If you’ve learned a language yourself, you know what a struggle learning vocabulary is. Although it makes up the core of a language, it can take hours upon hours of using flashcard apps like Anki or Memrise to feel like you’re making the tiniest bit of progress. These apps have a second problem, too – they’re largely for disciplined, older learners and definitely aren’t what kids think of as fun or engaging.
When it comes to vocabulary acquisition though, explicitly teaching words like this isn’t the only way or even the best way. In this post, we’ll go over some other (fun!) ways to really plant new words deep into the brain.
1. Wide reading
It’s no surprise, but reading – and reading a lot – is one of the best ways to encounter new words. In fact, by simply reading a language learner can encounter way more vocabulary words than they could hope for by receiving explicit instruction in a class. Through reading, the learner can also reinforce that vocabulary by seeing it over and over, and reading it in different contexts. Reading is also a lot more fun than trying to do flashcards – there’s nothing to lose!
2. Read Out Louds, Audiobooks, etc
This is a great choice for learners who aren’t strong at reading, or, well, just don’t like actually sitting down to read much. As long as the language used is high-quality (meaning, it contains more high-leveled vocabulary and grammar structures than just conversational English), students have the opportunity to acquire lots of new vocabulary words. Personally, I like listening to podcasts with really meaningful topics – even in English (which is my native language) I find that I can still learn tons of scientific vocabulary.
3. Word Learning/Recognition Strategies
If you had to do any sort of standardized test or test prep, you’ll know the usefulness of learning things like word roots, prefixes, and suffixes. In the same way, learning such parts of speech can help students acquire and easily recognize new vocabulary.
4. Build Consciousness to Words
Hey, do you know how old an onion is? Five (오년)
What happened to the three cats that crossed the river? Un, deux, trois cats sank.
What is turtles favorite food? Cherry pie (черепахи)
Super lame puns like these are one of my favorite things to both learn and teach languages. They’re easy to remember and develop an interest in words. Of course, you don’t have to only use dad jokes to build word consciousness! Think about incorporating things such as riddles, poems, and anagrams into your vocabulary building as well.
Those are some of our favorite ways to learn, teach, and most importantly, retain vocabulary both in and outside of a classroom setting. Do you have any other ideas? Let us know in the comments below!
Outside of the learning environment, gamification is nothing new. Industries and businesses have been using this strategy to incorporate gaming aspects into their businesses for several years with varying degrees of success.
More recently, language learning environments have been tentatively incorporating gamification into their classes, and this trend is increasing yearly.
What is Gamification?
Gamification is the use of aspects of gaming and game design techniques in traditionally non-gaming environments, such as finance, marketing, and education.
Why Use Gamification?
Gaming is a popular global pasttime that makes a lot of people happy, transcends age, gender, nationality and language. It also encourages motivation, has easily achievable “goals” and promotes a relaxed environment. All of which are seen by educators as desirable qualities in the classroom.
How to Use Gamification in an Educational Environment
‘But we’ve been using games in the classroom for years. This is nothing new,’ some educators may proclaim.
And indeed this is the case. But it’s important to preface at this point that gamification is not the use of games, it’s the use of gaming techniques and aspects of gaming.
So how can you use Gamification to enhance your class?
Gamification, as mentioned before, has clear goals, measurable progress, and just as important, requires participation. As any experienced teacher in Korea can attest to, getting students to participate in activities can be a labor of misery, especially as many Korean students don’t like to make mistakes in front of their peers, and so avoiding the activity entirely seems a better choice than trying and failing.
So with a combination of gamification techniques such as badges, leveling up, quest-lines, you not only encourage students to participate in activities, you also create a social element as they can join a group, compete against friends and experience both teamwork and solo.
With the development of technology used in EFL classrooms, gamification can naturally evolve alongside the technology. There are numerous examples of educational gamification being entirely technology-based; Duolingo being a prime example. While the EFL instructor can take advantage of wide-ranging technology advancements, gamification isn’t all about the technology.
If the teacher finds themselves in a technology-barren space, gamification techniques can still be applied. Paper-based points systems, achievement stamps for younger students, all work well in the classroom without the use of technology.
Gamification is a widely used and versatile technique that can enhance any classroom environment. The core components of participation and achievable goals make it a must for any classroom, and the overall style can be adapted for any age group or ability level.
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.
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.
You’ve succeeded in adding subtitles to your video!
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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
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 …
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.