Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Here's another Water Freebie!

Since I just posted about the UNICEF mobile site to donatewater and keep students off their phone, I thought I should share this great ebook about different ways to get your students thinking about water.

 The book is designed for teachers in London: however, most of the activities can easily be adapted to the city where you teach. Some of them are obviously English related: write a story about a river in the shape of a river for example, but other activities that aren’t English based are great examples of tasks you can use for task based lessons.

 Keep in mind that Earth Day is coming up in the spring, so if you are planning to incorporate anything about water conservation into a lesson later, it may be best to introduce something water related now. This way when you teach water conservation later, they will be able to refer to the earlier lesson.
For example, students can animate the water cycle (MEW010) and focus on a specific tense. Alternatively, students can focus on the use of transition words.
There’s another activity where students go online and try to track specifically where the water in the school (or house) comes from. Then they track the path via the pipes to their house. This should give them appreciation of how far their water travels.

A lot of science experiments are great for getting students to talk to one another, write down their thoughts and then share them with the class. For instance, you can have students make a water filter and try to filter water you have made dirty. Later they can present their filter to the class and hypothesize what could have made it better.

Was every mission great? No. A few flat out would not work in my area. For example. When they suggest counting rain drops left on cardboard, they are envisioning a rain that doesn't come down in sheets the way it usually does in Culiacan. Bu that's fine! There are more than enough suggestions, so I can ignore the ones that don't work for my class and adapt the ones that may.

The book overall is well written. It is NOT written specifically for an English Language Teacher, but if you are like me, then you are used to adapting lessons all the time! Plus, this book has super cute illustrations by Tom Morgan Jones

There's also a version of the book for students without all the teacher's notes.

I saved the best part for last! There's a related website
At this site teachers (or students) can sign up and start earning basges! It is all in Beta right now, but it looks like LOTS of fun and a great way to keep students engaged and maybe get the competitive ones really working hard!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Tweet on behalf of a character

The cellular view (click the photo to view it bigger)
When my students read stories I like to give them different assignments to keep things interesting. For example, I may have them draw a character, make a soundtrack for a chapter, or create a Twitter account for a character.

"Pretend a character had a cell phone. Create a fake Twitter account for this character (on paper, not online). This should include a username, picture, description/bio, and FOUR tweets (one from each chapter). The tweets should make it clear that 1. You read the chapter and 2. You understand the character. You can tweet what they were thinking, feeling, or hoping."

This student used stickers! (click it to view it bigger)
Another artsy one! (click to view it bigger)
The results are usually entertaining. The students enjoy making them, and I think they show more comprehension than a simple summary. Rather than telling me what they read, they are inferring and predicting what one of the characters thinks about it. These higher level thinking skills are key!

I love how some students made the project look like their smartphone. That is, after all, how they usually view Twitter.

Some got really artistic with it and used their  creativity to make different designs, and pictures they felt would best suit the character.

Chris Chambers computer made account (click to view it bigger)
Others preferred to use sample layouts (available online) and make their Twitter account on the computer (in Microsoft Word, Paint, or Photoshop)

What is really fun about this is sometimes students look outside of the main characters and choose to focus on a lesser known character. This really let's them use their creativity and develop a character; sometimes further than the author had the opportunity to do.

A lesser seen character. Milo's Twitter. (click to view it bigger)
In this post you can see an example of each "type" of submission.

Each one shows a knowledge of the character. For example, one student chose to give Teddy a camouflage background knowing he admired his military father.

The student who selected Milo Pressman made his avatar a ferocious dog since Milo is the owner of Chopper.

Many of the students picked clever usernames for their accounts such as: GordonInvisibleBoy since Gordie says his parents always ignore him.

In short, even though these projects are shorter than say, a summary of each chapter. I feel like I can still assess who did the reading.

You can easily adapt this to a short story, or change the frequency by making them tweet more per chapter.

I also know teachers who have students make these accounts online and interact with one another.

While that may be an option for me in the future, right now privacy issues and students with varying levels of Internet access prohibit this.

Nonetheless, I think doing it on paper still gets the same results! If you get a chance to do this (or do something similar now) let me know in the comments. I'd love to see what you do differently, or what worked (and didn't) for you!

Interesting in doing this activity with your students? You can download a copy of the assignment (with examples and a rubric) on Teachers Pay Teachers.(If you haven't signed up yet you can register for free here)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Keep students off their phones, and help a child access water at the same time!

I love technology. I often have lessons where my students use their cell phone or tablet in class. I think there are a lot of apps that give us the ability to really make students excited about class. However, not every lesson uses cell phones!

Do your students always pick up their phones in the middle of class? They want to be sure they don't have a new tweet, or see what their favorite celebrity is saying on Facebook. Sure, sometimes you can make it a teaching moment, but usually it just distracts them, the rest of the class and you!

Here's an idea. You can make not touching their phone into a game AND teach them about the importance of water.

UNICEF, with their sponsor Giorgio Armani Fragrances, is helping us realize that we don't need to be on the phone all the time.

To participate simply get on your phone and visit It will give you specific directions. Basically: 1. Set your phone down. 2. Don't touch it.

If you can make it for ten minutes without touching your phone, they donate a day of clean water to a child in need.

While you are not touching your phone the app keeps a timer letting you know how long you have gone. It also gives you random facts about water, or the Tap Project.

OK, that's nice, but what makes it a game?

It gives you specific goals. Compares your "score" to the score of other users, and showing you your own personal records! This is an easy and fun way to keep your students from touching their phones.

I won't use it every class, but it would be fun to see how much water a class could "earn" by simply staying off their cell phones during class time. If you have a lesson on resources or water this is pretty much the perfect addition to your class.

While the app is up and running now, the fine print suggests that only minutes done between March 1st and March 31st will count. Therefore, if you are planning on making this into a lesson, you have about a week to plan something amazing.

There are a few things to be aware of: It WILL drain battery and use internet, so be sure they have an awesome plan, or are tapping into a local WIFI source.

Try it out and let me know what you think! If you are looking for other water saving activities check out this post about MissionExplore!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Games That Teach Organizational Skills For Adolescents

I am a huge fan of The Sims, but otherwise I never really got into videogames. Nonetheless, when Brandy kindly agreed to allow me this guest post I was excited. There is so much research about how people learn better when we are playing! So, what games can help students learn organizational skills?
Teenage kids love to play video games. They can be fun and entertaining. It keeps them occupied for hours at a time. While it may seem that videogames are just for entertainment purposes, some also teach very valuable life skills to your children 13 years old and above. 
There are many role playing games that encourage a teenage kid to strategize and organize the layout of their armies. They show how to organize the soldiers to be in the best fighting positions, and how to defeat their enemies. Games like World of Warcraft, Fable, Halo Wars, Call of Duty, or the Oblivion series encourage these types of play. And then there are also puzzle games like Big Brain Academy and Tetris if RPG is not something a player would like to try.
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World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft is a science fiction fantasy video game that encourages creativity in each section of the game. There are several ways to play this game. Each realm contains different quests and advances in the game. There are many professions that you can choose from to gain skills in the game. These professions include miner, blacksmith, and tailor to name a few. Other skills include cooking, fishing, first aid and archeology. When learning these skills, you have to organize certain things to complete a task. Many missions are included in this game. If completed, the player is rewarded with money to use in the game or other forms of rewards.


Fable is a role playing game that is full of action and adventure. The story puts a focus on the player’s struggle as they help to overturn the kingdom of Albion. There are many trials and challenges along the way to the ultimate battle at the end of the game. There are many games to play that help increase knowledge, strength, and dexterity. These games teach patterns and organizational skills that move at either a slow or quick pace depending on the level of expertise the job has to offer. This helps to gain guild seals and friendships throughout the country. By gaining friendships, you also gain followers that help to defeat your brotherhood's army at the end of the game.

Halo Wars

Halo Wars is a strategy game that operates in real time experience. This game gives players the chance to command armies against your enemies using skill, resources, and organization. You can choose to be on the human side or the alien side. Each player is able to train and gain special abilities that help them gain advancement through the ranks until they get to the top.

Big Brain Academy

Big Brain Academy teaches teenagers not only organizational skills but also helps them to gain other cognitive thinking skills. There are five different sections that help to test and gain brain experience. They include thinking, analyzing, computing, identifying, and memorizing. These games help open the brain waves and train it to become more efficient and quicker to process much needed information. Players can play by themselves or with other players. Not only does it teach different skills, it is a lot of fun to play as well.

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Tetris is the ultimate organizational game that has been around since 1984. In order to advance in Tetris, you need to make sure that the Tetriminos or blocks fit together and don’t stack to the top. Each level that clears brings on a new level that makes the blocks fall faster. This makes your brain think quicker and helps you to place the blocks on a more strategic location.
As you can see, there are many different video games, with gaming sites to provide game information such as this, that can help adolescents learn to be organized. They can have fun with learning. Share these with your kids today and help them learn how to be a more organized individual.

Brandy Lindsey is a freelance writer, homeschool teacher and photographer. She enjoys blogging, knitting, and writing in her spare time. She lives in Northern Maine with her husband and three children.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Top 10 best excuses for cheating

All of these excuses are real and from my classes (unless noted otherwise as with the guest contribution or excuses found on Twitter).

10. "We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat." Not from my class rather the chant at the recent Gaokao riot.

9. "I was seeing how far he got so I could pace myself." When I give tests I have a gigantic countdown on the board and make sure to verbally give reminders (You should be halfway through by now, etc.), so, this one doesn't fly for me.


I love the creativity of this one. I know it is two years old, but still awesome.


Again! If a student at least can make me smile, I'll be less likely to take the test away.

6. "Yolo" - This one comes from Lillie  The "You only live once," mantra is often used now by teenagers with no other valid excuse.

5. "I just got nervous." Nerves can be a serious problem. It is one reason I like to give different tests. That way if a student gets nervous fidgeting around it is OK.

4. "I wasn't cheating; I was just making sure they were right." How kind of you.

3. "I was stretching." There's stretching, and there's blatantly looking at your neighbor's desk. Nice try though.

2. "I was making sure my answer was right." Well, this is more believable than number 4, it is still considered cheating.

and my ultimate favorite

1. "But teacher I don't know any of the answers." Oh...well why didn't you say so. In that case of course you can look at your neighbor's paper.

How to prevent cheating during tests? This post on cheating during tests  has lots of suggestions!

What about you? What's the most creative excuse your students ever gave you when you saw them trying to cheat during an exam.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dreams and Symbols

 In my class we are reading Stephen King's novella "The Body." In one chapter of the book the narrator specifically discusses a dream he had.

Today's class we talked about  the significance of dreams and different ways to interpret them.

There are SO many different ways to do this lesson, but this was how I did it today. You  can easily do a lesson about dreams without using, "The Body," and it ties in quite nicely if you choose to do the Dream Flag project later.

To start I had created this little slips of paper. I basically made note of different idioms, songs, and movies that invove dreams.

I divided them in half and gave each student part of a phrase. They had to try and find someone who made sense with theirs.

NOTE: There were technically different "correct" answers. You can grammatically say, "Be in a dream," but it doesn't have any special meaning in English.

After a few minutes I gave the students some clues.

For example, "On of them is about a baseball movie with Kevin Costner," "One of them is something you say to someone when their dream is impossible." etc.

After a few  more minutes I went through the numbers and let the students read their phrase together. If they correctly made an English phrase I congratulated them and asked them what it meant. Then as a class we went over connotation and denotation. If you want to do more activities with the dream words check out the vocabulary post.

Finally, my students were ready to start the lesson. I like this warmer because it gets them moving, thinking about dreams, focusing on different idioms, and thinking in English. It can be done in five minutes, or you can spend more time on it if you wish.

As a class, we read the story out loud (try popcorn reading!). From time to time we stopped and went over different words or discussed what the author meant. If you're reading chapter 15 you'll know it is when the boys are camping in the woods and they think they hear a ghost!

We discuss words they may not know and what the author is mentioning (cats being in heat for instance).

The chapter ends with his dream. We discuss the different parts to be sure that students understand the essence, then we talk about possible symbols. What does drowning usually mean? Why is Chris drowning etc.

When I was in University I backpacked a lot. Sometimes, as a way to make friends, I would walk fellow backpackers through these imaginary woods. As they walk through the woods in their brain you ask them specific questions. later you explain that these questions were asked to figure out more about the person. I'd explain what certain things symbolized and even when people disagreed they enjoyed it.

There are a few different versions of this going around, but here's the version I like best. I made it into a PowerPoint with pictures to help students who may be stuck. We also learned a few new words like, "to wade through water" (which will actually come up later in, "The Body!" After students take the imaginary walk through the woods we discuss what else the objects could symbolize and whether or not they think this, "test" is accurate.

In order to tie this back into, "The Body," we ended with the students wrote about one of the characters walks through the woods.

For example, "Gordie would walk through the woods with Denny. Even though Denny has passed away Gordie mentions him a lot through the story. I feel like Denny didn't change Gordie's life really until he died."

This helps students get used to writing explanations, dealing with different points of view, and reinforcing their understanding of characters in, "The Body."
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