How to Assess in Theme-based Learning

Formative and summative assessments need to be approached a bit differently from standardized testing to assess progress in language acquisition throughout the school term.   Some benefits of Theme-based Learning assessment strategies are that they are much less stressful for the students and usually provide a more accurate evaluation of what your students have learned and remember rather than what they have memorized for a test.

Summative Assessment ideas:

  • Individual, Group Project, or Collaborative Class Project – long-term, puts together all the things they have learned
    • Create a board game using language learned in classFilm a pantomime with 1 or 2 narrators or voice-oversCreate Neighborhood mapsBook creator – create a book (online or paper) related to the units studied and connect them under the themeDioramaPresentationReport/Essay
    • Scavenger Hunt (complex): Create questions based on a unit or story you students just completed.  Students find items by answering the questions which gives them a clue to answer the next or other questions on the list.


For summative assessments in Theme-Based Learning always have a good analytical rubric. 
It will make your job easier and it will make it easy to explain goals and results to students (and parents).

*See padlet for sample rubrics & Theme Project Examples for Summative Assessments

Formative Assessment ideas:

  • Quick questions: while students are working on projects or assignments to check if they are going the right direction.
    • Concept Map (a visual plan of their ideas or a summary of a story you read or they are reading)Transfer the Concept: example – students have learned prepositions of space (in, on, under, next to), then give them different situations to use the new language such an images of inside a home, businesses along a street, freeze a scene from a movie, or get them to draw their favorite place and label items there or write sentences about the items in the picture.Survey game (Find Someone Who…. BINGO) using BINGO cards related to the topic with sentence scaffolding.Then get students to share the information they collected:
      What does _____ like to do on the weekend?
      She/He likes to ___________.Picture Dictation: draw what you hear.Peer instruction: one student teaches another how to do something related to the topic/themeShort interviews with students (usually one-on-one)Scavenger Hunt (simple): Create clues based on a unit or story your students are studying.  Students find items around the classroom that match the clues and write them down on the paper or collect the item. (ie/Find a blue book about animals).Graffiti Wall: large poster papers with questions or topics on them are put up in sections around the room, and students walk around and write or draw answers with markers.Graphic Organizers: Mind maps, Venn Diagrams, character/subject charts.
    • KWL chart: students fill in the first 2 sections before they study and the last column after the lesson or unit.

Image: Kristina Kauss 2022, based on data from KWL Example – Seasons Storyboard by Natasha Lupiani

Activity: Post Reading Assessments.

Are the following examples Formative or Summative forms of evaluation?  

Write either F or S.

  1. ___ A book review
  2. ___A drawing of a scene from a book
  3. ___A book report
  4. ___A skit that replays a scene from a book
  5. ___Designing a cover for a book
  6. ___Create a poster to promote the book
  7. ___Having a discussion about a book
  8. ___Writing some sentences about what the student
           thinks will happen next in a book
  9. ___Talk about characters or scenes from the book

EXAMPLES of adapting school textbooks to Theme-Based Learning

  • Use dialogues in the textbook, but personalize them based on student interests and experiences connected to the theme.
  • Change textbook stories and reading passages into Interactive Dramatic Reading activities with follow-up speaking or writing prompts that utilize reading comprehension strategies. 

Ask students questions about how the reading material connects to the theme you have chosen to bridge the different units.

  • Change grammar or pronunciation lessons from the textbook into concept attainment lessons. (Strategy created by Jerome Bruner that encourages critical thinking.
    A teacher shows students a group of pictures/ words and then asks what the common theme is in pictures or words).  

      • Example: if a teacher wanted to teach students about FoodThe teacher has a stack of cards, each card with a picture of types of food. The teacher does not tell the students the topic, but asks them to instead guess the common theme.
      • OR the teacher has the students group cards into different themes.
  • Going beyond what the textbooks provide.  Create projects and games that tie together content from multiple units.
  • Mix up the units.  You are not required to teach every unit in order.

Teacher Terminology: a (hopefully) Useful List of Definitions

When I was preparing for my interview at GIFLE, I suddenly realized that I had to pretend to actually know something about teaching if I wanted to land the job. This meant familiarizing myself with various forms of educational jargon. So I spent some time combing over the internet for any sort of teacher-y sounding words I could find. And it must have worked, since I got the job! But, once I actually started doing the job, I realized there were still tons of words I didn’t know. Thankfully, I found that my co-workers were understanding enough that they didn’t judge me for asking questions, and in the long run, I learned a whole wealth of words and terms I had never learned at my previous job. I hope that other teachers in a similar situation as mine can benefit from my experience. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of various terms and words I’ve learned that have been helpful for my work. Let’s get right into it.

Backwards Design: A method of curriculum and lesson design where the teacher thinks of the end goals of the lesson first, then creates the curriculum and activities around those goals. Also known as “UBD” (see below).

Bloom’s Taxonomy: A means of classifying different thinking skills. Bloom’s Taxonomy is often shown as a pyramid, with more simple thinking skills (like memorizing) at the bottom, and more complex ones (like evaluating or creating) at the top.

CBL: “Content-based Learning.” Teaching a subject like science, social studies, etc., in a foreign language.

CLIL: “Content and Language Integrated Learning.” A method of curriculum design that involves using 2 or more subjects, plus a foreign language, when designing a lesson or course. It was designed as an upgrade to CBL (see above). 

Critical Thinking: The act of engaging in higher-order thinking skills (see “Bloom’s Taxonomy” above) in order to come up with creative solutions to problems, or evaluate information.


  • CCQs: “Content-checking questions.”  Questions the teacher asks students to make sure they understood the information they just learned. Example: A teacher finishes teaching the class about the climate of Paraguay, then asks, “Does it snow a lot in Paraguay?” 
  • ICQs: “Instruction-checking questions.” Questions the teacher asks students to make sure they know what they’re supposed to do. Example: A teacher tells students to bring their worksheets to him/her when they’re finished. After giving them this instruction, the teacher asks the class, “Should you bring your worksheets to me or keep them?” 


  • Decoding: figuring out meaning from text or sound, i.e., reading and listening.
  • Encoding: creating one’s own words to convey meaning, i.e., writing or speaking.

Differentiation: Creating various versions of lesson materials to be usable by various levels of students. For example, when writing a speech, a low-level student might be given a fill-in-the-blanks template, while higher-level students might be encouraged to write it from scratch.

Essential Questions (EQs): Thought-provoking questions (often with no right or wrong answer) that guide lesson/curriculum development. They encapsulate what the teacher wants students to be able to answer at the end of the lesson. Created to be used with the UBD teaching framework (see below), but also used elsewhere.

Flipped Classroom: A method of teaching where the students learn the background information of the class at home (through a video, etc.) in order to prepare them for activities in a following class. This is opposed to a typical classroom, where students learn the material in class, then do homework at home.

GCE: “Global Citizenship Education.” A teaching philosophy promoted by UNESCO, which aims to make students better global citizens by teaching about diversity, conflict resolution, and more.

Kinesthetic Learning: A means of learning that involves the student handling and manipulating objects, e.g., moving magnetic letters to spell a word.

L1/L2: L1 is a person’s native language, L2 is the language they study. For example, a Korean citizen’s L1 is Korean, with their L2  English (or Chinese, or whatever else they’re studying.)

Lexile Level: A measure of how difficult something is to read, especially in regards to a student’s grade.

Metacognitive Thinking: Thinking about one’s own thinking. Typically seen in adult students when evaluating the effectiveness of their study methods and courses.

Project-based Assessment (PBA): A means of “testing” students by grading projects as opposed to a written test. 

*Note, PBA is different from PBL (below). While they are often used together, they are not necessarily done so. An analogy is to think of the martial of Kendo, and a sword. Kendo is the system, the sword is the tool. And while a sword is used in Kendo, it can be used in other styles (like Kung-fu) as well.

Project-based Learning (PBL):  A teaching method where students produce projects as a means of learning.

Realia: Objects from the culture of the language being studied. Examples: newspapers, souvenirs, snacks, etc.

Scaffolding: A very general term that essentially means building on what the students already know in order to teach them more. This description basically encompasses all teaching. Often in an ESL/EFL context, however, scaffolding refers to using templates or frames to guide students’ English. Below are two examples of a question that might appear on a worksheet, one scaffolded and one not.

  • Scaffolding: What is your name? My name is _______.
  • No scaffolding: What is your name? _______________.

Segmenting/blending: Phonics skills.

  • Segmenting: separating a word into constituent phonics. 
  • Blending: putting phonemes together to sound out a word.

Sight Words: In basic reading/phonics, words that are memorized, as opposed to being phonetically blended.

Station Learning/Station Rotation: A method of teaching that involves the teacher setting up different “stations” around the classroom, with a different activity (watching a video, doing a worksheet, group work, etc.) at each one. After a certain amount of time, students move to a different station.

Task-based Learning: Teaching students English by having them simulate real-world tasks. Examples of task-based learning are having students do a customer/clerk role play, having them follow directions on a map, etc.

TPR: “Total physical response.” A method of teaching that involves students both saying words and performing an action, e.g., saying “eat” as they pantomime eating. 

UBD: “Understanding by Design.” A form of curriculum design that our instructor, Autumn, wrote a whole post about – you can read it here.

Zone of Proximal Development: Regarding books and literature, the zone of proximal development is an ideal difficulty level that is neither too difficult nor too easy for the student, but rather just difficult enough to foster reading improvement. 

That’s all for now! While this is by no means a complete list, it should be enough to get you ready for that next teaching interview, or to save you some embarrassment of asking “What’s that mean?” the next time you go to a teaching conference. Are there any other terms I forgot that you’d like to add? Or did I make a mistake about something, and you want to tell me that I’m only slightly smarter than a chrysanthemum? Write it in the comments below!

Classroom English

Classroom English is language that is frequently used in the classroom, and it characterized by its usefulness and practical application. It can be found in the beginning of textbook chapters, and also encompasses basic English expressions that the teacher uses daily in the classroom.

Classroom English, while seemingly simple and straightforward, is an essential part of the language setting. The functions are varied:

  • Gain an understanding of the English Language
  • Enable students to feel comfortable hearing and responding to English instruction
  • Promote unconscious comprehension of simple commands in English
  • React to English instruction and thus gain confidence in their overall ability to function in English

Here are some examples of certain classroom phrases used throughout the class:

Start of the class

“Sit down”

“be quiet please”

“Let’s review…”

“Let’s begin”

During the class

“Repeat after me”

“Read aloud”


“try again”

“Do you understand”

After the class

“Any questions”

“The homework is…”

“Tomorrow, we’ll…”

“Goodbye, have a nice day”

Photo by Yan Krukov on

Classroom English exists in a strange paradigm. Its very nature means the usage is more than other types of English, but often it isn’t taught specifically or focused on during classes. This creates a problem for language teachers as often it requires a different teaching method compared to specific chapter focused English.

Classroom English is predominantly spoken and so the teacher uses this medium to communicate with classroom English, however oral techniques are only a component of teaching classroom English.

Strategies for teaching Classroom English:

Use visuals to reinforce the target language. This is an essential part of the learning and reinforcement process. Students need to be able to see the Classroom English phrases easily and they need access to it at all times.

Use the first part of the first lesson to talk about Classroom English with students. This is an important step to establishing what phrases the students need to listen out for.

For older students, methods for learning Classroom English tend to have a passive rather than active aspect. Student exposure to Classroom English will take place throughout the class, and practical methodology includes repetition and drills.

With younger students, alongside the repetition, more active tasks can be useful, especially games. Before and after the class, games can be a great way to teach Classroom English.  

Pop Culture Resources for the EFL Classroom

Incorporating pop culture into the language learning classroom is a great idea on several different accounts. It naturally grabs students’ attention, allows the language to be experienced in real and authentic ways, teaches slang and colloquial English, and, of course, is tons of fun!

It can be pretty difficult for teachers to find resources surrounding pop culture to bring into their classroom, or even know what to discuss. No fear! We at GIFLE have compiled some of our favorite pop culture resources for classroom use.

Photo by Arantxa Treva on

General and Miscellaneous Resources

The general resources listed here can be used for all different sorts of pop culture, from pop culture in fashion to celebrity news.

Pop Culture Happy Hour is an NPR podcast that covers a variety of different topics. It’s a great way to get students listening – or even to curate some ideas of your own about what to bring into the classroom!

There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to what’s included in the New Yorker culture section. It includes everything from trending pop culture to television shows to modern news. At the top of the page, the sections are divided into things like “books” and “food” though, so if you’re looking for something a bit more specific it’s easy enough to sort through.

The OG source of all things pop culture! Buzzfeed became famous in the early – mid 2000s for its listicles and quizzes surrounding pop culture, and while many would say it’s been dethroned as the absolute queen, her rule still stands. Students will love the easy-to-read articles and fun pop culture quizzes they can find on this site.

  • Vice (this website also has a Korean version!)

Vice is primarily known for being a news site, but it also has plenty of pop culture content to use in the language classroom! Simply go to the menu and you can select from “games,” “entertainment” and more. They also have a ton of videos that you can consider using in the classroom.

This one is perhaps the odd one out in the “general resources” list. Modern Gurlz is a YouTube channel that centers largely around fashion and fashion in pop culture, and how the two influence each other. The presenter speaks slowly and uses simple language, so it’s great for language learners.

Photo by Marcelo Chagas on

Music Resources

Honestly, when it comes to using music in the classroom, your students are probably the best resource that you have. It’s likely that they already listen to at least some music in English, even if it is just the most recent tracks by BTS. When asking your students for music, make sure to vet it properly for both language and whatever’s in the music video. It will save you – and your students – a lot of embarrassment in the long run!

Popheads is a subreddit that discusses all things pop – new music, artists, and even some celebrity gossip. It’s a great tool to get your students reading, and possibly even discussing music with others. Be warned though, this is Reddit so the discussions can get a little crazy!

AJayII is a Youtuber who does in-depth analyses on songs and albums, and gives her thoughts and immediate reactions. She’s one of the most popular music reviewers on YouTube, and it’s not hard to see why! She has a friendly, easy-to-understand persona that will engage students and get them listening – and reading the comments in the videos to see what other people thought.

PopCrush doesn’t feature music and music reviews so much as it spotlights trending artists. It offers interviews with popular singers and bands, gives short form news stories on topics such as how Corona is affecting the entertainment industry, and even has some more listicle-y videos about celebrities who can’t swim. The majority of PopCrush videos are under ten minutes, with a lot of them even being under five minutes, making them the perfect length of time for classroom use.

Photo by Mike B on

Television Resources

It’s pretty easy to find out what television shows are trending now. You can simply open up Netflix and see what’s on the first page, or even ask your students! Here are some resources for looking at more in-depth analyses of television and movies.

Pop Culture Detective describes itself on Youtube as “Video essays exploring the intersections of politics, masculinity, and entertainment,” and we think that’s a pretty good summary! These videos can get quite in depth but they’re excellent for having students think critically about television and film. Bonus: some of the videos have Korean subtitles!

The Take looks at popular movies and TV shows and analyzes tropes, stereotypes, and offers guides for how to think about entertainment and even Hollywood in general. They have videos on almost everything you can think of, from tall girls dating shorter boys (and why that’s a newsworthy story in Hollywood) to discussing the different ways Corona was displayed on screen.

Lindsey Ellis retired from YouTube last year, but her legacy as a super-smart film critic remains. She discusses movies and other pop culture phenomena in hilarious, insightful ways.

Photo by Dana Tentis on

Pop Culture Cooking Channels

To those of you who don’t think that food is a part of pop culture, think again! Restaurants and different foods can trend on Instagram just as quickly as anything else. (Remember when rainbow bagels went viral back in 2016 and then promply disappeared off the face of the earth? We do.) Cooking channels are some of the most popular content on both YouTube and Netflix, so in our opinion it’s worth looking into!

Binging with Babish is great for pop culture in a couple ways. First, of course, it’s one of the most popular cooking channels on Youtube. Secondly, Babish focuses on making food from movies and TV shows. Most of his episodes open with a short videoclip of where the food from today is coming from, ranging from Harry Potter to the Avengers.

Maangchi has been described as the Julia Child of Korean cooking, and it isn’t hard to see why. She has one of the most popular cooking channels on YouTube where she teaches people how to make Korean food. Originally from Yeosu, Maangchi’s food often has a distinctive Jeollanam flair. If you’re teaching students like I am, a simple conversation starter might be asking the class how her version of a dish differs from what they’re used to.

The You Suck at Cooking YouTube channel is a pop culture phenomenon all on its own. Part cooking, part comedy, and part music video, this channel really defines being categorized. The anonymous chef makes simple recipes and often uses his own way of speaking to explain them (for example, referring to the “oven” as “un-doe”) and puns (such as putting a corn husk on his pet dog’s head for “corndog”). This is a great resource for higher-level students to get used to more casual English. His videos are generally pretty short – around five minutes – and very creative, which can help inspire your students when speaking.

Photo by John Ray Ebora on

Book Resources

Goodreads is similar to a social media site, but for books! Users can rate books, write reviews, follow their friends, and, of course, discuss books and authors. It’s also a great source for students to keep track of what they’ve read, and to decide what they’re interested in reading next.

Reddit, of course, has a lot of robust threads on different books to check out! Be warned, the in-site search function doesn’t work all that well, so it’s generally best to search for individual books using a search engine.

This is a fun YouTube channel! The host, Dom, discusses different books, their movie adaptations, how they differ, and his opinion on the book versus the movie. Since, let’s face it, a lot of students will probably just try to watch the movie rather than fully reading the book (who wasn’t guilty of this in high school?) this is a great resource to use to help them see the differences and what they missed out on.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on

Video Game Resources

I’ll be honest, I don’t play videogames myself. Nobody in the office, I think, could call themselves a true gamer. GIFLE is a research institute though, so we don’t let the lack of firsthand knowledge get to us; instead, we call in the experts! So, to write this section I contacted the true professionals over at at Player Unknown Battlegrounds (also known as PUBG) in Seoul to get the latest intel on where to find information and the hottest games.

Skill Up’s YouTube “About” description simply reads “how bout them video games?” which does surprisingly well to sum up the channel. The presenter reviews and talks about tons of different games and shares his thoughts about them. He uses a lot of clips from actual gameplay, which is sure to engage students.

This is the last Reddit recommendation, I promise! Reddit is a great way to, you guessed it, read up on the latest games and get people’s [unfiltered] thoughts and opinions about them, as well as to catch their hype surrounding the games.

E3 Recap is a resource that collects announcements for all sorts of new and upcoming games and consolidates them into one convenient page. On the homepage, it shows the information about when the game is coming out, along with a game trailer from YouTube. At the top, there’s a filter so students can look up different games even according to what platform the game will be released on (from Nintendo to VR). Students who are interested in gaming will love getting to know what new releases are in store.

IGN is an entertainment and game website that dates all the way back to 1996. It has just about all the information about video games you’d want on it, and chances are, your students are already probably at least passingly familiar with it.

There you have it, our best resources for finding and using pop culture in the EFL classroom. Did we miss anything big? If you have any other resources to use, please share them in the comments below.

Critical Multicultural Education: an overview

What is Multicultural Education

According to the leading Multicultural Education expert, James Banks (2021), Multicultural Education is  “an idea or concept, an educational reform movement, and a process” (pp.44) in which schools and teachers are tasked with creating opportunities for all students to learn and succeed in and out of the classroom. He goes on to explain that there are five dimensions to modern Multicultural Education;

What is the difference between Critical Multicultural Education and Multicultural Education?

Traditional Multicultural Education has long celebrated diversity and helped students to become aware of diversity in the classroom to promote student success and social empowerment. Critical Multicultural Education takes a step further to promote prejudice and privilege education, curriculum integration, identity formation, and opportunities for authentic partnerships and experiences.

Teachers and Critical Multicultural Education

Teacher identity and teacher reflection are an important part of Critical Multicultural Education

A teacher who engages with Critical Multicultural Education:

  • Recognizes students’ cultural knowledge, values, and ways of being as strengths
  • Is aware of their own privilege and bias
  • Has an open mindset and is constantly looking for ways in which to highlight alternative point-of-views outside of the dominant Korea-centric or West-centric worldview
  • Is sensitive to issues and topics that might be uncomfortable for students from more diverse backgrounds
  • Is knowledgeable about the unique cultural background of their students and works to understand the various diverse cultures that might be represented in the classroom

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

The pedagogical framework often cited alongside Critical Multicultural Education is “Culturally Responsive Pedagogy”.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy acknowledges and engages diverse learning and their experiences, cultural backgrounds, and communities.

In South Korea, this means that “teachers are integrating the cultures and identities of immigrant students, multicultural students, and North Korean refugee students into their instruction.” (Kim, 2020, pp. 88)

A culturally responsive teacher:

  1. Learns about students’ previous experiences and cultural background
  2. Uses this knowledge in the curriculum and in the building of a caring and diverse classroom that also challenges students to success
  3. Empowers students, especially ethnically diverse students, through academic success and cultural connections in the classroom via content and classroom culture

In essence, Multicultural Education should NOT be taught in a textbook only, but instead developed by each educator based on a particular student group. Teachers should encourage students to be proud of their heritage, create assignments that celebrate diverse backgrounds, incorporate Multicultural Education Approaches into their curriculum whenever possible and work towards being an introspective teacher who examines their own values, beliefs, and biases.

As Howard (2021) states,

“The mere understanding of culture cannot translate to effective teaching strategies”

(pp. 145)

Challenges in Critical Multicultural Education

Be careful to avoid…

Cultural Stereotyping

Making general assumptions or generalizations about a cultural group.

  • Example: “All American eat hamburgers”

Educators who seek to create cultural connections can do more damage than assistance.

  • Example: “You like hamburgers? So do Americans! All Americans eat hamburgers!”

“Single Story”

This is when only one “story” of a people group is portrayed, forgetting that most cultures have many sides and stories to tell. This is how stereotypes and prejudice start at the early stages of life, and get reinforced as students go through school.

  • Example: Showing students videos from YouTube about the poor students in Nigeria and how they cannot go to school easily. Without showing the major cities like Lagos where there are globally-accredited Universities and institutions like the Google AI research center.


Language is powerful, and it can be a way in which students and teachers ostracize multicultural students, consciously or unconsciously. Avoid referring to students as ‘Other’ or ‘Foreign’, because this only reinforces the “Us versus Them” mentality. In Korea, students who are dubbed “multicultural” are often pushed to the outside of society as the non-Korean ‘Other’.

  • Example: In some schools, teachers were seen calling on multicultural students using derogatory words (J.H. Kim, 2018), ‘damhwa’, or even just the students’ home country (I.e “China” or “Vietnam”) (Park & Park, 2018)


Banks, J. A. (2021). Multicultural Education: History and Dimensions. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), Transforming Multicultural Education Policy and Practice (pp. 42–52). Essay, Teachers College Press.

Howard, T. C. (2021). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), Transforming Multicultural Education Policy & Practice (pp. 137–163). Essay, Teachers College Press.

Kim, H. A. (2020). Understanding “koreanness”: racial stratification and colorism in Korea and implications for Korean Multicultural Education. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 22(1), 76–97.

Kim,  J.  H.  (2018,  July  29).  “Ya  damunhwa”…Damimsaemeun  nae  chingureul iruhkae  bulluyo [Hey,  damunhwa…my  homeroom  teacher  calls  my  friend this]. Seoul    Shinmun.    Retrieved    from

Park,  S.  E.,  &  Park,  H.  Y.  (2018,  March  5). Umma, seonsengnimi  nareul ‘damunhwa’ra bulreuyo [Mom, the teacher calls me ‘damunhwa’]. Yonhap News. Retrieved from

2022 Intensive Teacher Training Program

It’s here.

Our most intensive program of the year: ITTP.

ITTP, or Intensive Teacher Training Program, is a six-month-long training program for both primary and secondary teachers in Gyeonggi-do. It’s for the keenest, most passionate educators we could find. We won’t lie to you – it’s not easy to get into, and once it starts, it only gets harder. It isn’t all grim though: ITTP is rewarding both on a personal level and in terms of what you as an educator can take away into your classroom.

What Are the ITTP Topics For This Year?

As mentioned before, we have two tracks this year: one for elementary and one for secondary.

The elementary track is all about CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). We’ll be taking a deep, deep dive into developing this type of curriculum, including creating CLIL lesson plans, weekly curriculum, projects, and even how to design rubrics with CLIL in mind. We’ll also be exploring how to incorporate picture books into the CLIL classrooms, and, of course, gather ideas from educators around Korea for how to foster language acquisition in elementary school students.

The secondary track focuses on taking a literary approach to creative writing. Trainees will be asked to engage with a particular text, honing in on one or two of the literary elements to extrapolate into a creative writing unit that includes both assessment and feedback. Later on, trainees will look at culutrally responsive education and integrated teaching methods. We’ll also get to read some fun YA books – Fault in Our Stars and Coraline sound good to anybody?

There’s a ton more information surrounding ITTP – enough that we had to create another full website surrounding it. Here you can find schedules, the books we lovingly wrote, homework, and more. Click here!

A Crash Course into UbD

When we teachers design curriculum, we want it to be effective. We want our students to achieve their results and goals in both the short and long term. We want our students to understand and gain something from what we teach them, and to have a lasting effect on their education and maybe even lives.

This is, unsurprisingly, tricky to do. It can be easy to get overwhelmed and throw a worksheet or activity at our students that’s disconnected from our long-term goals and begs the question about what exactly is gained from doing them.

Now that I’ve presented this strawman argument, let’s crack into what this article is really about: understanding by .

Understanding by design framework (UbD), as proposed by Wiggins and McTighe, is a way of writing curriculum that helps ensure that students actually understand what’s being taught, rather than simply gaining knowledge about the content material they might forget in time. It wants students to have knowledge, rather than being able to simply memorize something in order to pass a quiz, and for this knowledge to be lasting, meaningful, and appropriate to their everyday life.

Sounds great, right?

Let’s look at how to actually do it.

Backwards Design

In “traditional” curriculum planning, teachers usually look at the textbook first. We see its content, and from there, develop goals for our students and chart out our lessons.

When working in the UbD framework, we need to work backward. It goes like this:

  • Identify your goals
  • Figure out what you need to get to those goals (tools, assessments, etc)
  • Plan how you’re actually going to teach it

So, imagine that you want to teach your students about plant biology, specifically the parts of a plant

Now, in the traditional method of designing curriculum, you’d probably give students a short lecture on the subject. Maybe you’d have them read the textbook or some other materials. You might have them do a short assignment or two, and then eventually have them do a test or quiz.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with planning curriculum like this, necessarily, but, pop quiz: can you, the person reading this article, recall words such as “petiole,” “node,” “anther,” or “style”? I can almost guarantee you, at some point, had to memorize these words or even take a quiz on them, but as an adult, these words have not stuck with me. I do remember, however, thinking how pointless this all was the time and just wanting to hang out with my friends instead.

Now let’s look at how you could plan a similar lesson using UbD framework.

The teacher might choose several types of plants – moss, ferns, azaleas, grass, tomato plants, or even algae. The teacher then divides students into small groups and asks them several questions. What parts can they see of the plants? What do the plants have in common? How can these plants be classified? After coming up with these answers, students can then label plants in their own ways in their groups. After each group has come up with their answer, they can then compare their responses with the other groups. Did they all come up with the same answers? It is very likely that they did not, and students will argue with each other about why their categorizations are correct. They can listen to each other and even change their original answers as they discuss their ideas. Then, students can discuss why it might be beneficial to have official ways to talk about plant parts and categorizations.

Only then would the teacher open the book and have students read about plant parts and categorizations.

Crafting True Student Understanding

Understanding has six aspects:

  • Explaining
  • Interpreting
  • Application
  • Perspective
  • Empathy
  • Self-knowledge

Let’s see how they apply to our plant biology class. First, plant classification is discussed (explanation) and students talk about their own ideas about how it can be done (interpretation). Next, students apply this to label their plants in their groups (application) to decide plant classifications. Afterwards, students discuss the classifications they came up with in their other groups (perspective) and are asked to listen to or even change their original classifications (empathy). Finally, the students can crack open their textbooks to learn about actual plant classifications (self-knowledge).

In order for the teacher to determine that understanding has been achieved, the teacher can assess using something as simple as a test or quiz, but they could also do an alternative assessment, such as having students label or categorize the plants in the “correct” way.

Big Ideas and Core Tasks

As I’ve already mentioned, backwards design begins by determining what students should know by the end of the program or unit. In UbD, this is also called the “big idea.” When developing UbD curriculum, the teacher should develop content around the “big idea” and connect all course content to it. Big ideas and core tasks are the ideas that anchor the curriculum and represent the true heart of the topic. Big ideas have no “right” answer and are meant to be argued. For example, in a biology class the big idea might be something like “species adapt to survive.” Over the course of the year, there exist a myriad of core tasks the teacher could develop in order to discuss this idea.

Essential Questions

Essential questions are questions that help frame your content goals. Like big ideas, these questions shouldn’t have simple answers, but should spark ideas and discussion in the classroom. For example, in our biology class, our essential questions might be something like:

  • What are the basic structures of a plant?
  • What does a plant need to survive?
  • How have different plants adapted to different environments?

Overall, when writing your essential questions for a unit, think about ones that will foster inquiry and meaning to your students.

Closing Thoughts

As a curriculum designer, I love working with UbD framework. I think it’s helpful to look at things from a broader, student-centered perspective to create engaging curriculum. There are tons of resources and further reading you can do on UbD framework (to start, I’d recommend the book written by the original creators of UbD). I hope this short crash course can get you started on your own UbD journey.

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:

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!


The Art Institute of Colorado. (2011). How Coyote and Eagle Stole the Sun and Moon. YouTube. USA. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from

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

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

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

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

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

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on

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

Photo by Loc Dang on

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.


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.