Thursday, January 24, 2013

Balloon Categories

This activity requires a bit more prep than most of mine do, but I think it is a great way add some extra fun into an activity...after all balloons make everything fun!


String / Yarn / Ribbon: If you are using the same colored balloons then make sure to use different strings.
Sharpies : Again, this works a LOT better if you have different colors, however it would also work with just one color if needed. One color per group would work best.
Balloons: If you only have one color for ribbons you really need differently colored balloons.
Helium : I suppose this could be done without floating...but the floating really adds something to it.

  1. Blow up the balloons with helium (or without if helium is not available).
  2. On each balloon mark a different category. You want AT LEAST as many balloons as groups you will divide the students into. These can be topic based (Fruits, Vegetables, Animals, School Supplies etc), Alphabet (each balloon gets a letter), Parts of Speech (Verbs, Nouns, Adjectives) or anything. In my case my students are reviewing transition words, so we'll put the different categories: Addition, Cause and Effect, Contrast, Exemplification etc. I would also write a sample sentence e.g. CAUSE AND EFFECT: I like John _______ he is rich.
  3. Tie a ribbon to each balloon. The ribbon should be long enough that if it floats to the ceiling it can still be grabbed by your shortest student (or to add some fun jumping make the ribbons shorter). If you have differed colored balloons then the ribbons don't matter. If you have the same color then use different ribbons. 
  1. Divide the class into groups. I'd suggest partners, but depending on your class size this may not be possible. Ideally you want each group to have a different colored sharpie. 
  2. Explain to the class that you are setting a timer for 30 seconds (I like projecting onto the board). They have 30 seconds to grab a balloon, talk to their partner and write a word that fits the category (or in my case a transition word that fits the category and sentence).
  3. After 30 seconds they grab another balloon (this is why the different colored ribbons or balloons are helpful)  and repeat the process, only this time they have to make sure that they don't repeat a word that a different group has written. 
  4. If they can't think of a new transition word they simply re-release the balloon.
  5. Once all groups have had a chance at each balloon I give a 2 minute free for all where they can grab any balloon and write down more transition words that fit that category and have not already been used.
  6. At the end of the activity gather the balloons and as a class (without saying who wrote what) go over the answers. Does everyone agree that "Honest" starts with an O? Is "In the other hand" a transition word? etc.
  7. While you are reviewing the answers (as a class) tally up the points per group (via the color sharpie) give 5 points per correctly written word. 
Give the winners a prize (or bonus points, or let them pop all the balloons)  and congratulate yourself on a game well done!

As always I encourage variations!
  • No helium? No problem! Filling the room with balloons on the floor is fun too! (Though I do like the jumping and grabbing of ribbons effect the helium gives)
  • You can also alter the game completely and make it a game of "don't touch the floor" where each time they touch a balloon they need to say a word in the category. Sort of a balloon volleyball.
  • Instead of organizing via 30 second spurts you can simply give 5 minutes of free for all. A little more chaos, but if you have a good grip on your class it should be fine.
Any adaptations that you think would work? Have you done something similar with your classes? How was it?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

6 easy ways to keep their attention by keeping the focus on them

Losing control of a class can happen (even without a cross-eyed teacher), but the best way to prevent it from happening is keep students focused!

How do I keep a class' focus?

Well there are the usual steps.
  • Make classes dynamic and interactive not just a lecture. 
  • Appeal to all types of learners with pictures, songs, texts and activities. 

However, when I really think about what I do to keep my classes focused: I focus on them. Here are probably the 6 most noticeable steps I have taken to focus my lessons on my students.

1. Though I am not a gigantic twitter fan, my students are, so I have a twitter account I use with my students. It works fantastically. They stay up to date with assignments, are easier to reach if I have a question, and are more likely to ask me when they have questions. Using twitter is easy enough for any teacher to do it (Twitter 101) and it keeps my students engaged.

2. I also know my students love memes, puns, and other things found on sites such as 9gag or funnyjunk. So I make sure to peruse the sites and grab any class appropriate pictures which I can use in class. Many time this is a grammar comic, but sometimes it ends up being something relevant to something we've read in class (The Body by Stephen King, The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe) by showing them that the stuff we learn is still referenced in places they like they become more interested in class. These things can be tweeted, or used as attention getting devices in a lesson.

3. In addition to 9gag and funnyjunk most of my students are musicphiles. So at least once a week I work a song into the lesson somehow. There are tons of ways to do it! Even though I try to avoid clozes, those will work in a pinch. Here is a bunch of ways to use songs in class. Even when I am not using the songs themselves I use the artists. Instead of a textbook text students need to correct I'll use an article on PSY's rise to international fame where I have added errors. Or when making fill in the blank exercises instead of, "Susie, _____ is Johnny's friend, is tall." I'll say, "Lady Gaga, _____ is a singer, has a crush on Justin Bieber." Students pay much more attention to those worksheets!

4. Students also like movies (surprise, surprise) so I try to get visual clips in whenever. This semester we are reading the Body. Each week, after they take the quiz, they will watch the excerpt from the movie (Stand by Me) that matches what they read. We will discuss the differences and they will be able to cement their understanding of the story. I also use short films, silent films and use music videos like films!

5. And of course... GAMES! I don't use them all the time, but I have a staple of games that can be used at the end, beginning or middle of class to review grammar, vocabulary or general concepts. Sometimes they are games designed to cool things down (Like a folding game) other times they are to wake them up (Snowball Fight!) and everything in between.

6. Finally, I make sure to include students in my classes. If that means using pictures of them (school pictures that I have permission to use) when teaching about relative phrases, then that's what I do. I use them as examples (always appropriate) in worksheets as well! Most importantly I promote what they do! If they made an awesome video as homework, I save it and show it to other classes (Reference Words, Commas, Relative Clauses). Not only do the students whose work I share feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, but the other students are interested in seeing their friends' finished product and thus pay more attention.

Do you use any of these? How do they work for you?

Monday, January 7, 2013

British Council's Blog for December

Voting is closed, thank you so much for your help and consideration!  
The British Council's facebook page has shortlisted a recent Blog for their TeachingEnglish blog award for December

"In this blog post, Carissa comes up with loads of suggestions for class activities that make vocabulary learning effective and fun.
Click on like if you think it should be the winner of this month’s TeachingEnglish featured blog award!

If you haven't had a chance to check out this post yet, here it is:

You can vote by clicking on the picture, or following the link found here

Voting is closed, thank you so much for your help and consideration!

Why can't I text during class!?!

I, like many teachers, have a policy of no texting during class. It isn't because I am evil or cruel but because I find students cannot pay attention to class (especially one in a second language) as well as they think they can. Now, a lot of this can be prevented by making classes more dynamic and interactive, but then they should still be listening to their partner/classmates to properly interact (and not texting).

Yes, I am from a generation of multitaskers, and my students even moreso. However we still have to deal with the fact that we are not able to do as much as we would like.


Well first of all something that some call inattentional blindness. Have you ever taken the awareness test?

If you have already taken that one try this one

I highly suggest showing one, or both in class at the beginning to reinforce your rules. Basically the premise is that if you are only paying attention to one thing you tend to focus on that and ignore other information that could be helpful. It is a useful skill we have picked up. When driving you don't need to feel every inch of fabric on you, hear every beat of every song or read every license plate of every car on the freeway. You wouldn't be able to focus on driving.

Nonetheless, when you are in class even if you are 100% focused, you may still miss out on some essentials. Moreso if you divide your attention between your phone and your class. And even more when your brain is doing a task in one language (texting your friend in Spanish) and another in a weaker language (quasi-listening to your teacher in English).

Here's another activity. Have you ever noticed how students frantically write down whatever you put on the board to the point they don't hear what you say? Don't do this with lower level classes, but with higher level classes write a ridiculous and irrelevant sentence on the board. If you are reviewing participle phrases put, "George Washington had a pink dog." The sentence is 1. inaccurate 2. has nothing to do with participle phrases. Before you write it on the board let them know this is a test. You just want to see who is paying attention. Tell them NOT to copy down the sentence. As you are writing it repeat, "DO NOT WRITE THIS DOWN." At the end of the day collect their notes and see how many students wrote the sentence.

So, I don't want my students to halfheartedly listen to me (and their classmates) and not actually listen.

OK...but that isn't all. People are also losing the ability to listen!I love showing my student's Julian Treasure when he talks about listening. In essense he talks about how people listen, what problems we have listening and how it effects us.

Similar to inattentional blindness we are already learning to tune out things and our brain struggles to follow two things at once (listening to the radio, a friend and a movie).

Think about it. When you are driving, how often do you turn the volume down on the radio when you are looking for an address. The radio has no effect on your vision, but it helps you focus! The same with texting.

What do you think? Should students be allowed to text in class?
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