Monday, 28 March 2011

More on

Here's a Google doc compiled by Tom Barrett  (@tombarrett), in which many teachers worked collaborately suggesting classroom uses for Wordle. Most of the slides have the name of the teacher who added it, so there are lots of Twitter usernames to follow if you find the activities proposed appealing!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Food for thought

A student of mine sent me this wonderful, thought-provoking video and I couldn’t help linking it to some of the arguments presented by Sir Ken Robinson in many of his talks and in his recent book, The Element.

In case you don’t know him, Sir Ken Robinson is a creativity expert who has extensively dealt with issues related to education in the last years. He puts forward a key question: why don’t we seem to get the best out of our students? He proposes an answer: our education system is outdated, based on ideas that no longer work and pursuing goals that are not valid in our present world. Our system suppresses creatitivy and stifles diversity.  He calls for a radical re-think of our school systems and a re-evaluation of terms such as intelligence, achievement and success.

The following is a great animation of one of his famous talks, Changing Education Paradigms. It’s not ELT-specific but I truly believe it’s worth watching for every educator. I also highly recommend his tweets: @SirKenRobinson.

Do you work with young learners? Do you agree with him?

See you soon!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Mind mapping

I was first introduced to the technique of mind mapping during my English Language I class at Joaquín V. González. I had a wonderful teacher -María Alejandra Martínez- who was very inspiring in many ways: she was energetic, fun, she knew her stuff and spoke beautiful English! There’s an unimaginable amount of vocabulary to learn at Language I (phrasal verbs, adjectives for people, adjectives for places, false cognates and the infamous “ways of” speaking, walking, holding and others). So after each unit or so María Alejandra asked us to do what she called a “network”. Surprisingly enough, this was the first time I used this technique, as I had never been told about it in all those years studying English! I was fascinated! Finally something that worked for my learning style! For, you see, I have never been good at studying from “linear” summaries, I’ve always needed to “manipulate” the information, change the appearance, re-write, re-order, add drawings, etc.

Basically, a mind map is a diagram used to represent words or ideas connected to a central and more prominent key word or idea. The words are generally arranged according to their importance in relation to the main concept and are organized in groups, branches or bubbles.  Actually, it is a tool for your students to study from, so I guess any design is valid as long as it works for them! Lots of examples (mainly business-related) here:

I often ask my students to make mind maps and most of them find it really engaging and helpful to remember new vocabulary. Personally, I love hand-made ones, but I’ve noticed that many of my adult students (especially Business English students) enjoy making their maps using on-line resources. There are many websites offering mind mapping software (in most of them you can download a free trial version); here are just a few:

If you work with adults:

You can choose from quite a few different designs (bubbles, brainstorming diagrams, flowcharts, etc.) and it’s easy to use because you start working from a template. You have to download the software (free trial version available).

I think this is one of the most popular. You have a tutorial online and you can download a free trial version.
Business oriented. Free trial version available.

You can find very good templates here, some of them with great teacher notes and ideas. But you have to print them out and complete them yourself (I mean, it’s not a software).

If you work with children:

Here you will find graphic organizers (not really mind maps) to work on stories, plots, comparisons and fun activities like crossword puzzles. Activities are carried out online.

Great for reading-comprehension.

Now, here’s a tool I absolutely love! It’s for us -teachers- to present vocabulary in a new, different way. You can make vocabulary posters, work on vocabulary frequency on texts, manipulate words so that students see a lexical item once and again, etc.

Wordle is a tool to generate word clouds from any text that you upload. It organizes words according to their prominence and frequency in the text. You can save your clouds to the gallery or print them out, but you can’t download them to your computer. Here's a cloud that I created with the words on this post. I printed it out and then scanned it:
With Tagxedo you can create word clouds with many different and funny shapes. You can print them or save them to your computer. Here’s the shape I made with the text on this post =)

Working with words is fun!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

So you are a teacher...

In the about me section, I argue that sharing is a fundamental part of teacher development. I also mention that I’ve organized teacher development sessions for teachers of English and Spanish. Now, what do we talk about when we talk about teacher development?

After four years (at least!) of studying English Language, Grammar, Literature, of practising your Phonetics in front of a mirror until you sound like the Queen Mother, of trying to come up with the most enlightening and dynamic lesson ever for your Methodology class... you got your degree! You are a teacher of English! Yeah!!! It’s been a long trip and you finally reached your destination. Well, yes. But a new journey begins, a life-long journey called teacher development.

What is teacher development? In what ways is it different from teacher training?

Basically, teacher development is all up to you. It is not compulsory, you don’t follow an external agenda (i.e. you don’t have to comply with requirements imposed by somebody else). It has to do with your own growth and development of insights.  It has to do with the activities in which you choose to get involved in order to develop your professional competence as a teacher. It includes (but is not limited to):

  • keeping up-to-date with recent developments in the ELT field
  • reflecting on your own practice (aiming at being capable of monitoring, criticizing and defending your actions)
  • networking

So how do we actually do these things?

  • By attending talks, conferences, workshops (not only ELT-specific ones, but also those about disciplines that give us interesting tools, such as NLP, counselling, etc.)
  • By keeping updated with relevant literature (books, journals, magazines)
  • By belonging to professional organizations and specific interest groups
  • By getting in touch with other teachers! At work, at conferences and seminars, and also on the web!

Did you know that there are hundreds of blogs run by English teachers? Native, non-native, experts, newbies... Then you’ve got Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and... There’s a whole professional networking universe in your computer, just waiting for you to take the plunge!

So here is my first recommendation:
You can start at Karenne Sylvester is (for me anyway) like the goddess of ELT bloggers. She writes interesting stuff, she’s funny and she is a native speaker (which is a plus for us, non-natives). She also has lots of links to other interesting sites.