My favorite sites to make your own crosswords

November 30, 2010

I love using crosswords in language classes. They’re an excellent way to get students thinking about the vocabulary they’re learning, to challenge them and to help them recall words from memory. Here are a few of my favorite online sites where teachers can make crosswords for free or very little cost:

Armored Penguin Crossword maker – Multilingual. Love this site!

Teach-nology Crossword maker – A site especially for teachers.

Variety Games.com – This site is a little more complex in how the words and clues are put together, but once you get the hang of it, it’s great.

Tools for Educators: Crossword maker

The Teachers’ Corner.Net – They ask for a linkback to their site.

ESL Galaxy Crosswords – This site has pre-made crosswords, available by themes. The pages have colorful backgrounds, too.

I’ve also heard about an $8 app for Mac Users: KrossWords (a shareware app written by Jerome Foucher), though I haven’t tried that one myself.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


How to review academic articles: A helpful template

November 29, 2010

In my university-level Effective Learning class this semester, one of the topics we covered was how to review scholarly and academic journal articles. The students are all undergraduates and many of them said that they don’t really know how to read journal articles. Their attention withers and they find them dry and boring. Not surprising, really. Many academic journal articles are dry and boring!

We talked about how to make the reading process active. I brought in one of my own journals that I started using in grad school. I now have several hard-cover, coil-bound note books that are full of my hand written notes and quotations from journal articles, along with the title, authors and other citation information. That’s one way to do it. The problem is that after you have filled up a few such journals, it’s hard to remember where to find information and quotations from specific articles.

So, I developed a template for them that would help them to make their reading a more active and engaging process. It also has a place for their own critical response and reflection on the article. They found it helpful, so I thought I’d share it with you:

Template for reviewing academic and scholarly articles

Feel free to share it with other university students who find it hard to stay awake while reading academic journal articles.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Course design: 7 ways I engaged my students in the process

November 23, 2010

“Learner centered” is the new buzz phrase in education. Some recent research I did revealed that not only are learner-centered approaches to teaching part of 21st century teaching, but so is the practice of engaging learners in course design and outcomes. This seems to be a bit of a contentious issue. How do learners know what their outcomes should be? It’s a good question.

Rather than addressing the theoretical debate, I decided to try an experiment this semester. One of my courses this semester is on Effective Learning. It focuses on metacognition, making students aware of themselves as learners, their learning styles, improving study habits and ultimately, improving their performance. I thought this would be an optimal environment to test a learner centered approach.

The questions that guided my teaching experiment were:

  • How can I legitimately engage students in course design?
  • How can I do this without being accused of shirking my responsibilities as an instructor?
  • How do I ensure that the class doesn’t try to take over from me completely and hijack the entire course?

Here’s what I did:

  1. Set boundaries. Some aspects of the course design were negotiable and others were not. I decided what was going to be negotiated and set clear parameters.
  2. Engaged with the students in dialogue. In class we talked about what aspects of the course could be negotiated and which could not. I shared with them how they would be engaged in the process and what it would mean for them.
  3. Had the students engage in a dialogue with one another. After I talked with them, I gave them some time to talk amongst themselves without input from me. After they talked with each other, we would regroup and they would share what they talked about.
  4. Kept the process transparent. Students’ thoughts and input were all shared. Disagreements were addressed and points were negotiated.
  5. Voted. In cases where students disagreed on how they wanted to proceed, we voted. The majority ruled. This was effective in deciding, for example, what date the students would give their final presentations in class. Students votes reflected their desires to have the presentations on a date that was convenient for all of them. Since the presentations happen at the end of the semester, when everyone is busy, we were unable to achieve consensus on the date. So we voted by a show of hands. That way, students could see for themselves what the majority had decided.
  6. Focussed on developing relationships. I took advantage of the small class size by focussing on getting to know each student and also having them develop relationships with each other, as well as with me. 70% or more of class time was spent in group work or pair work. Students gave two presentations during the semester – one in pairs and another in small groups. Students were guided through a process where they exchanged contact information and were encouraged to connect with one another outside of class time. Within a few weeks, all the students knew each others names and began bonding. This built trust and cooperation.
  7. Increased the engagement as the course progressed. I began the course with a very traditional approach. The students received a course outline with specific information about what would be done and how it would be done. As the course progressed and relationships were developing, we were in a better position to negotiate on some aspects of the course.

Here are some of the ways I engaged my students in the course design process:

  • Course material. I decided what 90% of the course content would cover, including materials from the textbooks, as well as some outside sources. Students contributed videos and articles they found on line, using broad topics to guide them. The videos were posted on our Blackboard class site. Students reviewed the videos posted by their classmates and posted reflective comments about them. Both the posting of the videos and the reflective comments were assignments, each worth 1% of the final grade. As long as students contributed both their material and their personal feedback by the due date, they received credit for the assignment.
  • Due dates. Not all due dates were negotiable. Students chose the dates when they would present their final group project and have their final in-class test.
  • Exam content. Yup. You read that right. Students contributed some, but not all, of the questions for their final exam. I’ll talk about the process I used in a future blog post.

So far, the experiment seems to have been a success. I was pretty open with the students and let them know that the model of negotiated course design was new for me. Basically, I was learning as I went. Many times, I experienced some discomfort myself, not knowing how far we could or should go using a “distributed leadership” model. In some ways, I was still traditional. I teach in a traditional brick-and-mortar university, after all. In other ways, I think the amount of decision-making I allowed my students to engage in would boggle the minds of some of my colleagues, who might wonder if I let my students walk all over me.

The short answer is no. This was one of the few classes I’ve ever taught where students came to class on a regular basis, formed excellent relationships with one another, had a great deal of tolerance for one another. Did they try to hijack the course? Not at all. In fact – and this is purely subjective, of course – I would say that these students demonstrated more respect for me, as I muddled through this new way of teaching, than in courses where I have taken a authoritatively traditional stance. Interestingly, it’s one of the few university classes I’ve taught where I didn’t find students who tried to cheat, either. They were challenged to think beyond traditional learning roles, as they became collaborators in the learning process.

Would I try this again? Absolutely. It was a slightly unnerving experience and a very good challenge for me as an instructor. And I can honestly say that I’ve never had a more engaged, vibrant group of students.

Related post: How and why my students wrote their own final exam http://wp.me/pNAh3-o2

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Language Learning: Restaurant visit counts as experiential learning

November 22, 2010

This semester one of my classes as a beginner-level Spanish class for adults. I’m not a native speaker of Spanish so to add an element of experiential learning to the course, we went to a local Mexican restaurant. I arrived first and spoke with the restaurant manager, requesting that our waiter speak only Spanish to the group.

As it turned out, our server was a recent immigrant from Peru. He really did speak very little English, so it was the perfect opportunity for the students to practice in a realistic environment. This is a photo taken by one of the students. At the end of the table, you see our gracious and funny server. That’s me in the purple sweater, with the glasses.

I’ve gone with classes to restaurants before. There is always a learning component, but it has nothing to do with structure or grammar. It’s about thinking on your feet and communicating ideas and information in real time, with a native speaker.

It’s about feeling the panic that sweeps over your entire being when you go blank as you realize that someone has just spoken to you and you don’t understand one word of what they’ve just said. And you’re expected to say something intelligent in response, but the words you thought you knew seem to have spontaneously combusted in your brain, leaving only fragments of gibberish. It’s about learning to become comfortable with the discomfort that is inevitable when learning a second language as an adult learner… and learning to smile, laugh and cope. It’s about learning you really can do it.

Of course, being a class of adult learners, they had the option of ordering grown-up beverages. Here’s our toast to a successful courseand a wonderful learning experience. Gracias a todos. ¡Qué clase más enérgica y talentosa!


Language learning: Speakers vs. Writers

November 18, 2010

Last night when I was teaching, the class was small, due to a big snow storm we’d been having over the past 24 hours. As I write this the current temperature outside is -15 C (5F) with a “real feel temperature”, as they like to call it, of -25C (-13 F). We’ve had about a foot – or 30 cm of snow in the past 48 hours, too.

Those that came to class yesterday were definitely the most dedicated, the most interested and the most committed. They were clearly divided into two groups. The speakers and the writers.

When it comes to language learning, there are those who want to learn to speak and converse. They’re not really interested in learning to write.  They’re often more confident speakers and less afraid about making mistakes. They tend to be more extroverted and relaxed in social situations. Writing seems slow and boring and for them, has little connection with learning to speak a language. They think that the time they spend writing could be better spent learning to converse.

Then there are those who love the comfort provided by learning to write. They have more time to process new concepts and try them out on paper before opening their mouths. This group are often more afraid of making mistakes when they speak. More importantly, they’re afraid of being judged for the mistakes they make. Sometimes more introverted and afraid of public humiliation, they see writing as a wise investment of their time, helping them to lay the foundation for better speaking.

Last night, I pointed out which activities would likely appeal to the listeners (listening to the CD conversations and a popular song, I’d brought), which ones would appeal to the writers, and which ones combined speaking, listening, reading and writing. I would say, “Those of you who are writers are likely going to find this next activity challenging, because it’s all based on listening.” I played a song they’d never heard before and asked them to write down any words they heard.

After I gave them each a white board marker and asked them to write on the board all the words and phrases they’d heard. The listeners went up and filled the whiteboard from top to bottom and side to side with words and phrases. They weren’t all correct, but they were pretty close.

Not one of the students who favored writing had anything to contribute to the white board. Not one word.

I told them we were going to listen to the song again and before I could go on one of the writers grumbled, “Not again! I hate that!” I smiled and said that their objective this time was to try and pick out the words and phrases on the whiteboard. We listened. Once the words were written down on the board, the writers were able to more easily identify them.

They suddenly seemed to become cognizant of themselves as learners, as they observed their own – and each other’s – http://wp.me/pNAh3-nM and capacities. Do you have writers or speakers in your classes? What do you do to challenge both types of keep and keep keep engaged? Do you consider it part ofhttp://wp.me/pNAh3-nMyour work to teach the value of writing, as well as the value of overcoming speaking fears?

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Global Education Conference

November 16, 2010

The Global Education Conference, November 15-19, 2010 brings together educators from over 62 countries. Over 300 general sessions are being held, all on line, during a variety of time zones. There is no formal registration required for the conference, as all the sessions will be open and public, broadcast live using the Elluminate platform, and available in recorded formats afterward.

Presenters are sharing their slides on the conference’s Slideshare site.

Today I gave a session on Global Trends in Language Learning in the 21st Century. I’ve posted my slides there, too. Here’s a quick link to them, too.

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What is “Globish”? Why should we care?

November 15, 2010

The search term “Globish” returns over 100,000 hits on Google. What is it and why should language teachers care?

The term itself is a combination of “global” and “English”.

One site describes Globish as a simplified, yet standard version of English, based on a core vocabulary of 1500 words. The word itself and the concept behind it are the brain child of Jean-Paul Nerriere, a business man who speaks English, and his own version of it, Globish, as additional languages.

The premise? That if everyone in the world who wanted to speak English learned this simplified form of it, that they’d all learn much faster and be more effective.

This is a seductive concept… Fewer vocabulary words theoretically means less work. Less work always sounds attractive to language learners desperate to gain fluency.

The work of Dr. Hetty Roessingh, a senior researcher at the University of Calgary, reveals that by Grade 1, students who are native English speakers normally have a vocabulary of 5000 words. By grade 12, that number has increased to 80,000 to 100,000 words. She argues that we should be trying to enrich the vocabulary of English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students, not whittle it down.

What do you think? Is 1500 words enough to be considered a complete understanding of a language?

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