn’t appearing in the video window, it’s probably because your cursor is at a different point on the timeline. Move the cursor to the current frame, and your subtitle should show up.

You can adjust the position of the subtitle by dragging the little gray ball in the center of the video window.

In the event you totally mess up, the subtitles can be removed by clicking the – button next to the + button you clicked earlier.

Here’s the good news: You’ve now added your subtitle. The bad news? Now you have to do that EVERY TIME you want to add more subtitles. Unfortunately, without advanced knowledge of subtitle-creation software, this is probably your best option.

Step 6: Save the File

If you just save from the menu, it will save everything as a Shotcut project, but not as an actual video. In order to change everything to a video, you must convert it. Fortunately, this is pretty easy.

Simply click on “File” on the far upper-left, then select “Export Video” from the drop-down menu. Finally click “Export File,” shown here:

It will take a little while to convert the file. You can see the progress in the window on the right. When there’s a green checkmark, your video has been exported and saved.

Good job!

You’ve succeeded in adding subtitles to your video!

Sources:

The Art Institute of Colorado. (2011). How Coyote and Eagle Stole the Sun and Moon. YouTube. USA. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGXRSfdObag&ab_channel=EricaPrettyEagle.

Tips for Selecting Appropriate Videos for the Classroom

Picture this: you’re back in school, ready for another boring day of learning. You’ve got out your textbook and corresponding notebook, and have just set your pencils at the top of the desk when suddenly the teacher rolls in an antique relic of a TV player and a VCR. The mood in the class suddenly lifts – it’s a movie day!

Videos can be a great way to pique student interest, add other authentic voices to the classroom, create engagement, and a lot more. They can also be a great “treat” for students, but it’s not always appropriate to rely on videos rather than have a more active, student-centered classroom. In this post, we’ll go over ways that you can incorporate media into the classroom.

Consider Video Usage

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When considering a video, think about why you want to use it. Will it add something to your class, or is it just an interesting time filler? Of course, the latter is fine in some circumstances, but if you truly want students to learn, it might be best to watch the video yourself and come up with a lesson or activity from it. 

When planning to use a video in your class, consider this: if parents, a principal, or other educator were in the room with you, would you still play it? If the answer is “no,” then strongly reconsider using it.

Preview the Video

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This may seem like common sense, but when considering showing a video or videoclip to students, you should always watch it in advance. Nothing is worse than frantically trying to stop or block a video that takes a sudden inappropriate turn, and the fallout from showing inappropriate material – even accidentally – can be severe. You’ll also want to make sure that the video is appropriate for your students’ ages, English levels, and interests. If you don’t have a ton of time, consider playing the video at 2x speed when previewing. You’ll still be able to understand it, and you’ll get through it twice as fast. 

Use Subtitles

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I have a confession: I always watch movies and television shows with subtitles, even when the media is originally in my native language. I get distracted by what’s going on in the background, my phone, and of course, listening becomes an impossibility the minute I decide to eat some chips.

In the classroom, students likely have similar distractions, or have other reasons they need subtitles. Subtitles can vastly improve comprehension. Depending on what your goal is with the video, consider using subtitles – or if you can show the video more than once, try using subtitles for at least one of the views. 

Think About Video Length

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If you’re teaching a forty minute class, it’s probably not in the best interest to use a full twenty minute episode of something. When playing a video, its presence in the classroom needs to be justified with your teaching practice. Do you really need to play the full time, or can the actual content you want to use be made shorter? We can circle back to the parents or principal rule: if you would cut the video down if they were there, do it for your students.

Pick Appropriate Clips or Pieces From the Video

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I once met an instructor who, instead of teaching a class, would simply play entire Ted Talk videos as a substitute for actually teaching.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using Ted Talks to supplement your class, but videos definitely should be used alongside teaching, rather than replace it!

As discussed earlier, it isn’t always the best choice to simply play a full video in class. Instead, you can glean pieces of clips that are relevant to your classroom. This will make sure that the video content is concise, and give you more time for teaching and going over content in class. If you do want to use material from a video in class, or you think that what they’re saying is good, you can watch the video, learn it yourself, and then cite what they are saying in a shorter way. This will make your class go more smoothly, and ensure you can maintain a better balance.

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These are just a few things to keep in mind when selecting a video to use in your classroom. As ever, use your own judgement – it’s likely that you know your students and what is appropriate to use for them in the classroom.

Experiencing Global Interactions in the Classroom

For 3 years, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work at a senior high school and be a part of the teaching team for a subject called, “Global Interactions”. Aimed at first year students, this subject was for the entire year consisting of several different modules that led to a final year-end project. The aim of this course was to give students as much exposure to life outside of not only their neighborhood, but to the world.

1st Semester

The first and main focus was to teach students what a “digital citizen” was. As a “Googley” school, it was necessary for students to learn how to at least successfully create projects and share documents through Google. They learned through trial and error how to navigate through Google Workspace for Education services; in particular, Google Slides, Google Forms, and Google Docs. It was also imperative for students to learn how to use the internet in a safe and responsible manner. 

The second focus of the semester was for students to gain as much confidence speaking in front of their peers. As a student-centered class, students were able to steadily gain confidence through numerous solo and group presentations. These presentations were all the more meaningful to students since their audiences were not just their classmates, but guests from different countries such as, Singapore, Taiwan, America, and Canada. Through these brief international interactions, students were able to broaden their views of life outside of what they were familiar with.

The culmination of their 1st semester was a school trip to Singapore where they visited several schools in the area to present on culture and other various topics.

2nd Semester

During the second semester, students learned to voice their opinions in English. They learned it’s okay to disagree with their peers and voice their reasons for doing so. They had ample opportunity to have conversations with their classmates through group projects and conversation tests.

At the end of the semester, students met with 5 ~ 8 foreigners who were teachers and international students. For an entire class period, students were able to interview these guests, asked them why they moved to another country, what their career aspirations were, and any other question students deemed appropriate.

Finally, students used what they learned in their interviews, coupled with what they had experienced and learned during their international interactions to create a final project focusing on what a global citizen was.

My Thoughts

This course offered students something outside of their regular textbook regurgitating lessons. Students learned to think for themselves, value their opinions, and make their voices heard if they disagreed on something. For some, this class gave them the first opportunity to talk to people who were not from the same background. For others, this class provided them with the only environment to talk freely in English.

Through this class, students were given a reason to learn English. They had an attainable goal in sight: to talk to their peers. This student-centered class focused on teamwork and building cooperation not only between students, but with members of the community and other countries. Many students were able to use this class as a stepping stone to study and travel abroad during their 2nd year and eventually even move abroad for university. The class gave all the students the chance to grow and see the world in a new light, outside of the safety of their home.

I believe if we open ourselves up to new experiences and give our students the opportunity to do so as well, we can create a global community rich with understanding and mutual respect.

Soft Skills in the Secondary ESL Classroom

Listening, reading, speaking, writing, grammar . . . these are all skills that every secondary-education English teacher tries to improve in their students. However, being a teacher is more than just teaching the skills involved in a subject; it’s also about equipping students with the life skills they need to be successful members of society. Unfortunately, there are seldom any classes that teach these skills, but the good news is that we, as teachers, can incorporate them into our everyday lessons. In today’s blog post, we’ll look at some auxiliary skills—or soft skills— that high-school and middle-school teachers can subtly incorporate into the flow of their usual classes.

A quick note before we begin: this article is intended to simply bring awareness to the need for these skills. Readers might find themselves wondering just, how, exactly, to effectively teach them to their students. While this article will give a few tips, each one is a topic in its own, about which an entire book could easily be written! Fortunately, GIFLE often holds training related to these topics and more, so we encourage readers to keeping checking this blog for further teaching tips and advice – or better yet, enroll in some of our trainings!

Note-Taking Skills

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In my previous job, I was tasked with helping students deliver a speech for a school competition. To this end, I gave them a variety of words that I thought would be helpful in accomplishing their goal. “If I were you,” I’d say, looking over the rims of my glasses to drive the subtle hint across, “I’d use these words in your speech to maybe get a few extra points on your final score.” Then I watched as the students, instead of writing the words down, continued to stare straight ahead, slack jawed. During the students’ final presentations, probably one student among the whole sophomore class used any of the words I taught them (and that student got a pretty high score, incidentally).

Later, when test time drew near, I was tasked with overseeing student self-study sessions. It was during this time I noticed something curious: not one student studied from a notebook. Studying was done either by pouring over highlighted textbooks or grinding through multiple-choice problems in their practice books. It hit me then: my students didn’t know how to take notes. Or, if they did, they weren’t convinced of the skill’s usefulness.

Taking notes is such an important habit for students to have. As a former language student, myself — having logged in over 3,000 classroom hours studying Modern Standard Arabic — I can tell you that there are so many grammar points, words, and tips that might be helpful to one student, but not to another, and test-practice books alone cannot account for these. Students need to be encouraged to actively listen and be ready to take (and later review) notes in order to tailor their study to their particular needs.

What’s more, this is a skill that is not only useful for English, but for any skill. For example, anyone who’s studied taekwondo, for instance, can likely recall a time they were taught a technique, only to attend class the following week to find themselves asking, “wait, how did that move go?” Similarly, anyone with a busy schedule knows they need to write their meetings and appointments in some kind of planner, or they’re bound to forget an important event. Whether it’s English, taekwondo, or business, note taking is a skill teachers need to encourage in their students.

How does one teach that skill? Well, that can be a complex topic best covered in another post, but a good place to start can be to make sure your students come to every class with a notebook and pencil. When you teach a point that you think is particularly important or useful, tell them to write it down!

Personal Accountability for Assignments

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I used to teach a lesson about riddles. Students would spend one class period thinking, in a team, of abstruse clues regarding an object of their choice. They would write these clues down, then present them in the following period in a sort of class competition. Sometimes students would lose the papers on which their riddles were written. My solution? Tell them “tough luck.”

I’ve noticed this with other activities as well. Any time I’ve had a class that required students to bring in a paper (or other item) a following class session, several (or sometimes many) forgot. This shows a real lack of organization and responsibility in high school students . . . which is to be expected in teenagers, of course! However, that’s why we need to teach them responsibility now, so that today’s high school students don’t end up becoming tomorrow’s businesspeople who forget to bring important documents to meetings, or paramedics who forgets to bring important pieces of life saving equipment to emergencies.

To this end, I encourage teachers to resist the temptation to manage students’ materials. Often, teachers prefer to collect ongoing assignments (book reports, projects, etc.) and return them for students to work on in subsequent classes, since this insures students will be able to use class time productively (or, in the case of written assignments, that they don’t have their friends do the work for them). However, this doesn’t build habits of responsibility. Instead, it makes students think that, even if they forget something important, there will always be someone to cover for them.

Of course, it’s easy to talk about this, but when a student shows up in class with nothing to do, it’s much harder to enforce it in reality. Therefore, it’s good to have a backup plan for forgetful students. For example, if a student forgets a report they’re working on, have them try to their best to continue it in class, then later re-write it on the original paper. At the same time, don’t be afraid of awkward moments. If a team forgets presentation material? Well, then they have to try it from memory, and if it doesn’t go well, let it be a lesson for how the real world works.

Confidence and Risk Taking

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The famous American baseball player Babe Ruth once said that we miss 100 percent of the shots we don’t take. Well, Korean students often use the opposite idea: We never give a wrong answer if we never participate. This is an unfortunate philosophy by which to live life. While there’s something to be said for the “better safe than sorry” outlook on life (ask anyone who’s been injured in a fireworks accident), it also means they miss out on a lot of potential life opportunities, and in class this will mean that students, out of fear of appearing foolish to their classmates, seldom volunteer.

But how does a teacher help inspire confidence in students? Unfortunately there’s no easy answer for this; (GIFLE’s Level One teacher training last month centered around this very issue, in fact!) but a good place to start is to try to create a classroom environment that allows mistakes. I often tell students that shy people seldom make history, and that sometimes being successful means doing things wrong once in a while. If a student’s answer is wrong, I might take a moment to explain why the answer might have seemed right to them when giving corrections. For example, if a student makes a pronunciation mistake, I’ll tell them “yes, a ‘p’ usually makes that sound, but when paired with an ‘h,’ the sound changes to that of an ‘f,’” instead of simply telling them “no, that’s wrong.”

Of course, this isn’t to say you have tell every student every time that every effort is a good effort. Sometimes they need to be told to get their heads out of the clouds and focus! That’s our next topic.

Attention to Detail

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Many ESL teachers will tell you not to focus too much on minor grammatical mistakes, as fear of making mistakes discourages students from speaking or writing their own English (see above). There is a lot of truth to this: if a student has to pause every time to consider if they need a definite or indefinite article before a noun, it can really slow down the speaking process.  However, there are also times when students should be made to consider some of the finer details of their English. This is because students often have a habit of being hasty and overlooking certain small, but important points. For example, in their writing, they might forget to capitalize their names, or place a period at the end of a sentence. What’s more, they seldom take time to proofread any pieces of English writing they submit to the teacher. These instances and more provide opportunities to teach students to put effort into the quality of their work.

This is an important life lesson for students. Again, bad habits in school can lead to bad habits as an adult. A student who doesn’t take time to check to see if the first word in every sentence is capitalized might later become a doctor who forgets to check if his patient is allergic to any medications, or an accountant who doesn’t take time to check her math.

So when it comes to certain, basic, English concepts, don’t be afraid to make sure your students are paying attention to the little things once in a while.

Wait! What About …

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Critical thinking? Citizenship skills? The ability to draw a realistic-looking cat? Yes, all of these and more are valuable soft skills for students to have, and there are many more you might be able to think of, as well. The above items are just four examples to consider when teaching your students. Remember, our job isn’t just to create English speakers, but future leaders, as well.

Teaching a Mixed Level Classroom: A Practical Guide on Assessments

In an ESL classroom, it’s pretty common to have students of all levels. This can make it difficult for both the educator and the students. Lower-level students often feel demotivated in a classroom where the assignments are too difficult. It’s understandable – if the material is so far out of reach for them that they can’t complete it, then why should they bother? In a similar way, advanced students might feel bored if the assignment is way below their level. They’ll disengage from what we’re trying to teach, which is never what we want to foster in a classroom environment.

So, how do we engage students of all different English abilities?

Differentiation – that is, creating different assignments in order to make them appropriate to different students’ English levels- is a great way to even out the playing field and make a more equitable classroom where every student has the chance to learn, grow, and maybe even earn an A. In this post, we’ll go over the steps to begin creating differentiated assignments in your classroom.

Step 1: Know Your Student’s Levels

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It’s likely you at least have some idea how well your students speak English. In my classroom, I normally categorize students using WIDA standards, but if you’re unfamiliar with this it can look intimidating or tricky. Instead, you can try categorizing your students into low, intermediate, and high proficiency. 

When thinking about students in this way, you’ll want to judge your students by class standards. So, “intermediate” should be the level where the majority of your class is. The outliers who are better would be your “advanced” students, while the ones trailing behind are your “low” levels. 

Of course, we get classes who skew towards advanced and ones who need much more basic instruction in English. So long as you generally know where your students lie, you should be able to create assignments that are accessible to everyone. 

Step 2: Write Your (Differentiated!) Objectives 

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By the end of your lesson, you want your students to have learned or accomplished something. However, what that “something” is can vary wildly depending on your student. At times, I’ve been thrilled if my low-level students can pick up just a few vocabulary words, but this would obviously be a ridiculous objective for some of my students who are at or near full fluency. Instead, I might want them to be able to write a full, five paragraph essay by the end of the lesson. It’s important to keep this in mind when writing objectives. 

For example, check out these differentiated objectives I created for three different levels of students, in a class about American culture. 

Low Level:

  • Student can use vocabulary terms in scaffolded sentences
  • Student can discuss about appearance using scaffolded sentences and visual aids
  • Student can write about appearance with appropriate accommodations 

Intermediate Level:

  • Student can use vocabulary in short sentences
  • Student can discuss about appearance with peers and ask some questions. They may be allowed to use some supports such as sentence prompts
  • Student can write about appearance with appropriate accommodations 

Advanced Level: 

  • Students can use vocabulary terms correctly in a full, complex sentence or paragraph
  • Student can fully discuss what they’ve learned about appearance with peers; ask questions; and show general mastery of the language surrounding the curriculum
  • Student can freely write about appearance

In these three different levels of objectives, you can see I want them to all vaguely do the same thing: they should know and be able to use vocabulary, be able to discuss about appearance, and complete a writing assessment. What varies between these objectives is the level of support that students get. Keep in mind that students can normally generally complete the same thing; the only thing that should change is scaffolding and other supports. 

Step 3: Choose an Assessment

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As educators, we have a myriad of assessments available to us, ranging from jigsaws to performance assessments such as doing a presentation. In the objectives above, the assessment is for students to be able to write about appearance. As mentioned, students can almost always do the same assessment; all that needs to change is the level of support or scaffolding students might get for each assignment. This step is therefore pretty straightforward: you can just pick an assessment like you would in any normal class!

Step 4: Differentiating the Assessment

Just as objectives should be differentiated to spell out what different levels of students should be able to accomplish by the end of the lesson, assessments should also be differentiated to let students be able to actually accomplish the objectives. 

So, let’s look at a practical example, based off of our earlier objectives.

In this writing assignment, students need to describe the woman pictured below. However, as you flip through the slideshow, you can notice that low-level students need to complete a cloze activity where they simply fill in the blanks (with help of a wordbank), intermediate students are expected to write sentences, and high-level students are expected to be able to compose paragraphs.

Wrapping Up

Now that your have differentiated objectives and assessments, you of course have to give them to the students! If I’m in a physical classroom, I simply like to have three different baskets at the back with the different assessments in them. I tell the students to choose one and only turn one in. If I’m online, I upload the three versions to an LMS and again tell students to only complete and turn in one.

Ever since I started differentiating my assessments to be appropriate to student levels, I’ve noticed that there’s much higher participation overall in my classroom. Students are much more likely to complete their work if it’s accessible or interesting for them to do. Higher engagement makes my job much easier – definitely worth the small time price it takes to create differentiated assignments.

Zoom Teaching Tips: How to Present Information Better

Online teaching has become a necessary part of school life during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. If we were to break it down, there are three models of online teaching that are viable in most cases: the synchronous model, the asynchronous model, and blended.

In the first method – the synchronous model – teachers and students use Zoom or Google Meet to teach students face-to-face and in real time via a computer. The second way of online teaching, the asynchronous model, has the teacher provide educational materials in a Google Classroom and lets students view the materials on their own time. The students then studies the material, completes the assignments and uploads them on Google Classroom or another LMS. The final model is blend between synchronous and asynchronous model where Google Classroom is used along with online classes with Zoom or Google Meet.

In today’s blog post, we’re going to discuss some tips that you can use in all three of these models for classroom success.

Zoom Tips for Classroom Success

Here at GIFLE, we have been mostly using Zoom to do synchronous online training programs and classes, namely our school visit program and the English Conversation Program. As a coordinator observing, managing, administrating and teaching these programs, the following are a few observations I had about doing classes through Zoom. However, as mentioned, these tips can also prove useful for those doing asynchronous or blended methods as well.

Bigger Text, Readable Fonts, Clear Pictures

The above PowerPoint slide was used in a class that I taught about US Culture. When making the slide, I thought all the text and pictures would be visible to the students.

That was not the case, and trying to use fonts that were too small interrupted my entire lesson.

When teaching in in-person class, this slide might be visible because you have a big projector screen or big screen TV. The small fonts and numbers might look fine to you when you’re making it, but on a Zoom shared screen, these are no longer visible. When making teaching material, teachers need to be aware of their presentations from a student’s perspective. Visual presentations need to be visible, clear and readable. Without these things, students will no longer be focusing on the lesson. Instead, they will be attempting to comprehend the visual content. Time spent on figuring out the pictures or text on a PowerPoint slide is time spent away from learning necessary content.

It Takes Longer to Do Things Online

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When we teach in in-person classes, there is freedom of movement. You give instructions on an activity, you can teach some and then you can quickly move onto another task. Done.

However, with Zoom online classes, each action requires time expended. If you want to put students in breakout rooms, you need to press the breakout room button, make the breakout rooms, and provide instructions on getting into the breakout room and what to do once students are in there. Once they are done, you have to close all breakout rooms and wait until everyone leaves. Then you can continue on with your class. All these steps are done just to use the breakout room function.

Another example would be doing an interactive activity using non-Zoom software like Google Slides or Jamboard. With these, there is an added step of explaining the software and what to do with the software. All time spent on explaining and using different software and function is usually longer than expected. Some students can understand the technology quicker than others. To figure things out will take some time. So when planning for activities or tasks in lessons, account for more time spent moving from one thing to another.

Need to be Animated on the Screen

The above picture is a screen shot of a Zoom class where I shared my PowerPoint presentation. This is a common occurrence in most Zoom classes; the PPT takes up most of the screen, and you yourself are a mere tiny box. If a teacher does not move and/or has a monotonous voice while teaching, it can be difficult for the students to stay focused and interested. There has to be some movement in order to them focus on what is taught on the screen. A tip is that even if you are explaining or lecturing on Zoom, you have to be animated.

How? When explaining or giving instructions, use gestures instead of just using your voice. If you are counting down, then use to hand to count the seconds. If you are providing instructions, use hand motions to show what you want students to do. If you want them to read a passage, use your hands to show that they need to read something. If you want them to write something, use your hands to show that they need to write something down. These visual cues are important so that the students have something else to rely on aside from only your voice.

It might sound silly, but your facial expression cannot be the same. The only visual cues that the students have, aside from the shared screen, is your face. If your face stays the same without any change, the students can possibly lose interest in your class. If the students did a good job, provide positive feedback by offering words of encouragement and smiling and clapping. If you need the students to be serious, then your face needs to show that you are serious. When teachers are in the classroom, the students are able to see all of you. They can see your facial expression and body language. Since via Zoom, they cannot take visual cues from body language, teachers need to make more of an effort to use facial expressions to show what they mean to students.

Lag with Annotations and Shared Audio/Videos

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Using the annotation function on Zoom and sharing videos are great ways to teach classes and mimic the way that classes are taught in person. The main caveat here is the timing of using the annotation function and sharing of videos. During my observations of GIFLE Zoom classes, I have noticed that the teachers would teach to what they see on the computer monitor. The problem comes from the students side. Just because a teacher wrote something on the screen at a certain moment doesn’t mean that the students saw that. There is a lag between when a teacher writes or draws and when the students see it. Teachers need to be cognizant of this fact when they are explaining something that requires lots of notes or drawings. Pausing and then continuing with the teaching is necessary when writing or drawing something in an online class. Students will be less confused with the lesson if the timing of the teaching and annotation is in sync. Teachers should write first, pause, and continue. This timing needs to be internalized when you are teaching using the annotation function.

The same concept applies to sharing audio or videos. When a teacher presses play on a video, that doesn’t mean the students see it immediately. There is a lag between the teacher’s computer and student’s computer. So when teaching by annotating on a word document or digital whiteboard and sharing audio or video files, teachers need to know that they need to wait a while before continuing onto the next part of the lesson.

Conclusion

When teaching on Zoom, things aren’t always as straightforward as they might be in an in-person class. There are all sorts of small things the teacher needs to keep in mind to have a successful class. However, if you follow the few tips that were presented here, we think that you can improve your online teaching and be well on your way to Zoom success.

Utilizing Online Tools for Classroom Projects

Recent times have created unprecedented shifts in our classrooms. Suddenly, teachers around the world were thrusted into online classrooms, platforms, and required to scramble for resources appropriate for distanced learning. In the era of ever-evolving technology and content, it has been a challenge to keep learning in the classroom meaningful and relevant for our students. Teachers are confronted with the task to create activities and projects that allow students to demonstrate mastery of content and make creative connections, all the while with the added complication of online learning. The following ideas and examples were developed with the idea that teachers can use our new reality to promote engaged, active, meaningful, and socially interactive learning. 

Using Social Media or Website Templates

A versatile tool for teachers is editable PPT templates. They can be created on Google Slides or PowerPoint. Once a template is created, students can insert pictures, text, and content to meet project requirements. Social media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, provide familiar layouts for students to display research or reading projects. Creating reviews or blogs are relevant and meaningful tasks for students that require creativity. Creating content can be made easier with set templates and online resources, such as photos, illustrations, or video clips. These resources lessen the work load of completing projects and allow students more time and flexibility to focus on demonstrating their understanding and creativity. In a technology-less classroom, these templates can be printed and reproduced for traditional-styled projects.

Extensive reading projects completed on PPT templates of a Facebook profile (Images from Netflix’s “Anne with An ‘E'”)
Extensive reading project completed on PPT templates of an Instagram post (Images from pinterest.com)

What type of templates should I create?

When considering the type of social media or website platform to use as a classroom project or activity, think about which websites or type of social media is the most popular with (or most familiar to) your students. This creates motivation when students recognize something that is relevant or connected their own lives. The more associations we can build between the content students learn in the classroom to the content they encounter in the real world, the more meaningful learning becomes. If access to technology and internet is no longer a barrier in our “new” classrooms, use these tools for an educational advantage—have students create actual social media posts to be shared, blogs or websites to be viewed, and projects where they can socially interact with their classmates or a wider community.  

Project based on a Trip Advisor review template
Post-reading activity completed on a template of a Twitter post (Images from movie adaptation of “The Giver”)
Post-reading activity completed on a template of a messenger application

Source: Presentation templates by SlidesCarnival

Creating a template from scratch can seem like a daunting task. There are some free and paid (Teachers Pay Teachers) resources out there that are great in the time crunch. There are benefits in creating your own templates: scaffolding student work, making the task level-appropriate, or adding different components to one project. The most important thing to remember is to provide your students with an example. Show them what type of work you expect and watch them exceed your expectations!

Random Student Selection: Importance and Methods

When you teach class, how do you select students for giving answers? Do you ask a question and then move on when the smartest student in the class shouts the answer? Do you ask for volunteers, then just say the answer yourself when no one replies? Well, in this blog post, we’ll give you a few pointers for how—and why—to select students to answer your questions. 

The importance of student selection 

One problem with the methods above is that they don’t target the students who need the most help. This can be a big issue. When you simply ask a question in class and continue when several students shout the answer, or when the “smart” students in class volunteer, there are likely some students who don’t understand. It’s important, then, that you have methods for choosing not only the most proficient or the most confident, but also the ones you don’t always hear from. 

Selection methods 

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Now that you realize the importance of selecting students, how do you do it? First of all, note that randomness is important. If you always choose the students that struggle with your questions, those students might feel embarrassed, while the other students will feel ignored or cheated out of the opportunity to participate. By randomly selecting students, you can insure everyone has a chance to participate, and no one feels discriminated against.  

Now don’t worry. You don’t need any fancy pieces of software, or a spinning dartboard to choose students … although, if you want, you can find plenty of random number generation websites online, and sometimes a fun prop can add a bit of flavor to a class. In my experience, an easy way is to have a student choose a number between one and 10, or to use the day’s date, to arrive at a “number of the day.” Then count that number of students, and the final one will be the one who answers your question. While this isn’t truly random, it’s a quick way of selecting “volunteers” free from bias. Of course, if you use this method, attentive students will be able to predict the next student to be selected, but that’s fine, since it allows them to prepare accordingly. 

Also, it should be pointed out that random selection of students isn’t always good. It’s important to, at times, allow vocal and confident students to volunteer, and that does mean they will end up participating a bit more than other students. This is fine. It means they’re enjoying the class and this should be encouraged … but you shouldn’t forget about the other students who might need some extra help.  

One method of student selection that isn’t particularly helpful is having students choose the next student to answer. While this might sometimes add some fun to class (students will feel like the KING–or queen–OF THE CLASSROOM!!!)  it also results in only a small group of friends participating in class … or, worse yet, gives students the ability to bully other students by selecting ones they know will feel ashamed. Use this strategy sparingly.  

Special strategies for low-level students 

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Sometimes there are students who, when selected to give an answer in class, take a long time. This can make some teachers feel awkward or feel like it’s slowing the class down. There are several ways around this problem, though. 

The first solution is to not be embarased when this happens. Encourage the student to take his or time and let it be known that you’re comfortable with it. If you’re comfortable, they’ll be comfortable, and it lets students know that they don’t have to be pressured to come up with an answer instantly.  

Another way to deal with slower-processing students is to give them time to prepare in advance. Sometimes, I’ll choose two students at a time, with the first one giving the answer, and the other student being “on deck”—that is, preparing to answer the next question. This gives that student time to think and prepare. Then, once it’s that student’s turn, another student is put on deck. This way, every student will have a chance to prepare their answers a little ahead of time.  

In the event you’ve done all of the above strategies, and your student still has a hard time answering, you can make the question easier by giving them an easier version of the task. For example, if their task is to read a paragraph aloud from a book, you can simplify it by having them read one or two sentences or, if that happens to be too much, a single word. Having students choose one of two answers can also help. For example, if the question is “What animal is this?” and the student hesitates, you can prompt him or her by asking, “Is it a bird or a cat?” 

And if none of the above startegies work? Well, welcome to the world of teaching, where sometimes you can do everything right, and some things still won’t work. But again, the most important part is that you appear comfortable with the situation … even if you’re sweating like an ice cream bar on a hot summer day. 

Or, you can just close your laptop, put on a Hawaiian shirt, tell everyone you’re quitting, then book the next available flight to Bali. 

In all seriousness, though, teachers should resist the temptation to simply give up on certain students. Participating in class is important preparation for students’ lives beyond school. Life’s responsibilites don’t make exceptions, so you shouldn’t either. On the other hand, it’s also important for them to know that, while they might not be the best in class, there’s still a place for them, and they can still contribute in their own way.  

Conclusion 

The idea of making sure all students participate, even those of lower proficiency, can sometimes be easy to ignore. But what good is it to anyone if a student manages to “slip under the radar” for the majority of his or her education, then graduates without knowing the basic information needed for success? So don’t forget to take time now and then to slow things down and call on specific students to make sure everybody has the opportunity to learn.

Global Cultures and Issues in the ESL Classroom: Educating Digital Natives

It’s Monday morning and you’ve just gotten into your classroom. You’re tired from a long weekend but happy to see your students again. The door opens and it’s one of your favorite students (we all have one), Minji. She has come to class early because she wants to ask you a question. You gesture for her to sit down near you at one of the tables, that’s when you notice she has her phone out. She opens up her TikTok app to show you a TikTok she saw of an American talking about the Black Lives Matter movement. She wants to know what this is, and why it’s so popular on social media. You panic for a second because you are unsure how to approach the subject, and how to even begin accessing information to share with your student.

You might not have had this exact scenario happen in your classroom, but chances are something similar has happened. Whether it is students curious about social media movements or textbooks that represent global cultures students may not be familiar with, the English-language classroom is often the place students come to with their questions about global culture and issues. As an English-language teacher it can be daunting to try and find the right way to represent cultures and issues you may not have personal experience with or know where to even begin searching for information for. The following are three different aspects of teaching global culture and issues that I think make a strong basis for being a culturally-responsive and unbiased educator. There are many more facets to this topic, but I think that these three are a good start to better equip yourself and your classroom to help answer your students’ questions and guide them towards being global citizens.  

Clover, J. (2019). [Apple Launches ‘Media Literacy’ Initiative to Encourage Critical Thinking and Better Informed Evaluation of News]. Retrieved June 30, 2021, from https://www.macrumors.com/2019/03/19/apple-launches-media-literacy-initiative/

Critical Media Literacy

The first on the list is practicing Critical Media Literacy. Critical Media Literacy is the practice in which one looks at any form of media, be it books, video, images, or music, and seeks to critically evaluate it for issues of power, voice, representation, and equity. In other words, it’s when you question what you are watching, reading, or listening to. It is the effort of the consumer to make sure that they are not being swayed by a biased point of view, especially in relation to global issues, cultures, and events. Though this might seem like something that would be introduced only in higher-proficiency or late-secondary level classes, the truth is that media literacy comes into play even in third or fourth grade. As digital natives (people who grow up after the advent of the internet), students are inundated with media all of the time and, while their media might not be directly related to world news or global issues, as a teacher you can still encourage students to seek out authentic representation of different cultures within whichever form of media is present in the classroom.

Encouraging Critical Media Literacy in your classroom is as easy as asking questions. Ask students “Where did you get this information?” or “How do you know that?” and if they can’t think of a satisfactory answer, go on a journey together to try to find unbiased and authentic information.

Another way to encourage Critical Media Literacy in the classroom is to add a “sources” portion to assessment rubrics, or any requirements for projects your students may be completing in which they need to search for information online. By requiring students to share their sources and where they got their information, students are automatically more likely to think twice about the legitimacy of their information.

At the end of the day, Critical Media Literacy should be a consistent part of any curriculum. The internet is saturated with a sea of information from a variety of sources, but by modeling the practice for the students as a teacher and expecting the same practices from your students, you are helping your students to develop the skills needed to wade through that sea to find the most pertinent and unbiased information. This is a life skill that will follow students as they graduate to university, and beyond into the workforce.

Authenticity

Similar to Critical Media Literacy, authenticity refers to taking a critical look at the information being used in the classroom; however, authenticity goes a step beyond to look at whose voices are sharing this information.

Take this example: You look in your textbook and notice there is a section about Nigeria. The content of the paragraph is talking about the traditional foods of Nigeria. However, after taking a closer look at the images represented, you notice something a little bit “off”. Of course, there are beautiful shots of Nigerian soup and Jollof rice, but alongside it are pictures of old buildings, dirt roads, and smiling people wearing traditional clothes. None of these pictures are particularly negative, but you have to wonder how authentic they are. If these pictures are the only representation your students will have of Nigeria, what are the assumptions they might make?

A quick search on Google will show you that Nigeria boasts large cities, much like Seoul, people who wear clothes similar to the ones you are wearing right now and so much more than the images represented in that short section in your textbook.

This is a pretty common example, and one that I encountered while teaching high school in South Korea. I think too often we as educators focus on getting rid of any negative stereotypes about global cultures and issues, that we forget to focus on how authentic the materials are that we are presenting. To combat this, I have a few ways in which you can supplement your classroom materials to add authentic voices to your lessons.

  • YouTube videos, especially ones made by or interviewing people from the culture you’d like to represent. Even if the English is too difficult for students to follow along with, a short explanation in Korean can help students understand the basic idea and appreciate the imagery represented in the video.
  • Local Communities. There are so many cultures represented even within the borders of South Korea. Finding ways in which to bring in the local community can not only help students access authentic materials, but perhaps experience culture for themselves.
  • Finally, a quick google search is perhaps the easiest way to find authentic materials. Combine authenticity with Critical Media Literacy to really think about the images you are presenting in class, and where the information is coming from that you are sharing.

Social Justice and Social Media Movements

As educators, incorporating social media and social justice into the curriculum can be sensitive and often we come up against issues that are tricky to address. But with our students increasingly involved with the online social world, it is important to create a safe space in which students feel they can access information and ask questions about the global issues and cultures they may not understand.

I am not saying that social justice movements need to be a part of your lessons, but a good way to give students the tools to thrive as Global Citizens is to teach students critical advocacy tools. Critical advocacy is similar to Critical Media Literacy in that it is simply asking students to question the movements they want to support, to research what each movement is about, and know the purpose of the social media hashtag or Facebook group before joining in.

Incorporating famous social justice movements that are education-adjacent, such as Malala’s campaign or the #bringbackourgirls movement is a great way in which to bring up the topic and introduce the concept of social media activism. In this way, students can learn how to be critical advocates without having to broach sensitive topics in class.

As our world becomes increasingly interdependent, countries like South Korea are looking to encourage Global Citizenship in our new generations which means, as educators, it is our duty to make sure that our students venture into their new global landscape as well-equipped as we can make them to be critical about the information they are inundated with and the assumptions they may have about people, cultures and issues from around the world.