Saturday, November 26, 2016

Apps for language learning

Today’s post is about apps that we can use to learn English. The most important ones are Duolingo and Memrise.

What are they? 

Memrise is an online memorization tool presented in a gamified way, with a leaderboard and badges. It’s set like a garden. You plant seeds (learn new words) and water the plants (review them). It uses flashcards, mnemonics and repetition. Anyone can create a course and it isn’t only used for language learning. There are courses on vocabulary for the SATs or the GRE, and even on Geography, to help memorize the world capitals or the states of the USA. 

Duolingo is exclusively for language learning. Much like Memrise, it is also presented as a game, with a leaderboard, badges and unlocking levels. It can be used to practice both vocabulary and grammar. You can take a level test or start the language track from the beginning until you complete it. There is also an immersion section where you can practice translating real documents from the language you are learning into your own language. 

How are they similar/different? 

Both are similar in the gamification aspect and in that they incorporate both audio and text in the input. The activities are also similar. There are activities in which you have to write what you just heard, others in which you have to put the words in order to form a sentence, and others in which you have to select the right option. 

They are different in their approach. Memrise is a memorization tool while Duolingo’s approach is more complete. I would use Memrise to memorize vocabulary and Duolingo for the grammar. You should be warned, though, that Duolingo’s sentences can be quite random. I have used both to practice Portuguese and one of the sentences that I got is “a borboleta escreve um livro” (the butterfly writes a book). But then again, maybe such random sentences help with memorization. Case in point, I still remember it. 

My opinion 

Personally, I find both useful if you are starting with a language or want to practice it in order not to forget it but what I find lacking is the chance to actually speak the language. If you can combine them with some kind of language exchange or conversation table, then they are great tools which are also fun and motivating. It's hard not to practice a language when you only need a few minutes using an app in your phone and you get a notification reminding you to water the plants (in Memrise) or telling you that you are in a three/four/whatever-day streak.


Have you tried Duolingo or Memrise? How was your experience? Did you find them useful. Let me know in the comments. Thank you for reading :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Kahoot!

Hello! Today’s post is about a resource that we can use to gamify our class: Kahoot.

Screenshot from Kahoot.it by Benjamin Wlacil. Taken from Wikimedia Commons

But, what is Kahoot? The website defines it as a gamified student-response system. I have used it when I was teaching Spanish as a Second Language to review before exams and it has worked very well. It helped me and my students see what they knew and what they didn’t understand well or had to study more and it gave me a chance to focus more on explaining what they didn’t know. My students loved it and found it much more engaging and fun than a regular review session. In my experience it works better in bigger groups (at least 15 students) than in smaller classes.

As teachers, we can create a Kahoot on https://getkahoot.com/ or use an already created one. We can write multiple choice questions to which we can add an image, a video or an audio. Once we have all the questions we can decide if we want to randomize them or use them in a set order. We can also choose how much time we want to give them per question to answer.

In class we need a computer and a projector. We need to pull it up so that our students can see the questions. They can use their cell phone, tablet, laptop or any device that can connect to the Internet to participate. They have to go to https://kahoot.it/ They enter the pin that appears on our screen and choose a nickname. On our screen the entire class can see the nicknames of all the participants in the game. Once they have all logged in, we click on “Start” and that takes us to the first question. The students get points based on the correct answer but also on speed (i.e. the first person to select the right option gets more points). Once they have all chosen an option or the time runs out, it shows us the ranking, the correct option and how many people chose each option. That way we know if they know the material we are testing with the question. If almost everyone chose the right option, it means they know it. If there are a lot of people that chose other options, then we need to review the concept.

Below you can watch a five-minute guide to Kahoot.


Have you used Kahoot in your classes? How was your experience? Let me know in the comments.

I hope you found this post useful. Thank you for reading!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Let's play

Hello! In today’s post, we are going to learn about gamification in the classroom, specifically in the ESL classroom, thanks to this article from Busy Teacher http://busyteacher.org/20574-gamify-esl-classroom.html

First of all, what is gamification? Is it just playing games in class? Actually, no. According to this article, “Gamification is the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts”. In other words, it’s the use of game elements, like points, badges, levels and avatars, in a context that is not game-related, like a classroom.

But, why should I do it? Because it’s engaging and motivating. Your students will learn but they’ll feel like they are playing a game. Also, chances are they will remember the information better than if you were just lecturing and doing activities.

Okay, so I want to gamify my class. How do I do it? Well, these are the steps that the article states:

1. We need to choose a goal for the year, not just a short term goal like “learning Simple Past”

2. We have to divide that goal into milestones. In other words, we have to divide that goal into steps.

3. The next step would be to design our game board with those milestones and the overarching goal.

4. Then we design the avatars, or let our students design their own.

5. After that, we create badges for the milestones completed.

6. We also need a leaderboard because our students will want to know where they stand.

7. Finally, we can also consider making teams instead of having them participate individually. That might help with behavior/participation because of pair pressure.

What do you think about gamification in the classroom? Have you used it in your classes? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments and I hope you enjoyed the post and found it useful. Thank you for reading! :)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

One for the teachers

Here is an article for the new teachers with some Do’s and Don’ts for teaching ESL: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/esl-ell-tips-ferlazzo-sypnieski

According to Ferlazzo, we should model for students what they are supposed to do but we shouldn’t just tell them what to do.

We should speak slowly and clearly. I agree for the lower levels but as their proficiency increases I think we should speak at a normal speed since that is what they are going to encounter outside of the classroom.

We should use visuals, gestures and non-verbal cues. I completely agree. I personally use a lot of images and gestures in my class. I think they help my students understand what I’m saying and they make class more entertaining.


We should give verbal and written instructions to our students. I agree, especially for the lower levels.

We should check for understanding. I completely agree. I think the worst thing we can do is wait until the end to class to ask if there are questions and discover that they didn’t understand anything. We should encourage our students to ask questions and check if they understood after an explanation or activity.

We should encourage development of their L1. It is true that research shows that development of literacy in their L1 shows in their L2. However, as the author points out, that does not mean that we shouldn't encourage the use of the L2.



Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ready, camera, action

Hello everyone,

Today's entry is about TV shows. They are a great resource for language learning; they can help us improve our listening skills and even our pronunciation.Besides that, they are, plain and simply, a really fun way to learn. Nowadays, with Internet it's easier than ever to access shows and movies in their original language for very little money and we should take advantage of that opportunity. If you have Netflix it's literally at your fingertips.

But what shows are the best? That's mostly up to your preferences. You should find a show that you enjoy. It shouldn't feel like you're doing homework or like it's a chore that has to be done.

To start I would suggest How I Met Your Mother or Modern Family. They are short (about 20 minutes) so watching an episode doesn't feel overwhelming even if you don't have a really high level. Furthermore, they are sitcoms, which means that they are about everyday live and familiar situations.



Image by SAndrex333 from Wikimedia Commons

If you are into science you might also like The Big Bang Theory. They use a lot of science-related vocabulary, specially Physics, so it's a little bit harder to understand but doable if you're up to the challenge.

Another amazing show whose episodes are also about 20 minutes is Black Mirror. This one is about how technology affects our lives. This show, unlike the other three, is not a comedy but a drama. It is, however, quite easy to understand.


If you have a more advanced level and you prefer longer shows, the world (or Netflix xD) is your oyster. If you like detective/mystery shows, you'd probably like Sherlock, or Elementary if you prefer an American accent. The episodes are about 90 minutes, so they're actually like watching a movie.

Image by RanZag from Wikimedia Commons

If you like history and period dramas, Downton Abbey is the show for you. It will also help you to see the difference between how people speak depending on whether they are upper class (the nobles) or working class (the servants). A new show that also looks really good if you like history is The Crown, about Queen Elizabeth II's life when she was young and became queen.

Image by Richard Munckton from Wikimedia Commons

Subtitles: yes or no? It's better if you don't use subtitles but if you really need to have them, use them in English. My advice is to use subtitles at the beginning if you really need them but stop using them as you improve and start understanding more. One thing to remember is that you don't need to understand every word to understand what is going on in the show.

Well, this is all for today. Let me know what you think or if you have more suggestions for shows. Thank you for reading :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Hello!

Hello everyone. My name is Lorena. I have taught both Spanish and English as second languages. I have a Masters in Applied Spanish Linguistics from Michigan State University and I am currently working on my Masters of Education (Máster de Formación del Profesorado) with a focus on foreign languages at Universidad Miguel Hernández while I work teaching ESL to both children and adults.

I am passionate about language learning/teaching. During my first Masters I focused on Second Language Acquisition. My mother tongue is Spanish but I also speak Valencian/Catalan. I started learning English when I was five and loved it so much that I majored in it at University of Alicante as an undergraduate. I also speak some French and a little bit of Portuguese.

This blog is about the future, both the future of teaching via using technology and gamification, and about teaching how to express the future in English. If you want me to talk about anything in particular, please comment and let me know and I'll do my best. You can also follow me on YouTube and Twitter for updates on my blog and more ESL articles/resources. Once I begin student-teaching next semester the blog will become a diary of my activities in the center.

Thank you for being with me in this new adventure and I hope you find my blog useful :)

Image by WikiTAU9 from https://commons.wikimedia.org