Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vocab Quizzes

My students get a lot of vocabulary quizzes. Often they are simple matching or multiple choice (something I can make quickly using an awesome site that let's you quickly make quizzes AND randomly organize the questions (so you can easily make different versions of the same test!). 

It is a great site that I often use, however it isn't my favorite ways of doing voabulary tests.

I actually prefer more subjective tests (and in my opinion slightly more fun).

For example: A recent unit in my college course had these vocabulary words: merit, handicap, reticent, phobia, extroverted, adverse, kindred, aloof, syndrome, chronic, misattribution, condescending.

One of my questions may be: Select the most positive vocabulary word and write it below. Include a brief explanation of why you think it is the most positive.

Possible answers could be:
  • I think the most positive is aloof because if someone if aloof then they don't care what other people think and they can be self sufficient.
  • Kindred is positive because if two people are kindred then they have a lot of things in common and they will probably become best friends, which is the most positive thing ever.
 Another fun one to give a quasi-random picture and have them match a word and explain:
Graffiti of a can of spray paint
  • Misattribution, because people think graffiti isn't art, but it is.
  • Handicap, because the spray bottle can't spray paint like other cans so it is handicapped.
  • The picture shows the chronic problem of graffiti in Culiacan.
I like to give one or two questions like this (but they can't repeat a word) in addition to a few multiple choice/  matching/ true or false. 

Some students HATE these questions. They much prefer memorizing, other students really like them (as they get a chance to try and make something up if they don't know.

As for teachers? A lot of teachers appreciate the fact it makes students think (rather than just memorize and spit out). Some don't like the way there are multiple possible answers. Others think a student could just know two or three words really well and then make those work for any question, but I stand by my thinking that it makes students apply their knowledge in a new way.

How about you? How do you quiz vocabulary?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Halloween Readings

I was thinking about what to prepare for Halloween when I realized that I never wrote about the fantastic Skype class we had with Jess Hartley! She writes great short stories that are usually supernatural in nature and often a bit creepy! Though most stories at WilyWriters are worth a shot I particularly like hers. 
In my classes we don't get a chance to do much reading over a page, and a lot of it is essay or non-fiction (newspapers, magazines etc.). That's all fine and dandy, but I really love teaching fiction.

So, for one of the short story assignments we read "Baby" a quick short story by Jess herself. Then we were lucky enough to have her agree to do a Skype class with BOTH of my classes. 

We did Vocabulary first: Boyhood, Blamed, Blur, Creaked, Crumpled, Drone, Fins, Fitful, Glimpse, Grills, Hauled, Haze, Joints, Slid, Sparkle, Slumber, Subsided, and Whisper.
I told a story, "In my father's boyhood we lived in a small house with a floor that creaked (eeeeh)" etc. After I told the story we went through the vocabulary.

We randomly had students draw pictures of the words and then we tried to figure out who drew what. I took these pictures to scan the best for review PowerPoints later (you could also save them for a game of flyswatter).
For homework they read the story and had a quick quiz the next day, "How did he treat her? Where did the man live at the end of the story? When did she come back? Who is she? etc."

Then we talked about how the author gave the story the ending that she did.  What techniques did she use? Did they expect the story to have the twist that it did? What clues did the author give?

Then they had a short story writing assignment.
1. In a SOLID well written paragraph (Main Ideas, Details, Impersonal, No slang, etc). Explain if you were surprised by the end of the story? If yes, explain why. If no, explain why not? (20pts) 
2. Re-write the story IN YOUR OWN WORDS so that the man is pining over something else. Try not to give away what until the very end (there is no word limit). (20pts) 
3. Do you find it odd that the man loved his Baby more than his children? What example can you think of from your life (personally or from stories, TV shows, legends, the news, etc.) that are similar? How so? (10pts)
BONUS If you could ask the author any question what would it be? We WILL be talking to the author so make it good! One good question is worth 5 bonus points. ONLY five points will be added regardless of the number of questions, however if you would like to ask more than one question that’s OK.
The day the assignment was due we Skyped Jess! Students had great questions about her inspirations, if she believed in the supernatural, etc. Jess was great she talked about herself, her background, and offered to help students if any of them wanted to pursue writing. Since the students had their questions prepared before (and weren't just talking to their teacher) they actually got pretty excited about talking in English.

In short, "Baby" is probably not Jess' best work, but I LOVED it for my class because it was short and had a great twist! Plus, Jess was AWESOME. Everyone should check out the story (and others) by Jess if you are looking for a Halloween story (or any story really!).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Top 6 reasons I like MOONFLOWER to teach (and how!)

The Cover of Moonflower with Anthony Misiano.
You can read more about the movie at the official site.
1. Students won't have seen it before.
Since it was independently made, the odds of a student already having seen it are pretty low. That means it will be new and exciting to them so they won't get bored, and they will need to pay attention.
2. It is only 40 minutes!
It can be watched in classes as short as 50 minutes to COMPLETION! Awesome! No more remembering where the DVD left off. No more trying to squeeze it into one class by skipping “unimportant” parts. This movie actually fits a class time.
3. There are a lot of non-dialogue moments
The movie isn't all talking. This gives students a chance to infer, take a break from listening and still follow the movie's plot.
4. It is visually interesting
It isn't filmed in a known place (e.g. school). There's a desert, a forest, etc. These changing scenes allow students to easily plot the progress of the film and keep them engaged.
5. It is appropriate
In one scene the main character drinks a few beers before he goes to sleep; in another scene a pirate shoots another pirate (who is off screen). There is no bloodshed, cursing, nudity, sex, nor sexual innuendo. As such the movie doesn't make me want to fast forward at any point nor have my students plug their ears.
6. The price is right
Moonflower is LEGALLY available for download for just $4 online. I know that as teachers we are all strapped for cash, but that's less than a most medium drinks at Starbucks. Even making pesos in Mexico I am financially capable of buying it.

1. If you have used Romeo and Juliet before, OR they have learnt it in other classes you can easily use Moonflower with a Romeo and Juliet theme.
  • The movie recreates a scene from Romeo and Juliet. How is that scene appropriate to the rest of the film?
  • Early in the movie Scott says, “Be confident. Be romantic. Be Romeo.” Do you find Romeo to be romantic? Why or why not? Use EXAMPLES! (Alternatively compare and contrast Romeo to Scott)
  • Does Romeo and Juliet prove that “What young men do in the name of love is as much courageous as it is desperate” Use examples from Romeo and Juliet to support your opinion.
  • The yeti says, “I was in love once, at least I thought I was; I loved I know that for sure but I don't think now that I was actually in love.” Were Romeo and Juliet in love or did they just love? Use examples from the play to prove your point. 
2. To practice/reinforce idioms. We all know that idioms don't translate literally as such they can be hard for students to grasp. There are lots of ways to use this movie to teach idioms.
  • You can pre-teach the idioms (with pictures) and then see how many idioms they recognize during the movie.
  • With higher level classes you can just tell them to make note of any idioms they hear in the movie (this is hard for many students).
  • Alternatively you can simply teach the idioms before so that idioms aren't a problem for understanding the movie.
  • A fun activity to do would be to pre-teach the real meanings, watch the movie, and then have them draw the literal meaning on one side of paper and the figurative meaning on the other (using the scenes from the movie as inspiration).
Here are a list of some idioms used throughout the movie:
Break a leg-
Has a crush on you-
Ask him out-
Things were going real nice-
I wanna make it right-
I won't hold back my wrath-
Don't try anything funny-
You'll have hell to pay in full-
The men were hoping to have a word with you-
I think we can spare a minute-
Word is he's lost it-
I make a mean cup of-
I can't put my finger on it-
I am out-

3. Paragraph Writing. Saying what something symbolizes is great practice for writing paragraphs. Students write what something symbolizes (Topic Sentence) and then they have to say why (3 Main Ideas/Concrete Details) and provide support from the movie (Details/Examples/Commentary).
  • In one class I passed out a simple worksheet with a gap-fill of the movie (to make sure they paid attention). Each person was given a character (Post, The Pirates, or Big Foot) they had space to take notes on what their character, looked like, said, and basically did throughout the movie. In the end they were given a blank outline where they had to argue what their character symbolized. I had some really great ones! The Pirates symbolized obstacles in life; the Others symbolized Scott's repressed selves, etc. (Sample worksheet:
  • Really any question involving symbolism would work, though some lend themselves to more research. For example:
    • He calls her first at 10:11, later he calls her at 12:10, when he wakes up it is 3:39 what significance could these times have? (Bible verses, Romero and Juliet lines, what the number spells on a telephone etc. Try to encourage creativity)
    • Research the plant called the Moonflower. How does it symbolize the movie?
    • Throughout the movie there are different beverages, water in the theater, beer at the house, and tea with the yeti. How do these symbolize Scott's emotional state? Or what else could these symbolize?
4. Random questions: Though these questions could also be answered in paragraph form they could also be simply answered.
  • In the picture with Sara he has his eyes closed. What significance does that have compared to the rest of the movie?
  • Appearances can be deceiving. Find examples of this in the movie (think about the yeti!)
  • The only advice in the book is “Be Clever.” What other brief advice could you suggest? Why?
  • Scott uses the key from the theater to open the door to another theater. Pretend you used your house key, what do you think you would find inside? How would it be different?
  • Scott's speech for the pirates to stop in the theater could be considered a speech to himself. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
5.Summarizing and Paraphrasing 
  • Summarizing is easy. Either, divide the movie into parts and have students summarize each part, or just have them summarize the whole movie. Giving them a word count or character count (like twitter) will help them really cut out unessential information.
  • Take out lines from the movie and have them re-write them in their own words. This works well with many of the yetis lines though the Sand Pirates work well too. Remind students to keep the meaning the same!
6. Movie reviews: Show them a sample movie review and then get them to write one of their own. 

 If you get a chance to use any of these ideas let me know! Or, if you have any ideas on how to change an activity or use the movie differently please share!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Reviewing Your vs You're with your class

I know that apostrophes should only be used to show possession or in contractions, yet when I am typing I often throw in extra needless apostrophes out of habit.

In the same way, most students know the difference between you're and your, they just get overwhelmed when writing and make the mistake without thinking.

So, how to get students to use your and you're properly?

First make sure they know the difference. The Internet is fantastic here. There are grammar comics, songs, and websites that point out the difference as well as many memes. Find some funny examples and come up with some on your own if need be. Check out the Venn diagram on the right for a basic guide on the differences and similarities between you're and your.

Check that they understand by giving them some sentences and having them explain what it means. You can use YouTube clips to make this a bit more fun, or just say them yourself. For example.

“'You're the one that I want' did I mean you are or your?”

What does: Your "you're" you're using may be wrong mean?
The “you're” that belongs to you that you are using may be wrong

It can also help to compare it to similar word pairs in English. He's vs His (which sounds similar), or She's vs Her, I'm vs. My and finally It's vs Its (which has its own set of problems).

Remember: “Good grammar is the difference between thinking 'You're tops' and 'Your tops'.”

Next, discourage contractions. When speaking we use contractions naturally, and that's fine since you don't have to worry about pronouncing your differently than you're. Informal writing also tends to have contractions; however try to encourage students to write out words in full whenever possible. This tends to be the fastest way to get rid of this mistake as they won't likely use “you are” when they mean to say “your” and vice versa.

If that doesn't work, or your students are disinclined to write out entire words make sure they double check their work out loud. I try to avoid grading written work around people as I end up reading their essays out loud. That's because I can hear mistakes more clearly than I can read them. If your students read their work out loud and read contractions in full (so they would see can't but read cannot) they will likely find all their mistakes. If their brains keep auto-correcting their mistakes, have them read backwards, starting with the last sentence .

This opens itself up to SO many games! It can be done with flyswatter. Just put Your and You're on the board. It works even better if you rotate which word is where and you only have two groups. Say a sentence, “Your shirt is ugly” and then have the students race to hit the correct word. In this case hitting the wrong word would result in the other team getting the point.

This also works very well with dictoglosses since students would have to figure out if your or you're made more grammatical sense.

What activity would you do to review? What tips do you have when teaching the differences?


Flyswatter is an easy no prep game best used to review vocabulary and popular with all levels of EFL students (though it is great for non-EFL too).

  1. Write all the vocabulary on the board (if you have a smart board you can put it up that way).
  2. The class is divided into two-four groups.
  3. Each group sends one student to the front of the class.
  4. They stand a meter and a half away from the board facing the class (their backs to the board).
  5. The teacher calls out a clue this can be the word's definition, antonym, a visual clue (gesture/picture).
  6. The students can turn around AFTER the teacher gives the clue.
  7. They try to find the word on the board.
  8. The first student to hit* the word gets the point for their team. *Traditionally this game is played with each student having a fly swatter, but I have also had students just slap with their hands or use a rolled up newspaper.
  9. If none of the students hit the word, their group can help them by calling out hints; however, they can ONLY call out direction words in English (higher, lower, right, up, down, etc.)
  10. Once the points have been given the students go back to their group and new students come up.
  11. The game is played until everyone has a chance to play, or all the words have been used.
  1. Instead of writing the word you can play this game with preschool students by drawing or posting up pictures (or just the colors).
  2. Rather than giving clues the teacher will actually say the vocabulary word (or maybe something that is the color of the word).
SAME-SAME but different
  1. Write the antonyms on the board and give students the vocabulary word instead of a clue.
  2. On the same lines write synonyms on the board and use the vocabulary words as clues.
  3. To make it more complicated you can use a mix of antonyms, synonyms and vocabulary words on the board.
  1. Use it JUST to review directions and not vocabulary words.
  2. Pass out a list of words paired with random words, colors matched with numbers, very advanced words with their definition, etc.
  3. Since the students won't have the list memorized they will need to be guided (up, down, left, right) by their group who has the answers.
This is a great game when you have some extra time in class, or if you teach somewhere that doesn't give you a lot of materials when you teach.

You'll learn the best ways to adapt it for your class. With some classes you have to make it so they can only hit one word and then the other teams get a guess before they can hit again (otherwise they'll just hit all the words randomly). Have you used the game? How would you adapt it?

Thursday, September 13, 2012


I posted about the idea of using a Draw and Tell to differentiate a dictogloss the other day using a draw and tell story to review transition words the other day I did it and it worked out really well.

  • With my rowdy class I started by putting a text on the board. It said 
I will not be taking attendance right away. Please sit down and take out a piece of paper and a pen. When you are quiet, I will tell you a story. You should should NOT write down anything. Just listen to the story. I will begin when you are quiet. 

  • That worked better than it could have. They were quiet and ready within 5 minutes ( I was pleasantly shocked). Then I told them the story. 
There was a boy. He was young. He was three years old. He went on a walk. He was attacked by bees. He was scared. He ran away. They followed him. He jumped into a lake. He stayed there until the sun set. The bees went away. He went home. I was eating eggs and bacon. I was happy to see my dog. 

NOTE: This story, though brief, is actually pretty hard since it is purposely bland! SO keep it simple.

  • I told students to work on their own and try to recreate the story to be as close to the original as possible. They had 2 minutes. A few of them freaked out, but I let them know they would hear the story again. and they weren't expected to get it perfect.
  • After two minutes I told them the story again. This time I drew the dog that goes with it. I told them they had one more minute. Most students did NOT look at the board; however, I noticed some students looking up and using the picture to help them.
  • When the minute was done I told them to partner up and they spent the next 5 minutes working with someone else to recreate the text.
  • Finally students swapped their answers with another partner and I showed them the original text. They made corrections and the team with the least mistakes got bonus points.
  • I asked the students what was wrong with this text. THANKFULLY (as we had been studying transition words) they told me it was missing transition words.
  • Now, with their partner, had to re-write the text to include AT LEAST
    • 1 relative clause
    • 1 cause and effect transition word
    • 1 sequencing transition word
    • 1 contrast transition word
    • 1 addition transition word
    • (When students finished early I added other categories to get them to add to)
  • Finally we shared all the different ways the sentences could be combined.
This worked really well as a review of transition words, and we practiced general listening, reading and writing skills that would be on the exam. Even though the use of draw and tells is normally reserved for younger groups I think in this case it was a useful add on to help some students with the dictogloss. 

Would you ever consider using draw and tells with a dictogloss to differentiate?

Other Ways to Grade Participation

A while ago I posted on using self evaluations for participation grades. I still find it is the best method for me, but some teachers have found it just doesn't work for them.

So, I hoped to share some other ways I have seen participation get graded that makes sense to me.

In high school my Spanish teacher did "Bravos" which were little PostIts with his own stamp on it. When a student spoke up in class, answered a question, did particularly well on an assignment or had a birthday and let everyone sing to them they got a "Bravo" at the end of the semester you put all your Bravos on a piece of paper and handed it to the teacher. He tallied up the average number of Bravos and that became the "maximum." Your participation grade was thus calculated out of that number. So if I had 10 Bravos and the average was 20 I got 50%. My friend with 30 Bravos got 100% and 10 extra credit points which went towards homework.
One method that worked well for other teachers was using name cards. Each student received a name card at the start of class. If they asked or answered a question successfully in class the teacher collected their name card. At the end of the class anyone whose name card had not been collected did not receive a participation "point" for the day. Everyone else left their name tags on their desk or a separate pile when they left. The teacher would take attendance every day by passing back the name cards to the class and repeating the process. So this was three fold, it helped them remember everyone's name, take attendance and gage participation. You can grade it any number of ways. Make an average: as before with the Bravos. Make an expectation: "students should speak at least 3 times a week" so they should get 3 points a week. Really you could grade it any way you felt was fair to the class.

I know teacher's that put each student's name on a Popsicle stick or deck of cards. When they randomly select a student they pull out the stick/card if the student participates then the stick/card gets moved to a different place (to give another student a chance). This could similarly be used to gage participation.

As I've said before, these methods, though awesome, didn't work for me. I found self-evaluation to be the best method. However maybe these work better for you.

Anyone else have any unique ways they grade their students on participation?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fast Debates (Speaker Practice)

We have a lot of speaking practice in my class, some of it is prepared, and some of it isn't so prepared. One of the activities I really like to do I call "fast debates."

They tend to work really well for reinforcing transition words and getting students talking.

You too can use fast debates in your class. Just follow these easy steps.

  1. First, students are given topics (vampires versus werewolves, sunshine vs rain, analog vs digital) it doesn't really matter the more obscure the more fun! (I normally put 15 different topics on the board and tell them to make groups of 4 or 6 people and pick a category. Then they need to split up into two groups).
  2. Students present in two groups (normally of 2-3 people each)
  3. They stand in two lines.
  4. The person in front of the line can say one sentence, then they have to move to the back of the line.
  5. Their sentence can argue on behalf of their team OR refute the other team. It cannot do both.
  6. After they talk the other team gets a turn.

It goes super fast keeps everyone on their toes and tends top be lots of fun! I find this keeps students more involved than a standard debate and since it goes so fast everyone in the class follows along too.

Do you have any alternates to the standard debate? How do your classes like it?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

No prep game to practice Numbers and... Clothing, Body Parts, School Supplies, etc.

Today is a quickie as I sit here grading essays remembering, "the good 'ol days" of playing games with kiddies.

I have no idea what this game is called; I think I picked it up from a friend when I taught in South Korea. I do know that it is fantastic as it requires absolutely NO preparation and my primary students always loved it. This is an easy no prep game that's ideal for practicing numbers and anything else students may have on them (School Supplies, Body Parts, Clothing, etc.)

The basic concept of the game is that students need to form groups according to what you say.

First everyone stands up and spreads out.
Then the teacher will say a number and a noun, something like, "10 shoes."
To make a group of 10 shoes you would need 5 people, so the students need to hurry to make a group of 5 people.
Whoever doesn't get in a group has to sit down. The teacher repeats with another phrase, "3 noses" now they have to break up their group of 5 people and make groups of 3 people (to make 3 noses).
To make it a bit more complicated we can use school supplies. Since the number of pencils will vary from person to person saying something like, "23 pencils" could mean anything from a group of 3 people to a group of 7 people.

Students like it as they are up and moving around and it makes them actively practice their numbers plus whatever you choose for the target language to be.

If you are looking for other ways to help reinforce vocabulary check out this post with tons of ideas! 
Please let me know if you use it and how it goes or if you have found a way to tweak it to work better for your class. You can do this in the comments, the Melting Activities facebook page or follow me on twitter.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

5 fun ways to use a Dictogloss in the EFL class

Listening is important. Collaboration is important. Writing is important.

Dictoglosses combine all of these these things to keep students' brains working in a foreign language.

What is a dictogloss?

I am glad you asked :) Dictoglosses are essentially dictation exercises where students work together to recreate a text. The process is normally as such:

  1. The teacher reads a text. Students listen. They do not take notes. They just listen.
  2. The students INDIVIDUALLY write down as much of the story as they can remember. They can use pictures, abbreviations, other words, blanks or anything else that will help them if they don't recall the specifics. 
  3. (optional) The text is read again. Students do NOT write while the teacher is speaking. When the teacher finishes, they make changes as needed to their version. (I prefer to skip this step and go straight to 4, but some teachers find their classes don't have much to share unless this step is used. You know your classroom best so do what you think will work!)
  4. The students pair up with a friend and together try to combine their versions to get the version as close to the original as possible.
  5. Students put down their pens and the teacher reads the text one last time.
  6. The students get a few more moments to write their final version (if you as a teacher want you can combine pairs at this point to make a group of 4 working together on the final version).
  7. If you want you can have the students write the final version on butcher paper and everyone posts it on the board. Then give students time to circulate and mark any mistakes they see (misspelled words, bad punctuation etc.) I find the faster way is to have them pass the paper to the right/left and then the teacher reads the reading again and they correct the paper. 
  8. I usually give the team with the fewest mistakes a prize of some sort (bonus points, free homework passes, etc.)
So now that we know the basics. How do make this fun?

SONGS Well, part of it means that you have to pick fun texts! Use a song! Yes, I know that I love to use songs whenever possible but it can be fun. Break out lyrics (and have them listen to the song to reveal the answers). You shouldn't use a full song unless it is really an upper level class. If they are fairly advanced though you don't even need to speak. Just play the chunk of the song, (something slower and older the students won't know. The first 30 seconds or one minute of Jill Sobule's "Lucy at the Gym" is a good example; the first 20 seconds of "It makes me ill" would not be advised. I find punctuating these is usually the hardest part!

DRAW AND TELL With lower students tell a draw and tell WITH the picture, and keept the picture up! Stories tend to follow a logical progression more than a speech or tongue twister. Since they are lower level the visual will also help them remember the story and vocabulary used. Just be sure to remember to keep it short! You could also differentiate by passing out the picture to certain students and not to others. More on Draw and Tells here.

MOVIES/TELEVSION Again, keep the level of the student in mind. You don't want to use Rock, Paper, Lizard, Scissors, Spock from The Big Bang Theory. The first minute (actually I'd keep it at the first 20 seconds) of the Hitchhikers Guide the to Galaxy is better. You could use the audio from the movie, or recite it yourself. Be careful of accents, background noise, and audio that requires students to see something to understand it.

 TED TALKS / NPR / SPEECHES Get authentic speech in here! TedTalks could work. Why not try the  first 39 seconds of this one. Use an acceptance speech from MTVs Video Music Awards (because many students care more if Taylor Swift says it than if you say it). These can be helpful when practicing idioms and other things that don't often come up in artificial texts. These can be very difficult if the person is a fast talker, or there are lots of proper nouns. I LOVE Peter Dinklage for example, but his recent Emmy acceptance speech has some names student may struggle with. I may tell them to just use initials or write the names on the board to help them out with that part.

 TONGUE TWISTERS / BRAIN TEASERS Tongue Twisters can be fun for advanced students and brain teasers have the added bonus of letting students who finish quickly try to solve them. These also tend to be super short. Tongue twisters have the advantage of being used to differentiate sounds (especiall minimal pairs). Try to start with something like, "She sells sea shells by the sea shore" and then move onto something longer like, "Betty bought some butter 'But,' she said, 'this butter's bitter. If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter, but a bit of better butter, better than the bitter butter will make my bitter batter better.' So she bought a bit of better butter, Better than the bitter butter, and made her bitter batter better.

So there you go 5 ways to make dictoglosses a bit more fun! Do remember to aim the text at your learners. Stories are easier than texts which don't follow a logical progression. Keep in mind accents, vocabulary, etc. To make them even more effective try to use texts or audio that have grammar points you have recently covered. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Lucy at the Gym both have transition words for example.

Have you used dictoglosses? What texts do you find work well? Any other tips to share?
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