Lesson Ideas

Erickson RImini Conference HAll

Erickson Congress Rimini 2013

Erickson RImini Conference HAll

Last Friday I was really delighted to speak at the “Qualità dell’integrazione scolastica e sociale” conference in Rimini. The bi-annual conference is a huge event in the Italian education calendar. Something like 4000+ teachers attend each time the conference is held, so you can imagine I was more than a little bit nervous to be invited to speak there. Thankfully I had a significantly smaller room than the huge hall you see here.

My workshop was called “iDidattica” or iTeaching, where I was basically trying to get across the point that simply “digitising” lessons won’t change their quality or pedagogical effectiveness at all. Instead, I tried to argue that we need to adopt a more student-centred approach to our teaching methodology and then apply whatever digital tools suits our needs. One methodology that might achieve this I argued is Project Based Learning. I suggested four key tool categories to allow students to create interesting “final products” for their projects: a note-taking app, an audio recording app, a video editing app and an webpage annotation app.

I tried to make the workshop a bit more interactive, by using a few tools like todaysmeet.com to provide a “backchannel” where the 150 – 200-odd teachers in the room could discuss what I was talking about, disagree, add new ideas and so on. Reading back though it today, it seems like they were enjoying themselves -yaay!

Anyhow, I promised all the teachers present that I would upload the slides form my presentation so that they could go through the links and re-read what I’d been talking about.
In the next few days I’ll also add a second post with a few of the fun things we did like recording podcasts during the workshop, using a chatroom for a backchannel, sharing links with Diigo and a few others.

Anyhow,without further delay, here are the siides:

Cigdem Karin

Take Your Phone Out Of Your Pocket (And Use It In Class) – Karin Tirasin and Cigdem Ugur

I saw a few great Talks at IATEFL Glasgow 2012, I met some great people including a few EFL Stars” like Scott Thornbury, however, no-one left a greater impression on me than Karin Tirasin and Çigdem Ugur who gave a talk at the LTSIG event. Inspired, enthusiastic and perhaps a tiny weeny bit overwhelmed by talking on an international stage, they and their ideas were, quite honestly, brilliant.

If it’s possible to summarise a 45 minute talk in a just a few words it’d have to be: “They used mobile phones.” Seeing as that doesn’t really tell you much, perhaps: “They used mobile phones, in class, in great fun, engaging activities, using multimedia, QR codes, digital literacies and.. and and… ..and the main thing to note is the activities were all very well thought out pedagogically and they used “all four” of the language learning skills; listening, speaking, reading, writing as well as grammar and dictionary skills.


What I thought was best of all from a memorable lesson point of view is that he students loved it (and if you don’t believe me, after the break, there’s a video from the students themselves with their own opinions on mobile phones:


Expat Shield Lçogo

Watch BBC iPlayer in Europe and Beyond!

Great news for EFL teachers and English native-speakers bringing up children in an L2 situation; there is now a quick, simple and best of all free way of watching the BBC iPlayer from abroad. ExPat Shield gives you a quick and simple way to get a UK I.P. address which fools the BBC player into letting you watch content from its website.

Expat Shield Lçogo

Note the word fools above though. Although you are not breaking any copy-protection (like on DVDs or software) and you are using a tool that has legal and legitimate reasons to be used (it gives you a secure connection for things like  transactions with your bank, stopping your passwords being stolen by tools like Firesheep etc) watching the BBC’s content from abroad is probably against the BBC’s terms and conditions.

There are other tools out there that do the same job, too (like VPNs) but i have never had any success with the free ones. They are either too slow to be useful, overloaded or simply don’t work. For those of you who want to give it a try, Ex-Pat Shield does work and is very simple and easy to use, too.

Basically you need to download the program from their website (you can get it by clicking this link here) install it on your computer (you might need to tell your anti-virus software that it’s allowed to install) then off you go. It took me 3 or 4 minutes only and I was watching the CBeebies content on iPLayer!

CBeebies Website

Obviously this will be great for my daughter growing up in Italy, I think it’ll also be really useful to Young Learners English teachers who’ll now be able to access content wherever they’re teaching, it’ll also be very useful for adult teachers, too as you’ll be able to use any of the authentic material available on the BBC iPlayer in your classes too.

A great, but simple TV lesson I’ve done in the past for example involves giving out TV timetables for the week to students, having a look through (possibly discussing the different categories of programme available) with a partner. You then ask the couples to decide on a programme to watch, they suggest their programme to the rest of the class and try to persuade them that it’s the best programme to watch (with all the rich language that can be drawn out for activities like this: “I would prefer to, don’t you think that, what about if we….” The lovely thing about this activity ios that for 10-15 minutes at the end of the lesson, you really could watch the programme that the class decides upon!

Have you got any ideas on how to exploit this material in your lessons? Would you feel uncomfortable using a “crafty trick” to access content in your class that would otherwise be blocked? Have you found another way of accessing online video content from sites like the BBC and ABC? Do be sure to let us know in the comments section!

DISCLAIMER: I have no idea whether this might even be questionable legally in some countries. if in doubt, please check before going ahead with trying this. I am of the opinion that this isn’t illegal, but I’m not a lawyer so my opinion isn’t worth a jot! If in doubt, don’t use it!

Death By PowerPoint (and how to avoid it!)

I’m sure at some point in your career you have been bored to tears by a PowerPoint presentation. Let’s face it, who hasn’t! The same, I’m sure, is true for our students.

This is the presentation I gave at the IATEFL BESIG Rome mini-summer-conference in June 2010 to help teachers improve their PowerPoint presentations.


I was really pleased with the feedback I got from the presentation. It seemed to strike a chord with many of the teachers, school owners, writers and others who were present. (The poor folk had probably suffered too many terrible presentations in their careers!)

I hope these slides can help both people wishing to improve their own powerPoint presentations, teachers looking for a few ideas of ways to use PowerPoint with their classes and teachers who would like to do a lesson for their students about the basics of good slide design.

As always with “good” presentation slides, they only really work properly if they have a presenter there to explain what on earth they are talking about! I hope anyhow that you will find this useful. The presentation is split into two basic parts, an introduction which includes a lesson plan, and the second section (around slide number 50) which actually discusses the “Dos and Don’ts” when creating a PowerPoint presentation.

Have you got any extra hints and tips to share about how to create high-quality PowerPoint slides? Have you ever seen a truly awful presentation that you want to purge from your memory? Please leave us a comment to tell us about it. We’d love to hear from you!

All the best,

Macmillan Open Dictionary

Hi there folks,

I just found out about a great new “user generated” online urban dictionary this evening and thought I’d share it with you all.



Slang Dictionary?

Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seeminglee/


Here’s the description that Lifehacker gave it:

Macmillan’s new Open Dictionary allows anyone to suggest definitions for new words, similar to online Urban Dictionary. It differs in the fact that the definitions are carefully screened and handpicked, making it—in theory—more reliable and trustworthy.

I bet we could think of some great lesson ideas to use this with! Well, even if we can’t, Cambridge University Press has a few great ESOL dictionary lesson plans that will help get us started.

Direct link to the Macmillan Dictionary

Got any great dictionary lesson plans to use with language learners? Be sure to share them in the comments!


Introducing Yourself

Over on her excellent blog Kalinago English, Karenne Sylvester recently shared an excellent introductory lesson idea that I thought I’d try out.

Now I often do an introductory lesson where write a bunch of facts on the white board, in no apparent order. The students have to write questions in pairs that they think each fact is the answer to  e.g.

7 Years – How long have you been married? ( or ) How long have you lived in Italy?( or ) How old is your daughter? ( or ) How long did you spend at university etc. The correct answer by the way is the second one.

Other Typical facts I write are things like:

snowboarding (What do you do in your free time?) 

Bantry, Ireland (Where were you born?)

One (How many brothers or sisters have you got?) etc.

I like this activity as it provides a real motivation for the students to get to know me, write questions (and gives me a chance to check out their question formation), even if the task isn’t really an authentic one communicatively. I usually get the students to ask each other the questions that they wrote which are relevant after the activity, too. This adds a bit more conversation into the lesson.

Karenne suggests a similar activity, but she had the idea of using PowerPoint and images to give the students a little more information about you.

Here’s (one of)  her ideas:


Who are you?
Jot down quick notes on words that describe you and your life.

  • country of birth
  • countries lived in
  • marital status
  • family & siblings
  • current job
  • previous jobs
  • a job you dreamed of having
  • degree(s)/ other studies
  • hobbies and interests
  • group/ associations you belong to
  • places you’ve been on holiday
  • your age (number)
  • how long you’ve been teaching (number)
  • your house number
  • fave food /drink
  • fave music /musicians
  • fave book(s)
  • something unusual about you
  • anything else you feel like sharing

Procedure Option 2 (low tech)

  • Open up a PowerPoint document
  • Insert personal pictures from your computer
  • Search www.flickr.com or google images (cc-licensed*) for the images/maps you don’t have yourself – import these into your ppt.
  • Type the numbers in a large font.

Well, Karenne warned that it can take quite a while to prepare one of these “Who are you?” PowerPoint presentations, and she’s right! Several hours of photo scouting later I’ve got mine, here, all ready for my lesson tomorrow afternoon. Seeing as I’ve done it, I thought I’d post it here to share.

I wonder, can you guess what the pictures, numbers and other bits of information refer to?

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