Posts tagged lesson plan

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!

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:


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!


Students in Trentino, Italy

Skype Calls for e-Twinning in L2

I have been using Skype to make cheap calls to friends and family abroad for ages now. While making these free international calls, I’d often wondered whether it would work well in the language classroom for e-twinning. Well yesterday I got the chance to find out.
Thanks to the wonderful Enza Antenos-Conforti of Montclair University, New Jersey, I  did some Twitter twinning between my 5th year social sciences class and her Italian language and Italian Studies university students this year. Using the micro-blogging service, Twitter, the initial e-twinning went  really well. Our discussions ranged over subjects as diverse as; the right to die, favourite dances and music, politics and Berlusconi, sexism, the media and all sorts of other rich and interesting topics.

After a good three or four months of text-based chatting both Enza’s and my students thought it would be a shame to finish without ever seeing or hearing each other. Proof, if nothing else, that the Twitter twinning had raised our students’ interest in what they were learning. This is where we came up with the idea of an online meeting using Skype.


Although it was great fun, the Skype meeting took a little bit of organising.  I thought I might share what went well and what didn’t go so well for anyone else who’s thinking of doing the same in the future:

How we organised the lesson

Setting it all up (the technical bits)

We installed Skype on enough computers for all of the students to have a computer each (10 in total in Italy, 12 in the U.S.) The US students already used Skype, so they signed in with their own Skype IDs. I set up 10 generic accounts for my students. I got the computers working and logged in to one of the generic Skype accounts on each computer before the lesson. I also added one of the US students as a “Skype contact” on each of the computers in the ICT lab.

What went well:

The students didn’t have to think at all about who to call, who to add as a contact and how to start a call. They didn’t all end up calling the first alphabetical name in the list either. Basically each student had one ready-made partner. Although by setting up each computer with one Skype contact we cut down on confusion at the beginning, it did make life difficult later in the session when the students were doing the one to one calls.

What I would do differently next time:

Basically one of the US students didn’t manage to make it to the session, and one wasn’t added to my students’ list of contacts (my fault, oops!) This meant that one of my students and one of the US students were both without someone to talk to for the first 10 minutes or so until we sorted the problem. Next time I will add all the contacts from the other school to each of our generic accounts. Then to make sure no-one gets a call from two of my students I’ll give them a piece of paper saying who to chat to.

Group Introduction:

We did a 10-minute introduction where each of the students from the US and from Italy took it in turns to introduce themselves, say who they were on Twitter and say one or two facts about themselves as a kind of mini “bio.” We did this part as a class-to-class video conference. We used our IWB to do this, but any beamer attached to the computer would do just as well.

What went well:

It was great to be able to see each other at last. The placing of the webcam was a tricky choice. In the end I taped it to the wall above the projector screen. It was also nice to have a whole-class warmer so that the students were able to get their foreign language practice going. My students presented themselves in English, The U.S. students presented themselves in Italian. Me and Enza, and my colleagues from Martino Martini presented themselves in both langauges.

What I would do differently next time:

At first we used the microphone built in to the webcam for our students to speak. This was great to begin with, but as the students towards the back of the class started introducing themselves, the US students complained that they couldn’t hear very well. In the end we plugged in a microphone to the computer and passed this round whoever wanted to speak. I’ll do this straight away next time.

One-to-One chats:

After this each of the students sat down at a computer to have a chat, one to one, with a student in the US. This was the part of the lesson I had most been looking forward to from the point of view of a teacher as I thought it would give each of the students the maximum time to talk with someone in a second language. To help them do this they had a list of suggested topics to talk about (based on conversations we’d had throughout the term.) These topics were all based around our school’s and the university’s curriculum. The students also had to take notes about their partner’s answers while they were talking to them. As all language teachers will know it’s always a good idea to have a task to achieve when doing a listening or speaking exercise.

Students in New Jersey, USA.

Students in New Jersey, USA.

What went well:

The students got over their initial nerves about talking in a foreign language and spent a good 40 minutes chatting away to their partners. Both the U.S. and the Italian students seemed to have a lot of fun as you can see in the photos. As we were twinning with a class learning Italian (and they with a class learning English) there were lots of opportunities for the students to fall back on L1 if they ever got stuck. The whole session was pretty much bi-lingual, though (to be honest) I though I heard much more English than Italian being spoken, though to be honest, this could be as I’m used to having to struggle to get my students to use L2 so I was just pleasantly surprised (Enza, did you think this too?) The students also showed an amazing knack to multi-task so common with “digital natives.” While they were chatting they were also sharing favourite music videos on Youtube, adding each other to Facebook accounts and lord knows what else! Our students were also talking about core-curriculum areas too (politics, social issues, the theses they are preparing and so-on) as well as the traditional get to know you chats.

What I would do differently next time:

My students were really nervous about chatting in L2 at first were pleading to be able to do only a group chat. I really felt that this would only give the stronger students a chance to talk, so I refused this. I think that if the students had had more time to prepare for the chat they would have been less worried about the whole one-to-one chat business. I did actually give the students some time to prepare, but I think I overloaded them with tasks when dong their prep (talk about subject, not down key vocab,write follow up questions) which didn’t leave them to feel free enough to chat in L2.

Students in Trentino, Italy

Students in Trentino, Italy

Overall Experience:

Personally I really think that yesterday’s experience was a great success. Sure there were one or two rough edges to smooth over next time, but I think that the sheer fact that a whole class full of high-school students were speaking a foreign language for more than an hour speaks for itself. If we get a bunch of webcams and a higher bandwidth internet connection I’d love to try a full-scale video chat where each of the students could see each other to add to the experience. Overall though my students left the classroom with big smiles on their faces after staying behind late at school after a hard day of exams. In my book that’s a lesson that has worked well!

Finally, a big thank you to the following for all their help getting this together:

Silvana Devigilli (my class’ tutor, Martino Martini), Diego (ICT Technician, Martino Martini)  Michael D. Heller (Director of Emerging Instructional Technology, Montclair) AJ Kelton ( Director of Language Learning Technology, Montclair) and last but not least, my inspiring colleague Enza Antenos-Conforti, the tutor from Montclair University.

Now we’ve had this experience getting a Skype conference call and individual calls together, I’d be really happy to help out with advice, hints and tips or to answer any questions you might have about getting something similar done. Leave me a comment here if you’d like to chat about this 🙂

All the best,


Speaking Philosophically – CLIL Lesson

students-at-work2This year I’m working as a CLIL/ICT teacher at Martino Martini, a high school in Mezzolombardo, Italy. It’s a really interesting project where I co-teach different subjects together with the “regular” class teacher. The difference with this CLIL project is however that I don’t just help teach the subject in English, but I have to use technology to teach the subject too.  This means that so far this year I have taught subjects as diverse as History, Biology  and Social Sciences using all sorts of different Web 2.0 technology such as wikis, web-based video, online surveys and so on. I tell you what, it’s been great fun! Take a look at our wiki if you’d like to see some of my students’ great work.

For one of my philosophy classes recently I decided to do a speaking activity based on one of the arguments from the BBC World Philosophy Day article from last year. As philosophy is often taught as a fairly dry subject here in Italy, I decided to “spruce it up a bit” by using some of the great creative commons photographs from Flickr to illustrate the arguments. I put them together as a Powerpoint presentation and I hope you’ll agree that the results are pretty good!

Although the PowerPoint presentation deals with philosophical ideas that Kant had, I’m sure that many speaking classes would really enjoy the subject. The references to Kant are infact only in the last slide. I used this lesson with a class of 17-18 yr olds. It does deal with some pretty “full on” issues, so have a good look through the slides before taking it into your class.


Click on the image to download the PowerPoint file. It’s 14 MB so it might take a minute or two!

Talking Philosophy PowerPoint


Thanks to some great ideas from The Webheads, I’m now also going to do this lesson as a VoiceThread. So, if you (or more likely your English class) fancy joining in the debate, click on the comments button in this VoiceThread version below:



Interactive Scoreboard for Smart Notebook 10

Inspired by the fantastic activities James Hollis talks about on the Teachers Love Smart Boards blog I decided to try out a “Error correction game” with my 4th year class recently.


I wanted to have some sort of scoreboard to keep track of how much each team had “won” by guessing which sentences were correct or not. I thought I’d use something like the excellent Powerpoint scorecards that Dave Foord has on his A6 training site (they’re great – check them out if you haven’t yet). Unfortunately it seems that there isn’t any equivalent for the Smart Notebook 10 software. Undeterred, I thought I’d try my hand at making one myself. I must say I’m quite pleased with the result.


Basically I used the “Flip Along Axis” animation to produce a scoreboard which students or teachers can use with any Smart interactive white board. If you have a look at James’ blog there is a good tutorial on how to do this.

This interactive scoreboard also contains “hyperlinks” so that you can insert a series of  questions (up to 10 at the moment, but you can always add more) then you can jump straight to the question you want and jump back to the scoreboard again when your students have answered it.

I hope you enjoy using my lesson. Do let me know with a comment if you find this useful. If you have any questions about how to edit the lesson, again – get in touch with a comment.


Interactive Score Board-With-Timer

Go to Top