Learning with Lego

The exams had just finished and I’d promised we would play in class today, and we did – but we learnt too.

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So, I gave each pair the same 5 pieces of lego, they don’t need to be the same set for everyone, just for each pair, and as you can see the colour doesn’t matter.

Then the “seeing partner made a construction with his pieces and described it to his blindfolded partner, who had to construct the same thing with his pieces:

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When we’d done that a couple of times I then blindfolded both of them, I made the construction and gave it to one of the pair, who by feeling it had to describe it to his partner.

After we had done that for a while we discussed the techniques and strategies they had used and then I asked whether they thought it was a good activity in language class and whether they had learnt or practised any particular forms. After discussing what makes a good language game (fun, actually use some English, etc) each group had to come up with their own game, demonstrate it and write a poster for it with name, rules and language objectives as well as an image or two if useful.

Some came up with labyrinth type games with language challenges at various points;

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Others made battleships:

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Or the games including picking a card and building what was written on the card, or correctly giving the past tense of a verb before being allowed a try at a kind of lego-basketball shot.

The lesson lasted two hours, and say what you like about kinaesthetic learning, the students had a great time!

Oh, and I kept the posters so next time I can suggest a ton of other games too!

 

 

 

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Vocabulary Games

Two teams (or more), choose a cool name for your team, then give the students 3 minutes to note down as many things as possible that:

  1. are yellow
  2. have 6 letters
  3. can be found in my pocket
  4. smell nice
  5. Rhyme with “rhyme”
  6. are round
  7. Begin with the letter “s”
  8. the teacher will do this weekend
  9. are not as much fun as this class
  10. they could make lists about
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An Inclusive Whiteboard

Here are some of the things my students have found useful in relation to whiteboard use:

  • Use a blue pen rather than lots of different colours, green is often hard to see against the glare of overhead lights.

 

 

  • A board plan – using the same areas of the board for the same tasks every lesson mean students can quickly find new vocab, or the homework etc.

 

  • Starting the lesson in the same order every lesson gives a sense of security, everyone knows what’s coming up; what’s the day & the date? (top right), what’s the weather like? or Fun Fact of the day depending on year group (top left) – did YOU know the average man produced two swimming pools of saliva during his life? (did you want to?!!) What did we do last lesson (middle left) – a good opportunity for over learning/revision, and then what we’re going to do (top centre).

 

  • Writing a quick lesson plan on the board & tick it off as you go along so everyone knows what we’re up to, including symbols for reading, writing, oral, etc.

 

  • NOT using the board to make students copy great long texts

 

  • Letting students take photos of the board ( and adding these photos to our class WhatsApp group)

 

  • If /when you clean the board or an area of it do it properly, no half words left, and some students get bothered by the odd line, dot, smudge and focus on that at the expense of the lesson so do it well – or ask that student to be board monitor.

 

Do you have any more suggestions?

 

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Collaborative Writing activity

We did this in class this week and it worked really well, give a different scenario to each group. After writing the letter one student from each group got together in new groups and had a role play dialogue discussing their new school in their various roles.

 

1) You are a new student – you come from the exchange school in Zurich

Write a letter to your family describing the school:

Talk about the physical aspect (buildings etc) and the lessons.

Talk about what you have done this week.

Give some examples about what you did on particular days (Monday, Tuesday, etc).

Talk about your plans for next weekend.

Choose one person in the group to write the letter, one to be responsible for checking the grammar (use your resources), one for the vocabulary (use your resources) and one for the organization and cohesion of the text.

 

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2) You are a new teacher

Write a letter to your family describing the school:

Talk about the physical aspect (buildings etc) and the lessons.

Talk about what you have done this week.

Give some examples about what you did on particular days (Monday, Tuesday, etc).

Talk about your plans for next weekend.

Choose one person in the group to write the letter, one to be responsible for checking the grammar (use your resources), one for the vocabulary (use your resources) and one for the organization and cohesion of the text.

 

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3) You’re a new student who has never been to Switzerland before, you come from another continent – you can choose

Write a letter to your family describing the school:

Talk about the physical aspect (buildings etc) and the lessons.

Talk about what you have done this week.

Give some examples about what you did on particular days (Monday, Tuesday, etc).

Talk about your plans for next weekend.

Choose one person in the group to write the letter, one to be responsible for checking the grammar (use your resources), one for the vocabulary (use your resources) and one for the organization and cohesion of the text.

 

4) You are a new student, you come from a school that had only 20 students and no outdoor area

Write a letter to your family describing the school:

Talk about the physical aspect (buildings etc) and the lessons.

Talk about what you have done this week.

Give some examples about what you did on particular days (Monday, Tuesday, etc).

Talk about your plans for next weekend.

Choose one person in the group to write the letter, one to be responsible for checking the grammar (use your resources), one for the vocabulary (use your resources) and one for the organization and cohesion of the text.

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5) You are a new student, you come from a school with 2,000 students and an enormous playground

Write a letter to your family describing the school:

Talk about the physical aspect (buildings etc) and the lessons.

Talk about what you have done this week.

Give some examples about what you did on particular days (Monday, Tuesday, etc).

Talk about your plans for next weekend.

Choose one person in the group to write the letter, one to be responsible for checking the grammar (use your resources), one for the vocabulary (use your resources) and one for the organization and cohesion of the text.

 

Let me know how you got on 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6) You are a new student, you were living in awful conditions before and this school is the best thing that has ever happened to you.

Write a letter to your family describing the school:

Talk about the physical aspect (buildings etc) and the lessons.

Talk about what you have done this week.

Give some examples about what you did on particular days (Monday, Tuesday, etc).

Talk about your plans for next weekend.

 

Choose one person in the group to write the letter, one to be responsible for checking the grammar (use your resources), one for the vocabulary (use your resources) and one for the organization and cohesion of the text.

 

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7) You are a new student who has been sent here as a punishment.

Write a letter to your family describing the school:

Talk about the physical aspect (buildings etc) and the lessons.

Talk about what you have done this week.

Give some examples about what you did on particular days (Monday, Tuesday, etc).

Talk about your plans for next weekend.

 

Choose one person in the group to write the letter, one to be responsible for checking the grammar (use your resources), one for the vocabulary (use your resources) and one for the organization and cohesion of the text.

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Fab Idea of the Day : This is writing, not a reading comprehension (well kind of)

I always feel uncomfortable with writing activities, I feel I’m not being a proper teacher if I sit and watch my learners work for an hour, without butting in! So this activity suits my need for a bit more bustle in the classroom.

In pairs I gave the learners a list of reading comprehension questions:

  1. How were John and Tony related?
  2. Who was the eldest?
  3. Did John live in the city or the countryside?
  4. What about Tony?
  5. Where were they going when they met the leprechaun?
  6. What was the weather like that day? Was it hot or cold?
  7. Did the leprechaun tell John and Tony where his treasure was? If so where was it?
  8. Why did they get into trouble when they arrived home?
  9. What do you think Tony wrote in his diary that night before bed?
  10. Invent a title for the story.

They noticed (eventually!) that there was no accompanying text, so… they had to write it themselves. We discussed how to make the text easier or more complicated to understand, and they set to work. Obviously you can alter the questions to incorporate any recently learnt language or themes. When they’ve finished, they swap their text with another group… and it becomes a reading comprehension activity.

I love collaborative writing is a great way of encouraging sharing ideas, team teaching and general collaborative learning, and the students seemed to enjoy it too.

There are loads of activities that can be used for collaborative writing in 100 Activities for Fast Finishers too!

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End of Year wrap up: a well-being activity for learners AND teachers

I had thought of calling this article something like ” how to achieve an hour of silence with 25 teens” because that’s just what happened when we did this activity last week.

It’s actually incredibly powerful and I not only do it myself every year, but also monthly and weekly.

It has a mixture of sources, my daily journal includes a weekly, monthly and 90 day wrap up and the wildly successful society productivity programme set up by Jo Bindle.

So here’s what we did: everyone wrote themselves a letter containing the following information;

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  1. Achievements this year – before you beat yourself up about what you haven’t managed to do, why not give yourself a pat on the back for what you have done.

2. What didn’t work out and Why – ok, so you didn’t achieve everything you had planned, it’s fair to note this, but more importantly why? Was it too difficult? Did you set enough time aside for it? Get the necessary help? Or as I often discover, is it still something you want to achieve or have your priorities changed?

3.  Altitude- Give yourself a mark out of ten for how you’re doing in the following domaines; family, social life, school, health and “me” (meaning how you’re feeling in and about yourself) and more importantly think of a “mini-tweak” for each domaine, something small that could bump up your score, for example health – “so I’ll replace soda with water during meals/one day a week/during the week”.

4. Goals – the secret here is not to have too many, but rather to work on three or four maximum, and especially to focus on why you want to achieve this and how you will feel when you have. Then the secret (as I mentioned in my lesson on BHAGS & baby steps) is to break down these goals into three or four achievable steps and work on doing these, so rather than looking at your out-of-reach goal of writing a novel for a whole year, look at writing for ten minutes every day instead.

Finally, a little visualisation never did anyone any harm, so we wrote a paragraph set on 1st June next year, and included everything we have achieved and changed so far. Written in the present tense this seems more reachable, as if we could actually do it.

The students were given five or ten minutes for each section, and I allowed them to write in English or L1, as they preferred (something’s in class are more important that correct verb formation as I mention in L1 or not L1) and although I added another title/section after this five minutes was up, the students were free to take as long as they wanted, some took the whole hour.

When they had finished they put their letters into envelopes and sealed them, I won’t be looking because as you can see, they’ve addressed them to themselves, not to me.

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I have put them in my cupboard however and I’ll be handing them out on the first of June for them to read, revise and then re-seal until this time next year.

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Bloomifying “Giraffes can’t dance”

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If you don’t know this amazing book then read it immediately, it’s fab!

I recently gave a presentation on using Bloom’s taxonomy in storytelling so I thought I should practice a little what I preach.

 

Remember:

Lower level skills are pretty basic, our traditional pre-teaching vocab comes under this category in naming, but you can go further by describing the animals – loads of great body vocab here! The pictures are quite detailed to so it’s good fun to find various things too.

Understand:

There’s a lot to discuss here, why are the animals mean to Gerald, predict what he will do, if the warthogs waltz and the chimps do a cha-cha, explain which animal dances disco, or rock and roll.

Apply:

Classify animals into various groups, two legs, four legs, can fly, etc. You can produce some great Venn diagrams while you revise structures with “have” and “can”. Show the animals what they should say and do with Gerald when they see he can’t dance very well.

Analyse:

Comparing is great with animals, who is bigger? taller? faster? Gerald might not win the dance competition but he might win something else, identify different competitions and explain which animals would win them. (A great lesson in how we’re all different but fab too!).

Evaluate:

Choose your favourite image, or animal, and justify why. Listen to the different types of music and prioritise them, favourites, best for going to sleep, best for a party. Watch some videos of dancing on youtube and rate the dancers.

Create:

This is where you can go as wild as the jungle animals. We had our own jungle dance, learners chose which animal they wanted to be and created their own masks. They designed posters and invitation cards, they discussed and recommended refreshments (crocodile & snake sweets, monkeys’ delight – bananas, and jungle juice in case you’re interested. They categorised the music to dance to, drew a room plan for the tables and “dance floor”.

And then we played our favourite jungle games:

Guess the Roar – blindfold one of the learners and get the others to take it in turn roaring,   guess which classmate is making that noise.

Find you friend – randomly give out pairs of animal cards, with the name or image of the animal on them depending on level and age. Learners must go round the room, making their noise or miming to find their partner. Noisy but great fun!

Finally my favourite, Sleeping Lions, learners pretend to be sleeping lions, the first one to move loses. Great for calming everyone down at the end of the party!

 

You can read more about our party and discover some more resources here.

 

 

 

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Shaking Up Grammar tests

If your teaching circumstances are anything like mine, you’ll be expected to give regular tests – or at least regular marks. It seems the marks are the most important thing to many of the stakeholders, and after a recent parents’ evening I have the distinct impression that some parents, and the kids too, don’t really care about what is being learnt as long as the results are what they consider to be good enough.

The “normal” way of testing in our school goes as follows: bit of vocab, grammar exercises (fill the gap, circle correct tense etc.) followed by written expression.

I thought it was time to shake it up instead.

  1. Let students use their notes during the test

My son’s physics teacher does this in tests, it’s a great way to encourage students to take good notes!

2. Give the students the test question in advance

A friend used to have to do essays like this at university and you can adapt it to language lessons. Recently a class wrote a ghost story in test conditions, I told them what they would be doing a week before and let them plan how they liked.

3. Give them vocabulary lists

It’s not just remembering the word, it’s being able to use it in the right context that counts, and this is a good way to test that.

4. Let the students write the questions

This is a great way of giving practice tests too, get the students to write a question or two each or in groups, then give the class all the questions to answer.

5. Let them work in groups

Depending on what you’re testing and how, why not let them work collaboratively?

Let the students do the marking, there are many ways of doing this, apart from the classic “pass your vocab test to the person behind you to mark”.

6. Why not give them a written text you’ve written and added some common mistakes and things you want them to pick out and ask them to correct it?

7. Or ask them to decide on the marking scale, how many points for spelling? register? What learning objectives are you testing and how will they validate them? etc.

And finally, how did the test go for you? Was it as you expected? Did you revise well enough? What would you do differently next time? Exam wrappers that encourage a little metacognition are always a good thing, and by encouraging students to think about their learning we encourage them to become more autonomous learners.

I’ll be talking about assessment at TESOL France’s colloquium in Paris this weekend, about assessment in the Inclusive Practice classroom to be precise, come along and say hi!

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Should learning be hard?

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Today my children and I have been hard at work learning, but in very different circumstances.

I’m studying an online SENCO course with Leeds Becket university (see top photo), my son is playing a difficult match with his team, and my daughter has recently started a very challenging course in French “prepa” to eventually get into a top school (hence the nail varnish along with the school books!).

All this got me thinking about how different our experiences are, my son is in a football study programme where every year he has to pass try outs to stay, and every week if he isn’t good enough he doesn’t go to the match. My daughter’s school will throw out the bottom 25% of her class at the end of the year – no matter how good their results are.

As a teacher I can’t help wondering if the pressure my own children are under is actually helping them learn. My own afternoon of learning was spent having been sucked into a vortex of “flow”  as I studied and compared the provisions for SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) in England and France – and just like the regular education system, I can tell you they are VERY different.

In France the system is elitist, based on results and marks, many exams are competitive, meaning only the top whatever percent get through, so even if you get 80% right, if you’re eleventh and they let the top ten pass, you’re out.

This means my son’s team has the best possible players, as does my daughter’s school, but is this the best way of learning? Does their learning actually have to be so hard?

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A fishy story

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I had a last minute replacement this week, so armed with my trusty board pen I entered the arena and…

Firstly we had a good laugh drawing our picture to elicit vocabulary on the theme I’d chosen, in case you’re wondering the students were aged 14-15 years old.

I then “read” them the following story…

“It was a bright sunny day so my friend, Claire and I went to the beach. We put our towels on the sand, got out our parasol and started sunbathing. Claire started reading her book but I was bored so I got up, took my flippers and snorkel and went snorkelling. It was amazing, I could see the fish swimming among the coral reef and seaweed. I even saw a shipwreck and I dived down hoping to find some treasure! As I was diving I suddenly saw something big and white out of the corner of my eye..”

The students wrote the end of the story together in pairs ( I love collaborative writing, it’s a great chance for students to teach each other and more active than silent writing in class). Those who wanted to read out their endings to the rest of the class.

You don’t have to choose the beach, any setting will provide vocabulary and a story, the woods in autumn, a shopping mall, etc.

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