Friday, May 30, 2014

SEVEN Great Alphabet Books

I think alphabet books are great for ALL levels of English classes. Lower level classes can use them to help improve their letter recognition. Whereas older students can mimic the templates the books provide and create their OWN alphabet books.

I really think having students create their own books is an AMAZING project! I am hoping to put up a step by step process (including worksheets) by Monday.

In the meantime, here are SEVEN alphabet books that I think are great for students to peruse.

This book has simple clipart-like graphics which I like because it shows students that their own book's graphics don't need to be overly complex.

It is easy for students because it follows a set pattern. LETTER is for ANIMAL and a(n) ANIMAL can't VERB like a DIFFERENT ANIMAL.
It uses rhymes, and repeats animals throughout the book making it easy for younger students to follow along. Note: some of the rhymes are partial rhymes which I normally avoid as a teacher. are also that way, maybe you should skip this book.
Since it uses a pattern it is also a GREAT "template" for students to follow with other categories
People: "A is for astronaut and an astronaut can't speak languages like a polyglot!"
Food: "A is for apricot and an apricot isn't small like a kumquat."

You'll notice that a lot of alphabet books are about animals. While that's great, I encourage my students to pick creative themes. As such, I enjoy showing them The ABC's of Kindergarten since it isn't about animals!

The book itself isn't very fancy LETTER is for WORD. Then there's a sample sentence.
 Students can use this"template" if they like, though it isn't very creative.
H is for hamburgers. Our cafeteria's hamburgers are the best!

This one uses alternating rhymes, which my students struggle to understand. That is to say that there isn't a rhyme for each letter. Instead the rhyme for A is found at the end of B.

For example: "K is for kangaroo hop hop hop. L is for lion ready to chop."

The graphics are super adorable. Plus the writing is simplistic enough to be an attainable goal for your your students.  Even though this is about animals, it works well for all topics.

For example, "T is for a trombone. Being a really big trumpet, trombones are fun to play. U is for ukulele. This small guitar, coming from Hawaii, needs a lei

This is my FAVORITE alphabet book! The "star" of each letter is a composed of a made up monster.

The graphics show the monster surrounded by lots of words starting with the appropriate letter.

The sentence is very simple. For example: Being at the beach the belchamonster avoids the sun. The picture would then have a beach ball, a balloon, etc.

The creativity in this makes me feel like students could do something similar and have a LOT of fun.

Most of my students use clipart that they find online to make their alphabet books.

A few of them use pictures, but otherwise they don't get very creative. That's why I think this is a GREAT alphabet book.

Basically there are scenes made of bricks for each letter. The students are invited to examine the scene and find things that start with the given letter.

Very dynamic, involved and unique (compared to the other graphics).

This book is unique because each of the letters is designed to look like the animal. Some of them, like the octopus, are pretty good. Others, like the pig, involve some suspension of belief.

Another awesome part, is if you buy this book you can download the coloring book version for free and allow students to color in the book (perhaps making your own version for the class library?)

The text is written in limerick form. If you teach limericks in your class it could be fun to make your own limerick book!
This last book is fun because of the theme. The author didn't pick animals even though it is a book about rats. He picked the fun theme of pirates! He also made his book follow a plot!

Most of my students steer away from a plot when making their books, but I find that it can be a really fun way to put an alphabet book together. Plus, it makes it very engaging for the audience.

Just check out this trailer for the book:

Do you have a favorite alphabet book?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Jenga in the classroom

Everyone loves playing Jenga. If you watch the video below even cats fall victim to this addicting game! 

How can we take this fun game and make it educational?

There are several ways!

To start: I usually play Jenga with students AT LEAST in groups of two. This way they can help one another. Remember that Jenga technically can be played with unlimited players, but in order to keep students involved I suggest no more then 4 groups.

1. Make it part of a review game.
  • Divide your class into two-four teams.
  • Have students alternate coming to the front of the class
  • Ask a review question. 
  • The first student to answer the question correctly wins two point for their team
  • Then comes the Jenga... there's a few ways to do this
    • They can choose if they want to pull a block, or have the other team pull a block
    • They can pull a block, if they get the answer right then the opposition has to put the block on the top. If they got the answer wrong their team has to put the block on the top.
    • You can make it point based by assigning a point value to the blocks gets one point, but if you make the tower tumble your team loses 10 points!
    • Alternatively, you can just make it so the first team to make the tower fall loses.
2. Make it conversational
  • Put conversation questions on the Jenga blocks. 
    • You can use a label maker to do this
    • The blocks are 1.5 × 2.5 × 7.5, so you can also use labels you can print from the computer.
    • Alternatively, you can write directly on the block in sharpie (or other permanent marker). Some teachers use pencil so they can reuse the blocks later.
  • Each time a student pulls the block they need to answer the question AND ask it to someone else.
    • Depending on the level these can be easy questions (what's your favorite food) or harder questions (If you met God tomorrow what three questions would you ask and why?)
    • An alternative would be to make this similar to truth or dare. Have a "dare" on one side, and a "truth" on the other. If the student doesn't want to answer the question they can do the dare. Keep them English related! Have them mime a vocabulary word, or sing a verse of their favorite English song.
Photo by Edgarc2
3. Use it for vocabulary practice
  •  Start a story and then have a child pull the block. 
  • Using the word they pull they have to continue the story. 
  • If the tower falls they need to quickly end the story
    • While you are telling the story have the whole class write their own version using the blocks pulled. See how many different stories you get at the end!
    • This is GREAT with transition words (First, Then, After, Thus, etc.)
4.  Make it a station / center!
If you use stations   (or centers) in the classroom, I think you can easily see how this would be a great station for small groups of students.
  • If you want to be able to use one Jenga game with multiple subjects you can have each of the blocks have a number. This number can correspond to a worksheet that the students have with different questions / vocabulary words.
  • Students work together to try to answer as many questions as they can!
    •  An alternative to questions is to have them work with grammar. For example, if you were working on tag questions perhaps you would write out things like, "Do you own a car?- Negative" and students would need to change it to, "You don't own a car, do you?"
5. For pronunciation
Photo By:  jam343

  • If you notice your students are  struggling with some minimal pairs or a tricky sound have this game focus on that!
6. Treat it like science!
  • There's a great freebie on TPT using Jenga to help with inference. This idea is great to help students with expressing their opinions, and thoughts. 
    • Because I know this, I think this will happen.
    • Also great to have students practice making predictions! 
7. Alphabet Jenga
  • This isn't the most academic Jenga, but it is easy and fun. Have students randomly select a category (food, sports, countries, clothing, verbs, animals etc.).
    • I normally put them in pairs and they can help their partner.
  • When they pull a block they need to say a word in that category with their letter.
    • Letters can go in turn (A first, then B, then C, etc.)
    • Letters can be written on the block. 
      • In this case it can be fun to have the letters written on the square outside that students can see. This way they have some time to think of a word before they select it. They also need to think about location as well as which letters are easier.
  • I tend to use the game like this for fast finishers, or if I am having a game day in the class. It could be used with stations / centers for vocabulary practice.  
Make any of these games even more fun by using a GIANT jenga set. Simply ask parents / students for donations of empty "fridge boxes" normally filled with soda. When you get enough (27-30 boxes) you can cover them with wrapping paper, or to try to mimic the appearance of the original Jenga set use contact paper designed to look like wood! Check out LockInLoaded's Blog for a sample of the finished product. Students will love playing with a big set, and if you use any of the games listed above they'll still be learning!

There you go seven different ways to use Jenga in the classroom! As you can see many of these ideas could be used for math, science, social studies or any other class! A lot of these are perfect for the end of the year, so I hope you enjoy yourselves!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Zodiac Characterization

Native American Signs

The Western Signs

 What's your sign?

I've seen a lot of really fun lessons be done with the zodiac. The ones I usually see are when people use the discussion of different star signs in a conversation class 

My favorite way is to get students to compare a character to different astrological signs. Now, you can do this any zodiac system you like. The Chinese zodiac signs, the Native American zodiac signs, or the  Western zodiac signs.

I enjoy teaching this lesson with the Chinese zodiac for a couple reasons.

1. I enjoy showing students different cultures. As my students here in Mexico do not have much exposure to Asian culture
The Chinese Zodiac
2. Also, in the case of The Body we know approximately when the characters were born. That means I can lower it down to only two signs, which means there's less reading for the students to do.

What are my students actually doing?

Step 1. They get assigned a character
Step 2. They read about the Ox and the Rat sign.
Step 3. They underline the parts of the descriptions that they feel describe the character.
Step 4. They summarize the descriptions
Step 5. They decide on if he is a rat or an ox.

Normally 1-5 are done on their own. Once they've made their decision I divide the class up by characters.

Step 6. Discuss why they felt the character should be that sign. Compare thoughts with the other students who have the character. See if a consensus on what sign fits best can be reached.
Step 7. Students share their findings with the class. Listen to what other characters are different signs.
Step 8. On their own students find support from the story that matches the descriptions of the sign.
Step 9: Students write a paragraph on why their character is a certain sign.

Voila! This works GREAT at helping my students find evidence to support their arguments. This is something that students tend to struggle with and this assignment is an easy way for them to find specific examples in the text that relate to what they are arguing.

If you're interested in using a worksheet that has already been made then you can go over to TPT for this worksheet. While it was designed for use with The Body it can be used with any characters from any story.  It includes
  • A description of the rat and ox personalities
  • Space for students to summarize the descriptions
  • A graphic organizer to help students sort through their evidence
  • Space for them to write a paragraph
  • A sample worksheet completed using examples from The Body
Until June 1st I am having it on sale for only $1.00! On June 2nd it will go back to being $1.50. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Interested in Making Dream Flags?

I am leaving ITESM in about a month!

As such I am putting together packets to pass onto teachers who will be teaching the levels I teach.

One of these packets is the Dream Flag Project!

I really think that the Dream Flag Project is an amazing opportunity to get your students connected internationally.

If you are interested in starting I am offering the packet for free! I believe that ANYONE who wants to should have the chance to be involved and this is my chance to help :)

You can download and view the packet below or download it from Teachers Pay Teachers (if you haven't registered yet you can do so here)

It contains too much information (some worksheets you can certainly skip) but it gives you plenty of options.

Dream flag 101 from Carissa Peck

I really hope you take part of this project and that your students enjoy it as much as mine have! 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The problem with trying too hard.

I recently saw this video that made me laugh especially because I know some teachers like this.

I am ALL about innovating and trying new things with students. I enjoy reading about new techniques and how to best reach my students. However, I think it is important to remember to stay true to myself when teaching.

Note some graphic language is used in this video.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you try something in the class?

Why am I doing this? Am I doing it because other teachers are? Am I doing it just because it is new? or Am I doing it because it works well with the lesson and I think my students will enjoy it?

What do I need to do this well? If others have succeeded because of an attitude or technology do I have access to this? How could I change this to best suit my class?

How much time do I really need to do this well? Do I need to transition from the lesson before? How do I transition to the next lesson?

Most importantly: Is this the best move for my students?

Don't try so hard to be cool that you end up not teaching!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Video Games as Literature Assignments

My students are big into technology. I don't think that is really rare in students nowadays, but this is one of the first classes that has been so vocal about it! When I let them know that their assignments can be done virtually they literally tell me, "We love technology"

As a result this year when I started the, "Adaptation Project" I wasn't surprised at all that students were excited. They usually do a great job (as seen in last year's blog post), but this year a group of students asked if they could make an adaptation video game instead of a standard video. Always up to let my students be creative I said yes! The only extra was that they would need to make a, "making of the video-game" video since one of the requirements was that I hear voices.
In the end they came up with this:

Keep in mind that they did create a game! What you are watching now is me "playing" the game (I recorded it).

Interested in having your students create their own video games? Well, these don't involve that much English but Sploder is a good place to start. It doesn't require much skill and can be personalized. Later your students can explain why they chose to depict the story a certain why.

If you have had your students coding (via something like the hour of code) you could probably get more complex.

What do you think? Is an assignment like this suited for your students' levels? How would you change it? What sites would you use?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Breakdown of Teachers Hours

We've all heard the jokes about teachers and their easy schedules. For those of you who either believe it, or want to defend yourself this infographic is awesome. Check it out
Teacher Time Management Infographic

    Created by Knewton

What do you think; is it accurate? I know I am often at school from 6am to 9pm, so I don't doubt the 11 hour average.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Happy Teachers Appreciation Day - 2014

100% professional
The big bosses
Happy Teachers Day! 

I had a great time yesterday at my school's lunch. I almost didn't want to go because this will be my last Teacher's Day lunch at ITESM. 

Proud Tec Teacher

I will miss being a Tec teacher. The lunch was a joy as always. I know quite a few of my coworkers, but because so many of them are part-time I rarely get to see them. That's what makes these lunches so much fun!
My award

I also had the added bonus of receiving an award for the two  international projects I started at ITESM this year: The Alphabet Book project and The Dram Flag Project. It is always great to be appreciated for the things that we do as teachers.

I hope that you had an amazing day as well, and that we all go on to experience greatness for the next year!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mothers' Day Flashcards

Mother's day is fast approaching!
Here's a set of flash cards using some figurative language with mom's in English!

Once you've studied with the flashcards you can try out the game scatter

Love studying with FlashCards but hate making them? I Just started offering my services creating flashcards for you! This includes audio and visual (if you like). Check it out on Fiverr

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Blackout Poetry / Found Poetry: A fun activity!

Have you ever made extra copies? Ended up with 25 worksheets you never got to do in class? Had a random flu bug hit your class and end up with 10 copies too many? With papers printed on only one side I usually just keep a stack and use them later when I am copying something new. However when they are double sided what can you do?

There is an activity I like to give my fast finishers, though sometimes we do this as a class when working on poetry. When someone finished early I give them an old worksheet and have them make a story or a poem out of it.

If we are studying a particular grammar point I may ask them to include that, but normally I don't.

It is basically a fun and pretty way to have students write without writing.

Optional (Pre Step):
The first time you do these in class you may want to show some examples first. One famous "blackout poet" is Austin Kleon. He has a book Newspaper Blackout available as a paper book or an ebook. You can also find his poems online (he's on Twitter and Instagram). His poetry is very simple, you essentially black out the words you don't want. He uses newspapers (which is also an option!), but you can apply the same concepts to old worksheets.

Unused Worksheet
Step 1. 
Give them an old worksheet. In this case it is a TOEFL diagnostic test. My school often asks me to give these workshops, but since I never know how many students will attend I normally have extras.

Step 2. 
Have students underline (in pencil) words that they know. The great thing about this task is even if they only understand 10% of the words that's fine! They don't need to understand everything.

Step 3. 
See if they can create a poem or story with the words they know.

For punctuation practice I like to have them re-write their poems and punctuate them properly in the margin. Punctuation often adds extra meaning to their words.

As far as appearances, you have some choices:

A. Students can black out the words they won't use. (or use any color they like!)

You need fun questions.

How can rhyme help you?

When poems work well.

Pictures must use your friends in public.

You can create, copy, open, clip, web, graph.

B. Students can draw lines connecting the words and decorate the page as they like.

We applauded, clapped.

The feeling destroyed.

The feeling should last: money, time.

C. Students can create art over the words.
Essentially, she creates a blank slate by having students paint white over the words they will not use. Once dried they draw a picture that they feel connects to the story. I do not do this in my class as I don't normally have access to paints, water, etc. However, if you are in an art friendly environment, it could be something to consider.

There are tons of ways to reuse old worksheets, but this is another one to add to your list. Plus, it is fun!

What's your favorite way to reuse paper?

Monday, May 5, 2014

What to use instead of Google Translate

My students the other day asked about translating an odd slang word into English. First, I rarely give word for word translations, I encourage students to give me a definition or use the word in a sentence. Second, I encourage my students to figure out meanings on their own given the context. Third, I had no idea what they were talking about and even their descriptions were confusing me.

I suggested that they look it up on WordReference. One of the students responded, "We use Google Translate."

I cringed.

Now, don't get me wrong, Google Translate is great in many situations. Sometimes I use it to translate an entire webpage and get a general idea of what the page is trying to say. Other times I have to write a text in English and then again in Spanish. After writing in English sometimes I Google Translate to Spanish and then go through and correct and rewrite the translation. Is it faster? Sometimes! However, for simple word to word translations, there are so many better sites to use.

I really like wordreference because in addition to definitions they have forums. In the forums you can see (or ask yourself) specific questions about specific instances the word is used. They are also helpful if the definition isn't found!

However, as much as I wish me just saying, "Google Translate isn't really the best" would influence them, my students like proof...and songs...and Disney.

Thus, I bring you, "Google Translate Sings." These singers run the lyrics of songs through Google Translate multiple times (for example from English to Spanish, Spanish to German, German to Russian and then Russian to English again. At the end they sing these new lyrics.

Check out this example which uses the song, "Do you want to build a snowman," from Frozen. You can see the original lyrics on the top of the video and the "translated" lyrics on the bottom.


Tweet: They have tons of these. Maybe find one your class would like, and show it as a reminder that brains are often best translators students have!

Want to share this link? Click the birdie to share a tweet!

Do you have any funny Google Translate mishaps that have happened with your or your students? Share them in the comments!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The five best teachers

It is May! On May sixth teachers around the USA will be basking in the glory of, "Teacher's appreciation day." May 15th is also Teacher's day in Mexico. Thus, I thought that to start May off on the right foot in honor of these days, I should write a blog about the teachers I am thankful for having. I tried to really think whom I should be appreciating. From my Kindergarten diploma (which I still have pinned to my bulletin board in San Diego) to my Masters… so many teachers have helped me get where I am today. Which teachers should receive my appreciation?

When I first thought of writing this I thought the decision would be easy. However, when I sat down to write it I couldn’t lower it to one…in fact I couldn’t lower it to a top ten! So here are the five groups of teachers who have impacted me most and whom I strive to imitate day by day.

1. The type who are passionate about what they teach.
Even when I didn’t share their passion, there were the teachers who really cared about what they were teaching. And that fact that they believed that Nonverbal Communication (Professor Beach), Group Communication (Ron Lustig), or Geography (Professor Osborn) would really be used in my life motivated me in their classes. In appreciation of them I promise to share my love of languages with students and I help them convince themselves that English will help them in their future!

2. The type who don’t give up.
I struggled in math when I was younger. My sixth grade teacher (Mrs. Corcoran) gave me what seemed like hundreds of extra credit worksheets to improve my grade and help me practice. I never became a math whiz, but I did have a solid base after that. Similarly Spanish in high school didn’t come easily to me. My teacher (Mr. Naranjo) held private classes for me after class one on one or with another student until I finally stood up mid-lesson and said, “Oh! So that’s the subjunctive!” In appreciation of them I promise that no student who comes to my office for help will be turned away, and that I will always offer extra help (be it online or in person).

3. The type who let me do new things.
In 5th grade Ms. Sipe did a State project which included presenting on different states, AND puffy painting a square of fabric with our representation of the State. This was then mailed to the state’s Governor with a letter explaining I was researching Utah for a class project and we were making a quilt of the country. If he could please sign the quilt and send it back we’d appreciate it. I must have proofread that letter thousands of times! And when I got back the envelope filled with brochures about Utah’s history and my signed quilt square, I was beyond excited! In high school my English teacher Mrs. Bamberg often did different quizzes. First we would draw out summary of a chapter, then we would recreate trench warfare in the classroom. Flash forward to studying art in Spain where our teacher (Rueben) actually took us into museums to look at the real art! This wasn’t a once a semester trip, oh no. We went at least once a month. This was groundbreaking to me. I loved being taught about things while actually seeing them. In appreciation of them I promise that I will always be willing to try new things and keep using the old new things that worked (like Skype in the classroom) 
4. The type who gave me options
My freshman English teacher Mr. Fey, my sophomore English teacher Mrs. Pyle, my Political Science teacher often gave assignments as options. You can create a diorama or write a song. You can take this class for 100% and write essays, or take the class for 90% and just take tests. Whatever their reasons I loved that these classes gave me the freedom to choose activities I felt I could really succeed in (pretty much anything that didn’t include drawing) and I use this with my student now. In appreciation of them I promise to integrate options into my students' activities.

5. The type who aren’t my teachers, but I still learn from them
The teachers whose webinars I attend, whose lessons have inspired me, whose advice has made me better have made me a better teacher. This list is probably the longest and includes my parents, co-workers (e.g. Ann, Michelle, Mickey, John), classmates, (e.g. Lauren, Juliet, Mary, Chelsi) LinkedIn group members (e.g. Sylvia , David) , Twitter Teachers (e.g. Shanthi, Shelly, John, Jon, Jase) and people in my Facebook groups. All of you have made me better. Thank you! In appreciation of you I promise to always keep my eyes open to your ideas and be willing to adapt them for my classes.
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