Saturday, December 20, 2014

End of Term

My teaching term has ended for the year. My morning class (seniors) threw a party for me and two others in our organization who work closely with them. In the photo, I had just lost a round of hot potato and had to recite a poem, tell a story, sing, or dance. I chose to search YouTube for an Irish reel and dance.

Just then it was break time; students from other classes began filing in to get their coffee and tea from my hospitality station. Soon the impromptu dance floor was filled with wriggling, writhing, hopping, clapping students from all the classes.

The six days of free time that I have before I take a trip down south will be spent:
a) uploading materials to this website and continuing to design and organize the pages, and
b) Skyping with Dr. Sivell as we co-write an article we hope will be published in the conference issue of Contact Magazine.

I'm glad that only one or two people have discovered this website at this early date. You see, I had no intention of unveiling it until January or February. It was just by happenstance that Jennifer Artan stumbled onto my nascent site cum weblog a day before giving a Tutela webinar on Blogging as a Reflective Writing Practice. Since I was late joining the webinar, I didn't even know until afterward that my new site had been included on a handout for participants! The next morning I got my first fan mail. Ha!

In any case, I will continue to build this site up over the next weeks before seeking readers. For those of you who are already following, please note that I have just uploaded a couple of my own handouts and a few links that I used while teaching the health/medical topic of being referred to the lab for blood work. The free editable worksheets can be downloaded from the FREE RESOURCES - Health, Medical and Safety page.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Using a Free Online Translator

cheat sheet with screen shots
On Friday, our computer lab day, I noticed that many of the students in my morning class were using their electronic dictionaries to look up one unknown word after another as they visited various internet sites to which I had provided links from our classroom blog. When I asked them if they ever considered copying and pasting whole pages of text into an online translator to save time, they asked me to show them how to do that. I tried walking them through the steps, projecting the process onto the big screen at the front of the lab as they followed along. There are only a few steps, ones that strike me as simple. But these students are far from digital natives. 

The oldest of them said, "I can't do it."

I told this gentleman--who has learned to unlock the computers using Ctrl-Alt-Del, put in the password, hit enter, open the internet and navigate to our classroom blog--that I believed he could indeed learn to do it.

"You have to give it to us slowly, step by step," he said.

And so I made up a little cheat sheet with screen shots that they can bring with them each lab day. We went through the steps again, very slowly, as they made notes on the handout in their L1. They informed me, when all was said and done, that Google Translate does not render a high quality translation--something you probably already know. I showed them how to shop around for a better free online translator. After comparing how several rendered the same paragraph, they let me know that WorldLingo had done the best job, so I've included a note to that effect at the end of the cheat sheet. You can download the 2-page handout with screen shots and bright arrows from the Tricks, Tips & Tutorials Page.

If this comes in handy for your class, I hope you'll leave a comment. Or if you have reasons to be opposed to such an idea because of the nature of your class, you can share that, too.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Why We Love BINGO (And How We Play It)

I must confess that the first time I saw an instructor playing BINGO with a class, I thought the teacher was just being lazy. But since trialling the activity with a literacy class, I have to say that I'm completely sold on its value to learners.

The first difference between many BINGO games supplied in ESL books and the one I use is that you are following what I call Martine's* Rule Number One: "Whenever possible, have the students do the work." Instead of passing out ten or more different BINGO cards to ensure everyone doesn't BINGO at once, pass out a blank grid with the bank of 24 words at the bottom and let the students place the words randomly (key word: RANDOMLY) in the BINGO grid. I print an extra copy for the caller and cut up the word bank so I can place one word per strip of paper in a bag or bowl to draw during the game. We use dots pressed out from coloured card stock as markers.

If there are true beginners in the group who need extra support, two things happen: 1) a stronger student will almost always move unbidden to the seat beside the weak student, and 2) I will project the word bank onto the board and point to each word as I call it. I love the fact that strong students don't look up / cheat while those whose skills are still developing get extra help in a discreet way.

Why do I feel this game has value to the learner?
  • It is giving learners' brains one more exposure to the week's words.
  • Students get practice copying / printing 
  • Students get practice listening and recognizing the word as it's pronounced, which is much harder than it has been throughout the week since the word is not in context.
  • Learners get practice reading.
  • Having to quickly find the correct word in the grid, students come to realize that good spelling and legible printing work in their favour.
  • Winners must call out five words and pronounce them well before they can come claim a prize.
After a few rounds, I usually ask one of the stronger students if s/he would like to come up to the front while I play his/her BINGO card. Often more than one student will volunteer, so they take turns. This is when the energy in the classroom really picks up. Students relax more, laugh, tease, correct the caller on his/her pronunciation, razz the caller if s/he goes too fast or slow, and in general have a lot of fun.

Colleagues tell me they play this game with higher levels by giving the definition of the word rather than the word itself. I'll bet there are lots of ways to play.

The BINGO template in Word is in my Free Resources - Blank Templates section. I have used Word's "columns" feature to align the word bank at the bottom, which can be found in the LAYOUT menu. To get this to behave for me, I type the 24 words in a single column, allowing them to flow onto the next page, and add a blank line at the end. I then highlight the words, making sure I don't highlight that last blank line. Then I click LAYOUT - Columns - three columns. If this fights you, just use the tab key to arrange your words in three columns at the bottom of the BINGO grid. Depending on which font you choose, you may have to adjust the font size. I use Comic Sans 18 point.

Happy teaching! Oh, and DO let me know if you use this resource. Or share your ideas on this topic. It would make my day.

*I feel so fortunate to have had Martine Johnson as my main TESL educator at CCLCS in Toronto. She has since retired.

Monday, December 1, 2014

L'Anse aux Meadows

When the students making up my multi-level seniors' class asked that I teach Canadian history, it surprised some of my colleagues to learn that I wasn't limiting our studies to preparedness for citizenship test questions. Rather, we hung a long piece of butcher paper along the wall near the ceiling and, week by week, created a collage depicting all the major and some minor Canadian historical events and explorations--starting with the two (hypothesized) major migrations across what is now the Bering Strait and ending with Confederation.

One of the most interesting illustrations on the timeline, which a student found and printed on computer lab day, shows the Norse explorers meeting and trading with the native Beothuk.

If you ever get a group of students as knowledge-hungry as my seniors and want to share with them the wonders of the internationally renown historic site L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, I highly recommend this 29-minute documentary entitled The Vinland Mystery.

In my Free Resources for Settlement Themes - Canada and Citizenship section, you can download a worksheet that gets students to pay attention to a few key points of the film. Because the language is very high, I did three things to scaffold the task:
  • Provided students with the exact time markers at which they should start listening for the answer to each question.
  • Made the answers multiple choice.
  • Supplied illustrations with some of the multiple choice options. 


Another activity students seemed to really enjoy was the "two article technique," which I employed using two of the three articles on Vikings free for download from Bogglesworld.


Divide the class into two groups, A and B. Each group is given a different graded article on the same topic and 10-15 minutes in which to digest it. Each A student is then paired with a B; they teach each other the content of their respective articles (paraphrasing, no paper). Warn students that they will be tested on the peer taught material and remind them that communication is the shared responsibility of speaker and listener. Don't forget to supply them with any needed language to accomplish this, such as, "Did you say....?" "How do you spell that?" "Can you explain that in different words?" If you're worried that one student might get shorted by being paired with a classmate who isn't able to teach the material very well, you could set up queues facing each other whereby the As are stationary and, after 3-5 minutes, the Bs move one seat to their right. Depending on how much time you have, you can thus allow each student to be taught the same article a few times--each time by a different peer. Or you could set it up in teaching teams. Oh, my...the possibilities are endless, aren't they?

If you like any of these ideas or end up using anything here, I would love to hear about it.