New York City Quiz

I made a video version from a gamified quiz on New York City involving reading comprehension, image recognition and cultural knowledge. Could be used as end of term task or just for personal entertainment.
Personally I would use it as a round-up activity after a class research project on New York City – “the city that never sleeps”

New year and back to work!

Back again after a long break from work. Major surgery and some other stuff made me concentrate on reading for fun (discovered Martina Cole’s novels – highly recommendable and  absolutely unputdownable) and knitting Nordic sweaters in dozens.

But on Wednesday it’s time to go back to my students again, and I’m really looking forward to it, especially as all my students now for the next three weeks are in their early teens; spontaneous, eager and heartbreakingly adorable – 7th- and 8th-graders.  Last week I decided on what themes we would start the new term off with: New year’s resolutions with my 7th graders and professions with the older students. As to my own new year’s resolutions I have but one: if I decided to start writing my blog again, there would be only short posts, documenting ideas – no more mastodont pieces that took all day or more to write.

So this is my first one on PROFESSIONS and vocabulary learning (the idea is to build up for the Icebreaker-session next week ).

Using Didactor , an e-learning online site, as is my wont, I came up with three steps.

1) Familiarize my students with the new (and maybe some old) vocabulary by having them pair off pictures (shamelessly borrowed from Woodward English) with the terminology in question.

screen shot (which means that the whole task can't be shown here)

screen shot (which means that the whole task can’t be shown here)


2) Next step – to have the students identify each of the occupations by writing and spelling correctly. Clues are given in their L1.

Professions - Identify

3) The last step is for the students to try to remember as many of the 34 professions as possible, without any visual aid. The words are listed alfabetically but can be filled in randomly into the task. Again spelling and writing has to be correct in order to be accepted by the program, but for each word the letters are substituted by dots, which might trigger mnemonic function.

Professions -write


These three tasks – which took about half an hour to put together – should cover a whole lesson. If students are too quick to give up, they will be asked to re-do the tasks and compete with their own previous performances. Students who are quick learners will be asked to come up with tools-of-trade for as many of the 34 professions as possible.

Authentic video in the classroom: Ireland II

My second example of utilising authentic video in the EFL classroom is based on the same 50-minute travel video as my first. Of course, one can apply this to any video, but this time I will stick with Ireland. How I do it now will, however, differ from my last post because now I’ll concentrate on the language and vocabulary awareness in detail (but I wouldn’t use both methods on the same video in the same class, though). This approach is, however, associated with a lot of painstaking preparatory work for the teacher, because transcription of the video material needs to be done, at least for some of the clips. It takes about 1 hour to take down 5 minutes of video material, so one needs plenty of time to get a complete transcript. I rather enjoy transcribing videos and sound; oddly enough I experience the process as relaxing, especially if there is no deadline approaching. And having a transcript for a video makes the creating of tasks so much easier.

I’ve previously said that I use the gamification platform Didactor for most of my online material, and this is true for when I want the students to work with authentic video as well. This set of tasks/games are connected by following Ian Wright on his aforementioned tour of Ireland. They are, however, separated by task type and Ian’s activities. Variation is important for student motivation, and even though I might use the same game types over and over again, I try to vary how they are used.

The “game board” that the students start out with looks like this:

VideospelThe idea is that they start with task number 1A and then follow Ian’s route one step at a time until they reach the end of the journey. By then they should have a pretty clear idea of what life and travelling in Ireland is all about as well as key concepts and vocabulary needed in order to get by.

In order to illustrate the student’s journey, I’ve recorded the learning process in nine shortish video clips, because I thought those would better describe what the student is supposed to do than if I tried to do it in words. NB! In some of the tasks I’ve made use of my students’ mother tongue, Swedish, but that could be changed into any language really. In fact, Didactor can be used for any language learning whatsoever, not only English, and also for other subjects.

1. Antrim – Giants’ Causeway

There are three different steps here, ie.  two different gap texts – one based on vocabulary, the other on verbs – and a vocabulary game on the videoclip vocabulary with definitions in English for clues.

2. The Troubles

Here I’ve simply used a multiple choice task type for the first step, which therefore is simply traditional listening comprehension, whereas the second part comprises a bilingual wordlist to the video clip, with the English part scrambled. A lot of background info on the violent and bloody history of conflict between the Loyalists and the Republicans is provided here, something every student, language learner or not, should have in his bag of general knowledge when he steps into adulthood. The activity is rounded off with a take on pub life and the traditional Irish pint of Guinness.

3. The craic and nightlife in Belfast

This is quite simply a dictation kind of task involving intense listening and writing (+ spelling and grammar).  I’m a firm believer in the theory that one can’t write what one can’t understand when listening, and technology has revived the ancient language learning methodology of dictation, something that quite simply does not work in the non-tech classroom any more. But given the control over the audio, many a student actually enjoys dictation activities.

This is also the last video clip here involving two tasks, the latter on the same principle as the one described in Environmental collocations – but this time having the student provide the English translations of single words from the dictation.

4A Road bowling

This is a memory game played a little differently. First of all, hardly any of my “memory” games are played with hidden cards – I don’t think remembering where something was is as important as getting the student’s brain cells working by trying to connect one item with another. But here I’m not aiming for words, instead I have made the game consist of bits and pieces of lines from the video. The student has to actively listen for what is being said in order to connect two pieces of sentences to each other.

4B Janus the fertility god

The task type SORTER is based on the idea of  sorting words or concepts into various categories. Well, it can be used for sorting scrambled lines of text, too. I would argue that this task is impossible to solve or to score satisfactorily on without listening, which again serves the idea of active listening in the classroom, ie. listening serves a functional purpose, and not just perfunctory activity.

5A Dublin and checking into a hostel

At this stage, the flipped classroom might well come into play because this activity is very much based on a communicative situation; Ian is checking into his hostel, and the skills to successfully obtain accommodation in a foreign country is something all of today’s language learners most certainly will need at some time or another in his life. Supposing hotel bookings and checking in will be the theme for the next communicative lesson, this task might very well fill the function of “homework” in anticipation for that lesson. It’s based on a combination of scrambled lines of dialogue, clues in the form of the same lines in the mother tongue, and a hangman-type activity without the “hanging”.

6 Attending a hurling game in Dublin

No sport except Gaelic football can be more Irish than hurling and therefore a must when dealing with Ireland in the English language classroom. This is a very short and rather simple game-type activity with a time factor, but it still gives the student an idea of what distinguishes hurling from other sports.

7 Cobh – the seaside town

The Titanic, the Lusitania, World War I, and Irish emigration are all part of the history of the small town of Cobh. A true/false/doesn’t say activity here.

8 Blarney Castle and the gift of the gab

This is the very last of my demonstrations here, one on the myth of becoming a good speaker by performing the rather awkward ritual of kissing the Blarney stone. The activity comprises the unscrambling of whole chunks of sentences to be heard in the video clip. Scaffolding in the form of mother tongue versions is provided.

 The whole Ireland-theme presented this way could be finished off with the same post-video/post-computer activities as described in my previous post here, but now wordchecks or quizzes on vocabulary and collocations could be added.


Working with Phrases Part II

Environmental collocations promoA few days ago I talked about how to make students learn words that ”belong together”. But thinking about it a little further, I realized that it shouldn’t really end there. It’s not enough just to learn isolated collocations – they need to be used as well. Also, there needs to be a warming-up kind of phase there. Of course, this could be done traditionally in the classroom, but I find that once students are working on computers, it’s usually better to allow them time to go on with new tasks at their own pace, instead of disrupting their attention span and calling them back to non-computer tasks or for new instructions. So why not give them a whole set of tasks that are pretty self-explanatory, and let them follow a logical sequence of events, which, if followed as instructed, should make them confident users of those phrases learnt.

I ended up with a didactor compendium like this with 6 “levels” using 5 different task/game type generators:


Level 1 – A simple pairing-off activity – Task type: MEMORY

This is a simple warm-up exercise based on the Memory game, but not too easy to solve. I used two sets of “cards” here for each part of the collocations – green for the first and picture cards for the last. I could have made it much easier for me, and harder for the students if I had just typed in the words, or even just made the green cards for the first parts and typed in the words for the second. But this time I made this effort, because this way I could use the images as flashcards later. Making a PowerPoint presentation with these cards for later use for revision purposes would be a small matter, and the visual aspect might work to enhance their memory for the collocations as well.

Environmental phrases I

Level 2 – Adding the time parameter – Task type: TIMEOUT

See this post for description


Level 3 – Sentences – Task type: FORM (short answers)

At this level the students have to think of different environmental contexts for the collocations to work. By not giving them the collocations as such but using the same memory-activating image from the previous task, I wanted them to use what they have learnt from the two previous activities and then add the context and the spelling, grammar and syntax into their thinking.

Environmental phrases III

Level 4 – Essay writing – Task type: FORM (long answers)

Again, the difficulty level here is higher than before. Now the students need to create coherent texts on a chosen topic, not isolated sentences, but still be using as many of the collocations as possible.

Environmental phrases IV

Level 5 – Check-up I – Task type: QUICKTYPE

This is a quiz-type game where the students have to work cognitively on many different levels simultaneously. There’s the time parameter again, together with mnemonic or associative skills as well as spelling. The student mode doesn’t really come out well in a screen shot, which is why I made a screencast video of a student playing the game (no audio

Level 6 – Check-up II – Task type: SCRAMBLER

Only here did I make use of the students’ L1, Swedish in this case, but as Swedish resembles English lexically a lot at times, I also used definitions in English for clues. And instead of collocations, I chose to work with isolated words, choosing the ones that I deemed might present the biggest problems.

Environmental phrases VI

All of these activities can easily be modified – items added, deleted or changed. The games can be re-played as many times as the student wants according to his own ambition level. Levels 3 and 4 have to be checked by me the teacher,  but the other levels are all set for immediate student feedback, a feature that all students love and that I feel is a strong aspect of giving the student empowerment over his own learning.

Integrating geography with ESL

A very short post on an online task I made in May just for fun. I have already said I make most of my lesson exercises/tasks in the platform Didactor, and this is one of them (I have over 1,700 so you may well expect a lot of posts like this one on this blog).

It looks simple enough; the student gets a list of words that need to be placed in their correct context. He can google the words before he starts or he can resort to pure guesswork, in which case he probably won’t score very high. Either way, the task involves lexical knowledge, factual geographic understanding, as well as reading comprehension. The task generator here is GAPS.

Integrating geography