23.11.16

Sway your class into creativity and imagination

Sway your class into creativity and imagination

3 ways to use ®Sway creatively with an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) class


Many presentation tools can be used to spark creativity and imagination in class but in this post I have chosen Sway – an internet based tool – because it is easy to use, versatile, allows the user to find photos without wasting time and incorporate sounds and videos . Thus, learners can focus more on the content rather than the aesthetic part.

1.    Create a mystery story…
Open a new presentation and choose 5 photos that can stimulate learners’ imagination. 
Click on the link to see example:

An unforgettable night

 Add creepy sounds like the sound of a door slumming, thunder, the scream of a woman.  You can  find free sond effects on  http://www.orangefreesounds.com/. Write on the board: Who, where, when. Then invite learners to work in pairs or in groups and decide who is involved in the story, where and it takes place. Elicit vocabulary relevant to the story (i.e. sounds, descriptive adjectives, feelings).

You can elicit the first paragraph in class and write it on the Sway slides. Then invite learners to continue the story. Allow them to use photos to illustrate the story and present it in class or share it on the school blog.

2.     Narrate holiday experiences
 Create a ® Sway presentation with 5 of your favourite holiday photos and explain why they are special to you. Present in class. Click on the link below to see a sample:

My holidays



3.   Digitalize your hand made book
Students often create handmade paperback books with stories with their drawings.  Given that most of the times they are tiny, sharing them with the rest of the class is not easy because learners want to see the illustrations. Scan the content of the books or take a photo you’re your mobile and uploaded them on a Sway presentation. Project the presentation on the board while the pupil is reading his/her story to the rest of the class. It makes narration more interesting and learners tend to appreciate more the effort and time spent on the creation of the book. You can also share the Sway presentation on the school blog. Click on the link  below to look at one of the stories:

Mouse to the rescue



     My students loved all the above activities, were actively involved in creating content and  were particularly keen on sharing it with the rest of their classmates.
Have fun!

Dimitris Primalis


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17.8.16

Holiday snapshots in class

Snapshots in class
Use holiday photos to spark speaking and writing in class
Special thanks to Sophia Nikoletou for her contribution!

With the extensive use of smart phones, tablets and digital cameras, more and more of your students are likely to have taken a sizeable number of photos during their holidays. In this post, I will suggest ways in which teachers and students can use these photos in order to practise speaking and writing skills.

Activity 1: The inanimate object
Choose a photo with an inanimate object and ask your students to imagine what the object would say if it had a voice: “What can the object tell us about what had happened before the photo was taken?”
Below you can find an example. Students can use their own photos to illustrate their own stories. They can present their story in class by showing their photo(s) on a ®Powerpoint slide and record their voice narrating their story on the slide with the photo.  



Here's a sample of the kind of writing it may inspire:
 "Standing at the small cafe' on top of the cliff, Henry was enjoying the breathtaking view of the island which seemed to be the perfect holiday destination. Suddenly, a distant voice pulled his eye from the coast to his wife, who was swimming under the cliff and waving at him. Henry grabbed his camera to capture the scene. He narrowed his eyes to take a close-up shot, but what he saw turned his excitement into panic. Christine was not waving but drowning!!!"  

Alternatively, use an unusual photo as a lead-in to story writing.


Activity 2: Give it a title
Choose a funny or unusual photo and ask students to write a title or brief comment.

Flying saucers invade Greek beach: Swimmer blames Mojitos

Activity 3: Tweet it
Ask students to write a message accompanying the photo as if they were going to share it on Twitter.  The message should not be more than 140 characters.

Pristine waters, Mediterranean food and idyllic view on Europe’s southernmost tip.  Heaven on Earth #serendipity #Crete


Activity 4: Present with sway
Create a ® Sway presentation with 5 of your favourite holiday photos and explain why they are special to you. Present in class. Click on the link below to see a sample:


Activity 5: Use mobile phone apps
Most students download apps on their smart phone that create various effects on photos. ®Prisma is free and turns photos into art work. You can use these effects to compare and contrast the real photo and the one  with the effects or you can have sets of photos to start a story. The students can work in pairs or groups and they can narrate it or write it down or even create an e-book with the content they have put together.
Last night I had a strange dream. It was dark and rainy and my balcony door overlooked a cliff..

Then, suddenly it got lighter and I could see outside my balcony. There  were two rocks in the sea...

Then the sun came out and the sea started sparkling under the sun...

It felt as if it was true... I could smell the sea and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. 



For those of you who may not have a smart phone or do not feel comfortable using your personal photos, Eltpics,  http://www.eltpics.com/ is a website with photos from teachers for teachers.

Final thoughts
Personalizing learning and inviting learners to be actively involved with their own material can both act as a very strong stimulus to motivate learners and urge them to develop their creative thinking skills along with writing and speaking skills in L2.

Have fun and enjoy your learners' creativity and imagination!
Dimitris Primalis

10.1.16

Who says feedback can’t be Motivating, Involving & Xciting ???!!!

Who says feedback can’t be Motivating, Involving & Xciting ???!!!

Revisiting feedback with the aid of technology  from a personalized learning perspective.

Does the word feedback conjure spine-chilling images of scraps of paper with red smudges, stereotypical comments and a much awaited mark? And then a feeling of bitterness on both sides?

On the students’ side, the feeling that it is only mistakes that are highlighted and there’s rarely a word of encouragement or recognition of their hard work.

On the teacher’s part, the feeling that endless hours of work are not spared more than a quick glance at the grade and practically nobody paying attention to the corrections. All the hard work going down the drain…

With few exceptions this has been the picture so far. Yet technology can change the game and motivate and involve learners through personal or group feedback. Below you can read 3 ways that you can change the feedback you give to your students. My students loved them and it is very easy to use

  • .      Use video and voice recording to give feedback.
  • .      Instead of spoon feeding your students, challenge them with a poll.
  • .     Create content with your students and then ask them to give you feedback on their product.




The tool I used is called  Office Mix. It is an add-on  Add-on software that allows you to record what you have on your screen, record voice or video and draw or underline. This process is called “screen casting” and there are quite a few tools available on the market. Yet, what I found convenient with Mix is that once  downloaded,  it is automatically added to the top menu bar of your powerpoint and it is easy to use.

1. Most students find personalized feedback in front of the class embarrassing and they would like to have it in a more discreet way. Because breaks are never long enough to do it I tried emailing them the feedback they need using Office Mix.  You can see a video below (View from 15th second).








Use the video or voice recording functions to give personalized feedback to your learners. Click  Mix on slide recording on the top left corner,


 record your feedback – you may use the pens on the left to underline or circle areas and then click preview to check if you’re satisfied with your recording. Then convert it into an mp4 video (see top bar) and send it to your student. They will surely appreciate the fact that you pay attention to their work and you provide personalized feedback.

2.  Few students like to be lectured upon their mistake but when they are given a second chance to correct their mistake then it is seen as a challenge they are willing to take up.

I often ask my students to share their work in digital form (either email it or share it on the school’s Learning Management System).
If you have their homework or project in digital form, insert it in a powerpoint slide and then click on the top bar of Mix on Quizzes, Video Apps.


Choose the type of quiz or poll you want to give them. My favourite is the multiple choice one. They can choose the reason why their answer is wrong or even better ask them to choose the correct answer and write why they chose the specific one.





They are far more likely to respond to that kind of feedback rather than reading detailed comments on their notebook.

3. Helena is a new student and can be described as a very weak in terms of cognitive skills. Yet, she is eager to learn and seems to be learning through doing things rather than being lectured. When she sang a song from the student’s book that practices a function – “I’d like some ice cream, how about you? Me too” – she did well but when it came to a freer practice, she could not perceive the pronunciation mistakes.

I created 4 powerpoint slides ( you can see them in the form of the embedded video below) and we recorded her voice using Office Mix. She insisted on listening to her recording (click on preview recording) and asked to delete it and try again. She was recorded several times until she felt satisfied with the outcome. I promised her that I would turn the powerpoint presentation into  video so that she can show her mother and grandmother – her role models – her creation.



At the end of the lesson, Helena was happy feeling creative instead of the usual frustration learners suffer when given feedback.

A few closing thoughts
Mixing in new tools with old techniques and approaches can be fun and fruitful in terms of motivation, involvement and assessment. Technology can pave brand new ways to serve pedagogy. It is up to the educators to explore their potential and integrate them seamlessly into our lesson to serve best our students’ learning goals.

Dimitris Primalis

30.12.15

How to turn your powerpoint presentation into a video and boost your learners' creativity!

Turn your powerpoint presentation into a video in 
3 easy steps and boost your learners' creativity!

Powerpoint is the best known tool for presentations. Now you can use it to promote your and your students'  work and attract your audience's attention by  creating short videos like the one below:

video


Step 1: Create your presentation and save it as ODP. You may want to add transitions between the slides which make it more impressive or add sound.


video


Step 2: Click the presentation button at the top bar menu (see green arrow) and rehearse as if you were presenting the powerpoint. If you are not happy with the outcome, you can try as many times as you want. 


Step 3:  Save the presentation either as MP4 file or as wmv file. It may take a while for the video to "brew"  but the end product is worth the time. 


video

Ideas for the classroom

Students can create:
1. a trailer for their favourite film or book
2. their own commercial promoting their inventions or a good cause i.e. recycling
3. their own animated stories by using the new "synth" transition which creates animation effects 
4. a vlog by inserting photos or videos from their holidays or daily routine .

For the mini video and screen shots in the step-by-step tutorials I used Office Mix which is an add-on easily downloadable and can be an invaluable tool for every educator. You can read more on my next blogpost in a few days.  

Have fun with your class and boost their creativity with their own powerpoint videos!

Dimitris Primalis

10.10.15

Discrediting the fine art of copy-paste

Discrediting the fine art of copy-paste

How teachers can help their  learners to develop academic skills for their studies rather than adopt “copy-paste” practices

In a digital era when information is abundant, easily accessible, stored, reproduced and retrieved without effort, there is a thin line between breaching copyright rules – plagiarism in academic language- and synthesizing information to produce one’s own intellectual work.

Copying and pasting text indiscriminately  is reaching epidemic levels and even respectable members of society are often found guilty of committing it. What  exactly do we mean by  plagiarism though?

Plagiarism (noun): the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person: the act of plagiarizing something
Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

How is this relevant to  English language classes and teaching young learners and teenagers?
I still remember the day when my 4th graders in primary school  walked triumphantly  into the  classroom to share their projects with their classmates. It was the very first year that the school had introduced the 1:1 approach (1 tablet to 1 student) and the learners had just mastered –or so they claimed – the basics of powerpoint in order to present their projects digitally with the aid of a data projector. Classmates and teacher, we all waited impatiently to see the first outcome.
Impressive graphics and slide transitions captured our attention until the slides with text appeared. Long texts infested with scientific terms, completely incomprehensible  to the class and even to the presenters who attempted to read them aloud to a bunch of students bored to tears as there was nothing they could relate to. It is easy to predict the chaos that followed with disillusioned presenters and an audience that felt the presenter had wasted their time by just copying and pasting text instead of sharing knowledge with them.

Can I be proactive?
The earlier a teacher starts raising awareness in class, the better it is. There are two directions: Firstly, showing the learners how to do some basic research and paraphrasing and secondly, campaigning against copy-paste practices.

Show them the path
Before assigning a project, spend time in class to show them the steps they should follow to collect information and synthesize what they have found in a coherent and concise presentation that is suitable for their target audience.
 Here is what I tried with a CEFR A1 level class who had to create a fact file for their favourite wild animal:
1.       We browsed in class Wikipedia (you can try any other reference site you consider safe and reliable) and chose a wild animal, a lion.
Source: Wikipedia

2.       They skimmed the text and then asked them what they can understand from the text. The answer was “nothing” or “next to nothing”. Then I elicited “If you copy and paste the text like that (show them the text displayed on Wikipedia) , will anybody in class understand you?” The answer was obvious and the learners realized they had to work in a different way.
3.       I elicited key words for the data they need such as food, how long they live, length, weight, place they live, and give them the formal equivalents used in the text. For example, habitat, diet, predators etc.  For other projects, you can ask them to create a brief outline with key words that will enable them to find relevant information.

Source: Wikipedia

4.       I asked them to scan the text and find relevant information for each category i.e. habitat, food.
5.       I elicited the relevant information from the class and clarified that not all the text should be stored. Only the data necessary for their project. Ask them to save the information they have found in a M.S. Word file or any other similar word processor they use.
6.       I also asked them to write down the source.
7.       Students worked in pairs to select the information they need for the presentation and created the slides.
8.       Then they checked their presentation for any words they classmates may not know. I urged them to use only a few new words and explain them to their audience during their presentation.
9.        I encouraged them to use short sentences with key words or figures on their slides.
10.   I asked them to present in class and I invited the audience to give the presenters feedback and in particular how original they thought the presentation is.
11.    Finally, I praised the presenters if they  mentioned the source and used language suitable for the level of the audience.

Tips and hints
ü  Don’t preach against plagiarism. They will only be tempted to try it.
ü  Focus on the main weakness of copy-paste is that it is often irrelevant or too wordy. Students fear their peers’ rejection so they will be open to suggestions on how to improve their presentations.
ü  “Sign” a contract with students, set clear guidelines on how to use technology and elicit copy-paste is simply unacceptable.
ü  Encourage students to mention sources and praise them in class when they do so.
ü  Give bonus points to work that mentions sources and penalty points to material which is clearly copied and pasted.

For a generation brought up with social media and computer games, the visual element tends to be the priority when it comes to presentation. To them it is only natural to focus on eye-catching images, animation or videos and in most cases, it is only the teacher who can guide them on how to  find data, select material and synthesize it to address a specific audience. You need to help them shift from the “surface” to the content of the project or presentation. If the project is marked give two marks: one for the presentation and a separate one for content.
For older students who hand in projects there is a large number of free software tools that can help you detect plagiarism and raise awareness. The following article can give you a pretty good idea of some free tools that can detect plagiarism:
Why deal with it?
“Plagiarism annuls any benefits reaped from webquests and the wealth of resources available on the internet since students are highly unlikely to learn anything from the work they have copied. It also breaches the ethics of the academic community that gives credit to the work of colleagues. Therefore, the damage caused by this practice is multiple. It comes as no surprise that when students have to use sources and provide references at a university course are often at a loss. “ (ELT News, 2015)
Some closing thoughts
Some of you may be wondering why you should allocate some precious class time into it. By devoting part of a lesson or a whole lesson  to prevent plagiarism and encourage analysis and synthesis, you are not wasting precious time – as some teachers may claim – but you are laying the foundation stone for autonomous learners who use their critical and creative thinking skills.

Dimitris Primalis

References
Primalis, D. Discrediting the fine art of c(l)opy-paste, ELT News, August 2015



16.8.15

Passive users or critical thinkers? Developing critical and creative thinking skills with technology

Passive users or critical thinkers?

Developing critical and creative thinking skills with technology



Had enough with your students using their tablets or mobile devices to play games for non-thinking users? Project based learning with the aid of technology can be used creatively to stimulate students interest and develop their critical and creative thinking skills. This post is about activities and tools that can help students use their creative and critical abilities while learning.


A brief intro
Technology has often been accused of creating passive learners, who rely heavily on visuals and are used to a superficial approach to learning, rather than developing their creative and critical thinking skills. However, through project based learning, technology can play an instrumental role in enabling students to develop their creative skills such as expressing  ideas they have generated and depicting reasoning by metaphor and analogy; their critical thinking skills such as reasoning through logic, analysis and interpretation by comparing data through internet sources as well as skills which overlap the two categories mentioned above such as synthesis and integration, abstraction and simplification.




A brief definition
The word critical derives from the Greek word “crisis” (κρίσις) which means ability to judge; ability to reach a choice or decision. In a sense, a crisis is a challenge to deal with by using critical thinking skills.

You may be wondering why I have chosen to develop critical and creative thinking skills instead of the latter. A quick look at the diagram shows that they overlap.





Why these activities?
Students are inundated with messages in English while surfing the internet, playing games or watching TV. They are brainwashed and often led to believe that by purchasing consumer goods or services they can achieve or become anything they dream of with the touch of a magic "wand". As a teacher, following the current teaching trends,  I felt that my teaching should be more personalized (the term used in its EFL meaning) and learner centred; involve students and allow them to use their creativity and critical thinking skills. So I asked my 5th and 6th grade pupils to do the following projects and activities:







 

Project 1
I gave my students the following instructions:

Part A
Find a commercial or advertisement that you like.
Present it in class and talk about:
What product or service is advertised?
What is the main message?
Is it true or misleading? Why?

Students used their tablets to find ads or comercials and presented them in class in the form of powerpoint presentations. Most of them triggered discussion and to my surprise students easily "read between the lines" and could tell whether they were misleading or not. For example one of them presented the advertisement of a convertible with the following slogan:" Men talk about women, sports and cars. Women talk about men in sports cars" . It was a good opportunity to talk about stereotypes even though their lexical resources are limited. Then I gave them the following instuctions.

Part 2
Work in pairs or groups. Invent a new product or service. Design the logo and think of a motto.
Create your own advertisement or commercial.
Present it in class.
Vote for the best commercial in class.



Some produced videos with their mobiles and using windows movie maker  and others powerpoint presentations. Here is a sample of their work.

The-flying-bag


Activity 2
I showed my pupils the photo below and asked them the following questions:


Look at the photo
Can you see a famous person?
This photo was taken during WW2
Is the photo authentic or not?

Use your devices to find out

Source:  http://www.chaniapost.eu/2015/03/12/is-brad-pitt-from-crete/


The pupils identified Brad Pitt in the photo. They worked in pairs or groups and they had to decide how to go about it. There were two prevailing trends. One that they should search for the date WW2 broke out and compare it with Brad Pitt's birthday. The other that they should search for any Brad Pitt film to be released soon about WW2. A pupil asked me if they could take a snapshot of the photo with their devices but I refused and asked them to use their mind and key words in their search.  The activity took about 20 mins and the vast majority found out if the photo is authentic or photoshopped. There was a follow-up discussion about whether we should believe that everything we see on the internet is authentic and how we can use our skills to verify it. 

Activity 3
This is an activity I tried with my students a day before Christmas holidays. I asked them to read the instructions and use their devices to plan the holiday. The webquest had to be in English and I also explained a few words like "BB, half-board and full board, transfer" that were beyond my pupils' schematic knowledge. 

Planning hols
Your mom and dad are celebrating their wedding anniversary and would like to spend a weekend abroad.
Organize a weekend for them and present two holiday destinations they may go to. Below there are some points to consider:

      Their budget is about 600 Euros
      They would like a place with many sights to visit
      They can depart on Friday after work and they have to be back by Sunday evening.
      You will need to calculate tickets, accommodation,  food and any other expenses they may have
      Suggest what they can do there e.g. visit museums, do sports, taste local food etc
Prepare a powerpoint presentation and share with the class before presenting it to your parents.


Activity 4
This is taken from the Disabled Access Friendly website and raises awareness. I have not tried it in class yet but I intend to ask my students to build a Disabled access friendly community using Microsoft Minecraft as a follow-up activity.

Show them the slide below and ask them:



Elicit ideas on why the kitchen might be tricky, and then move on to how the kitchen could be improved





 Some closing thoughts 
A few months after I’d presented the projects in Manchester (IATEFL) and Seattle (E2 Microsoft Educators), I realized how useful working on critical and creative thinking skills with young learners is in the midst of the heightening European crisis. 

To my dismay, I saw the traditional media distorting the conditions in Greece during the capitals control period: photos of empty shelves when all the supermarkets were well stocked, an excessive number of pensioners fainting in front of cameras – a good opportunity for some pensioners to get some extra money by the film crews and perform in front of an international audience.

 

What made me even sadder was the obsession of some colleagues from abroad to regurgitate narratives of “good” and “bad” nations floated by the media without ever having lived in Greece.  No analysis, no comparison, no effort to read further about the issue. Just the reproduction of stereotypes and theories - most of them discredited by statistics of prestigious organizations.


Despite the impressive abundance of data, statistics, arguments and analysis covering a wide spectrum of stances, they adopted a superficial “black and white sheep” approach to the issue, turning a blind eye to the consequences the crisis may have on their  and their students' life- developments in one “neighbourhood” in our global village are almost certain to affect the others. 

It was if I could hear a flock of sheep bursting out in a tremendous  bleating “four legs good, two legs bad” from Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. One cannot help wondering: Are these the educators who will facilitate learning and help learners to develop their critical thinking skills?


Technology (the internet in this case) has risen to the challenge of the occasion by offering unprecedented pluralism and extensive coverage. The question raised though is:

Are we – as teachers and citizens- ready to use our critical thinking skills to make the most of what technology offers or are we unwilling to leave our comfort zone and settle with oversimplified stories and approaches?

It will come as no surprise to me if sooner or later our students turn their back on our shallow teaching no matter how much technology we garnish it with…

Dimitris Primalis