I recommend a good learner’s dictionary (or two), not just for your students but also for you, the instructor. Naturally, you already know the meanings of almost all words that students are likely to ask you about, but the problem is that on-the-spot definitions (and even written ones) sometimes come out in the vein of “Well, it’s a sensation that…uh, a feeling that you get–well, most people get they’re frightened –oh, do you know frightened? I mean scared…and…”
There’s a reason for the profession of lexicography and the existence of special dictionaries! When I use the definitions in learners’ dictionaries to define words that are a little hard to explain, I find that students often understand the words much faster–I neither spend a lot of time confusing them nor do they have to resort to their L1 dictionaries (and they don’t get confused by the circular explanations, academic vocabulary, and obsolete historical definitions in regular English dictionaries).
I make a point of introducing learners’ dictionaries to my students and owning multiple levels of them. I tell my students that sometimes I use them myself to give definitions, because the dictionaries’ explanations are shorter, simpler, and focus on the useful/common meanings of a word. (I also spend time demonstrating how a good learner’s dictionary can save students from other dictionaries’ pitfalls, as the entries should include connotations like “disapproving”, and other features like collocations.) Anyway, I think they understand why I sometimes use these definitions with them. It would certainly be less than ideal if they thought I had to look up English words in the dictionary, but I don’t think any of them have wound up with that impression.
I think it’s useful to look at the different varieties out there to see which ones you prefer. They all have different features and different styles of defining words. Cobuild started out strong (as it was corpus-based) but has fallen behind the others in features and usability; I prefer Longman and Oxford. There’s also a recent Merriam-Webster dictionary, in “essential” and advanced, which I haven’t looked at. They produced the excellent guide to English usage that was recommended by Language Log, though, so it might be excellent. There’s a Cambridge set, as well.
Anyway, you can make use of these definitions online, too, if you’re chatting with students, blogging, or just testing out the dictionaries.
One word I had to define recently was “trawl” (the verb), because I linked some learners to “Japanese Power Blogger Trawls Seoul for Hidden Gems”. Interestingly, at least one of the dictionaries’ definitions precluded the usage in that headline–so it’s good to try several tricky or multifaceted words to find a dictionary that makes sense to you.
(P. S. I think there are some other learners’ dictionaries that I’m not familiar with. If you know of any that you particularly like, please recommend them in the comments!)
This is just a brief note to call your attention–in case you’re not on Twitter or you missed it–to the new permanent page I’ve added here. The List of Free Journals collects a range of open-access scholarly journals on topics related to ELT/TESOL/TEFL/TESL/applied linguistics. I’ve actually added one two since I posted it to Twitter, so the list now stands at 27 28. (I’ll keep updating the page, though not this post.) Most are peer-reviewed; some are more practical (ITESLJ, in particular) but even the very academic ones may have useful ideas. Please check out the page, and comment here or contact me somehow if you have corrections or additions to the list. Thanks!
I plan to make a similar page for magazine-like sites, eventually, so if you have favorites, I’d be happy to know about them.
Update 8/26: You can now make calls from your Gmail interface even without a Google Voice account, but the two services play well together (North America only for free calls; international calls originating from the US are cheaper than the very cheap service I currently use). Here are some useful and less-useful tips and tricks from Lifehacker.
If you live in the US, Google Voice is now open to everyone. I wrote about it before, but now you don’t need an invitation to use it. By the way, if you’re US-based but working overseas, it might still be worth getting if you have a friend in the US who could activate it for you–it’ll give you a US number you can use for web-based texting (you can get the texts in e-mail) and voice mail, so friends and family can call you and leave messages on their own schedule. You’d get an e-mail with a link to the recording and a transcription (when it works). It might be great in an emergency, for people with totally incompatible schedules, and for relatives who don’t do e-mail. As I mentioned before, it’s really an amazing thing for private tutors and “freeway flyers” with 3 different work numbers, too.
Anyway, Lifehacker has done a good job writing about it in the past as well as now that it’s open:
Now, I haven’t really noticed the lag that they mention, but I have had 1 call out of the calls that a client has made to me not go through, and 1 other call was garbled so badly that I couldn’t hear him. That was during the beta test, though, so I’m hoping that things are better now. It really has made life easier, and my husband uses it all the time so that his students can call him (he’s a part-time community college teacher) and text him (they mostly prefer texting to e-mail). It lets him communicate with them on both their terms and his terms (he hates texting, but typing on a keyboard is fine). He turns the number’s setting to ring when he’s on campus, but it’s generally on Do Not Disturb (straight to voice mail) when he’s at home, unless something special is going on.
Anyway, if you’re already interested and you want to give it a try, go to http://www.google.com/voice/
If you are stuck desk-warming* or just have a little time to kill at your computer, but your network doesn’t support IM programs or won’t let you install them, Meebo is a nice web-based alternative alternative. You can log in to any or all of your instant messenger accounts–AIM, MSN/Live, Google Talk, Facebook chat, etc., at once. (It’s also very useful in internet cafes.) This doesn’t mean that I can use my Yahoo account to talk to someone on AIM, though–you still have to be on the same system to talk to each other. It just puts everyone in the same window.
I suspect the website is blocked by many net-nanny programs simply because it means you can get around restrictions on IM services, but perhaps you’ll get lucky if you need it.
Meebo also has an iPhone app, although it’s a bit annoying because you have to log out and press the home button every time you’re done with it, or you’ll get logged back in.
If you can use IM software on your network, check into Pidgin (Windows/Linux[?]) and Pidgin Portable (if you can use IM software but can’t install anything on your work computer) or Adium (Mac OS X). Both handle multiple accounts, letting you stay in touch with friends, family, and students across the world who are on different systems, and letting you keep various groups separate–for example, when I use Adium I can have two Yahoo! IM accounts logged on at the same time, such as “teacherclarissa” and “ffordefangirlccs”, for different purposes. (Not my real account names!) Just as with Meebo, you still have to have an account on that system to talk to someone using that system. (But at least you don’t have to have 2 or 3 different programs running and using up system resources.)
These “client” programs, as they’re called, are also not prone to the ads and other annoyances that the proprietary programs produced by the companies themselves are. The drawback is that there are occasionally glitches when trying to transfer files, if you often use your IM program to do that.
All of the above programs and services are currently free to use.
*This doesn’t happen as much to teachers in the US (I don’t know about other places), but in K-12-equivalent schools in Japan and Korea, at least, foreign teachers are often required to stay on campus when they don’t have class and are done with lesson-planning. It’s not easy to spend time in the teachers’ room if you’re not fluent in the local language yet, so they often remain at their own desks or in their classrooms (some teachers don’t have another desk or office). It doesn’t seem like the most efficient use of teachers’ time, but I can’t comment on it in detail because I haven’t experienced it firsthand.
Well, I’ve made it to Twelfth Night without missing any days. I wasn’t sure that would happen. If you’ve been reading all along, thanks for sticking with me! I hope today’s resource will help everyone who’s trying to force their brains back into lesson-planning mode after the holidays. It’s not easy, searching for inspiration when your head’s still full of punch and eggnog (or fever and bronchitis, in my case)…
Today’s resource is one that I’ve just recently discovered, EFL Classroom 2.0. It has over 11,000 registered users, so maybe you already know about it. I thought it was worth a mention, though, because it’s the only English-teaching megasite that I’ve found to be worth signing up for so far. You probably know what I mean–when you look for ELT resources online, many sites look promising but require registration to really view anything. You hand over your personal information and jump through the hoops, only to find out that the site has been abandoned since 2001, has nothing of interest to you, has only materials that are free on other sites, has only materials that were stolen from other sites, or has only a few things that are really free and actually requires you to pay to see the good stuff. EFL Classroom 2.0 is different–they have good content in a wide variety of formats, and it’s aimed at various age levels. They don’t just have ideas, either; they have actual stuff that you can download and use. There’s also an active user community and forum, and I get the impression that it’s growing rather than stagnating–though since I’m new there, it’s hard to say for sure.
Here are some of the highlights of the site that I think make it worth your time spent registering (note: I can’t link to each page since you won’t be able to see them till you’ve registered):
“Lessons in a Can”: 100+ fairly fleshed-out ideas, including necessary materials such as videos, slideshows, or handouts.
Karaoke and lots of it–I’ve known several excellent teachers who used karaoke for pronunciation, energy, and and motivation.
Games for the classroom, from paper to Powerpoint–original ideas from site staff and users as well as a directory of online games
Community, including forums, an “Answers” section, “Classrooms” that serve as interest groups, a place for teachers to find classrooms for keypal and penpal exchanges, and even photos of other users’ classrooms (could result in new ideas for your classroom, and interesting if you haven’t started teaching yet!)
Categorized resources on everything from using comics in the classroom (yay!) to testing and evaluation (I can’t wait to look at their placement tests).
Videos, but unlike the videos mentioned in my TeacherTube and Vimeo post, many of these have discussion in the comments from other teachers, which is nice. Videos include both things you might want to show the students and teacher-training videos with ideas and methods for you. Quality (and legality, ala YouTube) varies.
There’s a lot more at the site. I have to admit, I find it a little confusing to navigate, but stick with it–patience will be rewarded. (This is one of those times when being a Delicious user will come in handy, since I think I’ll want to bookmark and tag a number specific sub-pages.) The “Rate Your Job” section has potential, but it seems that although the site isn’t easily searched (since you have to register to get in), people are still hesitant to discuss their experiences. I wish people would start using it!
There are lots of other things and new things popping up, including a just-started thread on games and lesson plans that will work well with Korean classrooms (the first idea is a “Korean Celebrity – Guess Who” game, and includes two files to get you started). The Korea-based teaching community seems to be particularly strong here, with at least three Korea-related interest groups, so if you’re teaching in Asia and you’ve been unhappy that so much of the free lesson material online is ESL-oriented, you’ll really want to check this out. However, there’s plenty that can be used in non-EFL contexts, despite the site’s name.
If you know of another great free site, please let me know about it!
And with that, the 12 Days of Christmas series concludes! Thanks very much for reading. I’d still love feedback–readership went up during this time, but I’m still looking (like any writer, second-language or first!) for a response from my audience. I’ll take a break for a couple of days and then start trying to post more regularly than in the past. Oh, and you can follow me on Twitter at talkclouds.
Everyone knows about Youtube and quite a few teachers use it, but there are a few more resources that are slightly less well-known and can liven up lesson points or bring more English input to an EFL teaching situation.
Many teachers already know about TeacherTube, but not everyone does. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t already seen it! Unfortunately, their search and tagging system is lacking and their categories are not very useful–there’s no ESL/EFL/etc. category, so it’s difficult to find good material here. I suspect it exists, but it’s difficult to find. If you have any hints on how to find it, let me know. Videos can be downloaded once you find something you like, which isn’t easy to do at YouTube. Apparently it plays ads before videos, but I haven’t seen any because the version of Adblock Pro that I’m running on Firefox keeps them from showing. A free membership will also allow you to skip the ads.
Vimeo.com is an original video-oriented site, and it was high-quality-oriented before Youtube allowed HD uploads. I think it allows longer videos, as well. Many Vimeo videos can be downloaded as Flash or .avi files without going to the special lengths required to download Youtube videos. There’s no particular orientation toward educational videos here, but there is TESOL content to be found, including the ESL Channel. In addition, among the serious videographers’ work you may find something inspiring for your class anyway, or something to watch to relax. (Check out this Japanese festival video, or this time-lapse video.) The above video of my part of the world (which I advise clicking through and watching in HD if you have the bandwidth) is beautiful and relaxing, but could also be a fun change-of-pace exercise, prompting students to write down as many adjectives as possible (fast! wet! furry! lonely!), etc. As a bonus, the comments at Vimeo are often less of a Wild West than the comments at Youtube. There are limitations on free uploads if you want to make videos and put them online, but I don’t know much about that, I’m afraid.
Veoh.com is another general Youtube-like site, but it’s even more of a free-for-all than Youtube, if that’s possible, and I only recommend it if you are looking for a clip that you absolutely must have. (For example, bilingual Begin Japanology clips can be found there–English in one audio channel, Japanese in the other audio channel.) I don’t think an original teaching video is likely to be found solely on Veoh and not on Youtube, TeacherTube, or Vimeo, but if that’s not the case, please correct me!
Manythings.org’s video section collects English-teaching videos from Youtube. These are mostly instructional videos on specific points, aimed at independent learners, but some are more useful for classrooms. These include singalongs, videos with transcripts and subtitles, and so on. ESLVideo.com may give you some ideas on how to use Youtube in your classroom–they have Youtube videos (music, interviews, etc.) posted with quizzes. The quizzes are mostly simplistic, good for either checking word-by-word listening comprehension or surface-level grammar features, but they could give you ideas about how to use non-TESOL-focused videos in an ELL classroom.
If you’re looking for lesson material on these sites, don’t forget to a) play the “alphabet game” and search for ESL, EFL, ELT, and TESOL, and also b) try some things that aren’t in the TESOL genre, like how-tos, very simple food or drink preparation videos, travel videos, music videos, film clips, etc. I created a pretty good lesson out of some footage aimed at pharmacy school students once, too, for a student who was going back to Japan to be a pharmacist. Don’t hesitate to search for very specific themes such as “pharmacy” or “fast food.”
As mentioned in this thread on using videos in the classroom, it’s best to turn off “related videos” and preview the videos before putting them up on a projector, just to make sure you don’t have any unpleasant surprises!
On the eighth day, we’re taking a moment to focus on a service that’s mostly of use only to folks working in the US, although there are some ways in which it could be useful to people with a lot of American friends and family. If that isn’t you at all, well, happy new year and see you tomorrow–I’ll do better then!
At any rate, a lot of people have heard of Google Voice, but quite a few people are still asking “What is it good for?” Well, a lot of things…
Google will provide you with a phone number (I picked one with a local area code, which may not be possible for everyone, and messed around with the available numbers till I found a combination that was easy to remember). It’s a kind of virtual phone line that forwards instantly to whatever real phone numbers you specify, such as your home, work, and cell numbers. You can control the forwarding by who’s calling and when: individual calling number, groups of calling numbers, time of day, etc.
If you’re a “freeway flyer” whose students need to get in touch with you, but you don’t necessarily want to give out your home or personal cell phone, this is a fantastic service. Give the Google Voice number to your students, and you can control when and where they can contact you. For example, you could set it up so they can reach you at your XYZ College office during your office hours there, your ABC College office during your office hours there, and then have it on “mute” (voice mail) the rest of the time–except during a special project when you unmute it at home until 9 PM, when you have it automatically mute itself. If they can’t get through, they’ll leave a voice mail, which will arrive in your e-mail as a sound file. (Google will also attempt to transcribe it, which works OK some of the time, but isn’t very good with any kind of regional or international accent or cell-phone sound quality problems.)
You can also receive text messages and reply to them for free (SMS), either having them sent to your phone or sent to your e-mail address (or leaving them to not be shown unless you log into Google Voice). If you reply by e-mail from your computer, it’ll be sent as a text message at no charge to you. My husband has some students who don’t really have access to e-mail at home, and being able to communicate them by text messages without actually texting is really useful, since he wants to be able to help them out but he doesn’t want to have to try to type on his phone. (International SMS is not currently supported.)
There are a lot of other features like being able to customize the greeting by caller (this could be useful for other TESOL professionals who are working for themselves, or if you want to customize messages by class, etc.), being able to record calls by pressing a button, very cheap international calls, and so on. The ability to have phone calls follow you could also be useful if you’re looking for a full-time job, etc. It’s really just one of those services where the more you use it, the more useful it becomes. Lifehacker did a pretty good job with their article “Google Voice is Cool, But Do You Need It?” I think it’s a good roundup of the pros and cons, although I haven’t noticed any delay to speak of and I benefit from it despite rarely using it with my cell phone.
However, there are a couple of big catches:
1) It’s US-only. US phone numbers only, US texting only, and access to a US phone number is required for setup. After you get the invitation (see below), there needs to be someone who can answer an automated phone call at a US number you enter during the setup process and enter a two-digit code from the e-mail. In theory, if you wanted to use the voice mail and texting services to get messages from US-based friends and family while you were outside of the US, you could, but you’d need to coordinate that initial setup. It could be handy to set up if you’re returning from working overseas and don’t have a living or working situation pinned down yet, though!
2) Invitations are still even harder to get for Google Voice than for Google Wave. You can sign up to go on the waiting list here, but it may be a long time before you get the invitation. However, my husband has kindly agreed to donate two Google Voice invitations! It’s the same system as the Google Wave invitations–if you are an English/ESL/EFL or other second/foreign language educator or educator-in-training who would like a Google Voice invitation, please go to the Contact Me form and tell me what kind of school/other teaching situation you work in and what level you teach at (or where you’re studying and for what degree). Make sure to give me your Gmail address or another e-mail address to which you’d like the invitation sent. (Do not comment here to get the invitation–you don’t want your e-mail address posted for the whole internet to see!) You must be a language educator to get an invitation.
I do apologize for the US-centric nature of this post, and I’ll try not to do it too often! That said, it’s been very useful for my business and for my husband’s teaching.
Oh, it’s the seventh day, and that means I’m past the halfway point! Woohoo! Well, on New Year’s Eve, traditionally a time for confetti and streamers, we’ll be focusing on paper. Many of us have been asked recently by higher-ups to reduce our use of paper for economic reasons, and while it’s a good thing for the environment anyway, there are some activities for which there’s just no substitute for the paper-in-hand approach. Games, stickers, brainstorming, outlines–usually we’d rather print it out (okay, on recycled paper!). But if you’re like me and will spend hours fussing with a word processor that’s not really meant to create such materials, read on for a little help.
(best clip-art ever, or what?!)
Tools for Educators has a lot of printable material and does not require registration. They’ve provided not just pre-made items you can download and print, but generators that you can modify a little or a lot. The graphics are a little kitschy and clip-art-tastic, but hey! You didn’t have to draw it yourself nor waste hours looking through clip art sources. Here are a few of the highlights.
Dice! As an RPG geek, I love it. You can print and fold actual six-sided paper dice to really liven up your class activities. The page includes a link with some suggestions for language games you can play using dice, too.
Boardgames–simple, but lots of possibilities for various age levels and topics. Add your own or use the built-in options.
Two different bingo board generator pages (one image-oriented, one word-oriented and more customizable), which can be used for all sorts of things, not just standard bingo games–have students watch for certain phrases or interactions during a movie, for example.
Stickers and charts are available at a different URL but from the same people; you’ll be wanting to print in color and use adhesive-backed paper for these. Another site they run will get you a certificate generator with lots of nice-looking certificates you can present to your students.
There’s more at the main link, so give it a try. By the way, they mention that the generator pages should work on both 8.5×11-inch and A4 paper, which is very thoughtful since most North America-based teachers are using the former and nearly everyone else in the world uses the latter. (Confusingly, the United States and Canada do not conform to international standards on paper sizes.)
Another source (8.5″x11″-oriented) is Freeology.com’s Graphic Organizers. There are 56 items here, including Venn diagrams, a pros and cons scale, character description forms, storyboards, vocabulary cards, story charts, and many, many more. These could be used for reading and writing classes most easily, but also for conversation classes and other uses–just flipping through them may give you some ideas. One caveat: These are all PDFs, and for some reason, the text doesn’t display when I view them in Preview on my Mac (the shapes appear, and I can view the files correctly in Adobe).
Finally, the simplest “printables” site I’ve found, but still possibly useful, is PrintablePaper.net, which simply has many different forms of graphs and lines, including handwriting, octagonal grids, calligraphy, Battleship, and more (also 8.5″x11″, sorry).
If you have any suggestions for other A4-friendly sites, let me know, although I think most of these will print OK if you preview before you print.
By the way, I still have Google Wave invitations available! If you are an English/ESL/EFL or other second/foreign language educator or educator-in-training who would like a Google Wave invitation, please go to the Contact Me form and tell me what kind of school/other teaching situation you work in and what level you teach at (or where you’re studying and for what degree). Make sure to give me your Gmail address or another e-mail address to which you’d like the invitation sent. (Do not comment here to get the invitation–you don’t want your e-mail address posted for the whole internet to see!) You must be a language educator to get an invitation.
Very serious here on the sixth day, after photo fun yesterday! Is one of your New Year’s resolutions going to involve professional development? Read on for free self-guided online courses you can do from the comfort of your own computer! I’ll mostly focus on a set of courses for adult educators, but there are more at the end, including for K-12.
ProfessionalStudiesAE.org is a “portal for online professional development” with lots of courses aimed at adult education. They also offer sessions that require registration fees, but many of the listed courses have no charge at all. Here are some of the free, self-paced mini-classes you can take:
Adult Multiple Intelligences Theory and Adult Multiple Intelligences in Practice (two different classes)
Ideas for Teaching Reading
Using Authentic Curriculum and Materials
Activity-based Instruction: Why and How
Overcoming Poverty Through Action-based Literacy
Health Literacy: New Field, New Opportunities
Creating a Volunteer Program in the ABE/ESL Classroom
The mini-courses mostly consist of guided readings and reflections, but they may be useful if you’ve changed which level you teach, started teaching before you had a chance to do formal study, want a refresher, have a new topic you want to learn about, etc.
A friend let me know about a project at his university which is geared toward helping teachers prepare for the PRAXIS II K-12 certification test. Visit http://blackboard.fhsu.edu/ and enter the username esol and password FHSUESOL123 — click on ESL Workshop on the top right to get started.
TESOL, the major international organization, has recently started offering free online workshops (usually to members only), but they’ll be having a session on trends in the profession sometime in February 2010, which will be open to members and nonmembers. Details to be posted here, presumably. TESOL also sponsors the Electronic Village Online Sessions, which are associated with the annual international conference but for which you don’t have to be a TESOL member or registered for the conference. Registration will start January 4, and sessions include “Bringing Language Alive through Process Drama,” “Online Games for ESL/EFL” (I’m thinking about signing up for that!), “Internet 4 Young Learners,” and more.
Finally, Benjamin over at Collaborative Understandings will be hosting a workshop on using Moodle, the course management (and then some) system. Read all about it here and sign up right away–it’s free and it starts on January 4th. Via Collaborative Understandings, I also discovered Integrating Technology, which offers free courses on “how to integrate technology for active learning via blended and blended online learning.” They also seem to have a lot of courses available, but I haven’t explored them because (free) registration is required.
I’m sure there are lots more out there. If I missed a great professional development resource, let me know and I’ll highlight it here (if it’s time-sensitive) or write about it in a future post!
On the fourth day of Christmas, I’ll be introducing to you something I’ve mentioned a couple of times, but have never fully introduced. I hope that you won’t mind if I count this as a full entry, because if you don’t already know about it, or if you’ve forgotten about it, it’s worth discovering. If your binders full of lesson plans are letting you down–or if you haven’t yet built up binders full of lesson plans–and you’re interested in free activities and lesson plans, keep reading!
The Internet TESL Journal (ITESLJ) is a free online journal that is different from other online journals because of its focus on short, practical, useful articles. I mentioned its existence very briefly when I posted a roundup of free online journals last year, and also when I noticed that you can download computer-generated mp3s of their articles. I never said why it was great, though, and the reason is that ITESLJ offers lesson ideas, games, and activities, as well as teaching techniques and reports on teachers’ own research projects, in an easy-to-access format that’s free to everyone.
As you know if you’ve tried to use a search engine to find lesson plans, the internet is cluttered with ESL and EFL sites that are only partially free, sites for which you need to register–only to find out they have almost no resources, sites for which you have to register–only to find out they’ve copied all of their materials from another site, and sites with low-quality materials that are unsuitable for your students.
ITESLJ has a good range of materials and ideas, and no registration is required. Many of the suggestions are aimed at EFL learning situations, although they can be adapted to various classrooms. If you don’t see something you like right away, just keep searching back: they’ve been around since 1995. There are specific lesson plans for every possible language skill, lessons focused on specific films, unusual lesson plans involving the use of cell phones, craft-based lesson plans, games with songs and physical movement, and lessons focusing on specific L1s. Here are some examples:
There are lots more, including ideas for working with children.
By the way, if the above is old hat to you, then may I encourage you to write something short and submit it to them? It looks like they need more submissions. Even a single activity that you’ve had work well would be an excellent thing to submit so your fellow teachers can benefit, and although I don’t think they qualify as a “peer-reviewed journal,” it’ll still look great on your CV.
Next? Well, I have no idea! Anybody out there? Let me know, especially if you like something!