Audio QR codes with Vocaroo | AR in the classroom

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QR codes are the most basic form of Augmented Reality (AR) and can be easily integrated into a wide range of classroom activities. Last year, I blogged about using QR codes to run a jigsaw caselet task. The premise of exercises like the jigsaw caselet is that we take a piece of written text and place parts of it within a QR code to reduce cognitive load, increase engagement, and allow the learner to store the text on his or her device for future reference. However, QR codes don’t need to only be about reading – you can also use it for listening. Here’s how:

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Vocaroo is a site that allows users to do audio recordings in three steps.

  1. Access Vocaroo and select ‘Click to Record’. You may need to allow access to your microphone if you get a pop-up.

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2. When you select stop, you’ll get the following screen.  Select ‘Click here to save >>’

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3. You’ll get lots of options. Select ‘QR Code’.

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4. The site will then generate a QR code as a PNG file which you can save and print.

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When students use their devices to scan the code (using a QR Code reader/scanner), they’ll be directed to the URL that contains the audio recording.

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Using audio QR codes in the classroom

Differentiation in listening activities 

Listening lessons generally entail having all the learners listen to an audio clip in a situation closely controlled by the teacher. By placing the audio clip or clips within QR codes, we can give control to the learners and they can listen to it on their own devices as many times as they need to and pausing where they want to. From an activity that’s done collectively, we can transform it into a genuinely individual exercise which the learner can adjust based on his or her needs.

This allows us to offer learners choices in listening activities. Borrowing from Agnes Orosz idea of ‘support’, ‘medium challenge’ and ‘extra challenge’, learners can be asked to select a listening activity based on the level of challenge and then complete it by scanning the associated QR code and listening to it on their phones.

Micro-listening

Listening using QR codes is particularly effective for raising awareness of features of connected speech and spoken discourse. Micro-listening activities can sometimes be painful in whole class settings. But by having each learner use headphones on their own devices, we can facilitate micro-listening in a more meaningful way.

Pronunciation

I’ve shared this technique with some teachers who have suggested that they would use it to teach the pronunciation of individual words. I don’t think that’s a good use of your time because there are lot of existing sites and dictionary apps where learners can look up and listen to the pronunciation of words. However, it might be more useful for highlighting sentence stress or intonation. Students practise saying some sentences to each other and then scan a QR code stuck on the wall to check if the intonation pattern they used was similar or different to the one embedded in the code.

Integrating listening & reading 

A typical reading format we often use (or more accurately that coursebooks use) has several people sharing their ideas or experiences within captions next to their photographs. This could be made more multimodal by including a QR code that contains an audio recording of that person sharing some additional information. For example, students read about each person and answer an inference question and then listen to the recordings and validate their inferences.

Logistics

Unlike QR codes that have embedded text, audio QR codes require data services from the user’s mobile service provider of WiFi access.  Unless you’re using QR codes for pronunciation activities, it would make sense for students to use their headphones while they do the listening activities to avoid disturbing each other. This shouldn’t be too much of a challenge because students tend to carry their head or earphones around. Students need to download a QR Code Reader or Scanner to scan the codes. There are hundreds available in iTunes and the Google Play Store but some are plagued by ads. For android, I really like QR Code Reader by Scan which scans quickly and doesn’t have any ads.

Socrative SAQs | Formative assessments

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Lately, I’ve been using Socrative for formative assessments. While Kahoot is engaging and brings gamification into the classroom, it’s sometimes good to run a quiet student-paced assessment which Socrative enables you to do. The other advantage that Socrative has over Kahoot is that it offers multiple question types within the same test and it’s got multiple choice questions (MCQs), true or false and short answer questions (SAQs).

I like interspersing brief Socrative based interactions through lessons. Students get instant feedback and I can track their progress – and everything is happening on their own devices (using the Socrative Student App). It’s also a useful affordance to have the ability to capture longer responses from the students using the SAQ feature and when coupled with automated assessment, it’s potentially a very powerful tool

I’m going to be focusing on my experiences with using SAQs in this post.

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What really excited me about the SAQ feature was that you could automate grading by feeding in a targeted response. This works well with:

  • Form based gap-fill for grammar items
  • Missing word exercises for vocabulary items such as collocations.

You can add as many correct answers as you’d like but this is where there’s a catch. The responses are case sensitive which you could perhaps proactively address by supplying different permutations like I’ve done in this example. However, if students leave a space before or after the word or have a typo, then they’ll get marked incorrect by the system. These kind of errors are unavoidable when students are typing responses on their mobiles.

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I haven’t really faced an issue with automated validation for gap fills but with exercise types that require students to type an entire sentence, it’s been really challenging. For instance, at a recent Business English lesson where we explored ways of reducing wordiness in emails, students were required to reword a sentence. I had two alternatives for the correct answers ‘We want to successfully implement this initiative’ with/without terminal punctuation. We’d just looked at masked verbs and how to uncover them as a way of reducing wordiness.

Socrative challenges

Here are the responses I got from the students:

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One of the students wrote “we want to successfully implement this initiative” but because the first letter wasn’t capitalised, she got it wrong. The next closest to my targeted response was “we want to implement this initiative successfully” but because I didn’t have it my list, she got it wrong! In a subsequent question, the rubric was really explicit but nevertheless, most of the students got it wrong on the system although their response was possibly correct.

There’s no easy solution to this. Plugging in every single permutation of an answer (including with and without punctuation & capitalisation) is mind-numbing. I could eliminate the correct response option (Socrative lets you do that) and have that question graded manually but that’s something I wanted to avoid and was in fact one of my principal reasons for using Socrative.

Until I figure this out, I’ll have to convert these exercises into MCQs which of course makes them a lot less challenging. The other option is to give feedback in a whole class discussion as I did when I discovered that the whole test was going awry.

How to write corporate training materials | Book review

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Title: How to write corporate training materials

Authors: Evan Frendo

Publisher: ELT Teacher 2 Writer | Smashwords edition

Year of publication: 2014

Companion resources: NA

Source: Complimentary ebook from the author

A couple of years ago, I met a teacher (let’s call her Meera) at a conference who’d been working with tertiary institutions on a freelance basis. Meera wanted to get into corporate training and was wondering if she could partner with me on a project. I didn’t really have anything for her at the time but a few months later I found myself on the phone with a client who desperately wanted a bespoke solution rolled out for an urgent need. My schedule was chock-a-block at the time and I didn’t have the bandwidth (as we say in corporate circles) to design the materials and deploy someone else to teach the course. So I asked them to take things forward with Meera (who I judged as fairly competent), which they did.

Little did I realise that I’d done them both a great injustice. Meera was utterly unprepared for the engagement and the client had assumed that she was on the ball because I’d recommended her. I know we often bandy about the bland encouragement to General English teachers that Business English and ESP courses don’t require them to be experts in business, management or a particular industry and that their expertise in language will help them sail through. I’m afraid it’s a claim that’s simultaneously true and false.

The uninitiated teacher or trainer risks missing the forest for the trees. Meera apparently did an intensive needs analysis but her focus was very narrow and the sorts of information she collected caused her churn out or select run of the mill language exercises with token nods to the business setting.  Her materials were completely divorced from the context that her learners worked in and required language for and the specific need that she had been called in to address.

Knowing what to look for and how to feed these insights into materials-design comes with experience, and it helps if you’ve spent time with a corporate setup in a business/operational role i.e., not training or teaching. In the absence of that kind of experience, Frendo’s How to write corporate training materials could be a useful primer.

A key strength of this book is the extent to which it aligns practices to what typically happens within organisations. The idea that we should “investigate discourse practices” instead of merely collecting language needs, strikes a chord with me. Beyond educating the practitioner about process and projects, and SOPs and SIPOC charts, Frendo offers a series of incisive tasks that raise awareness of language, strategies and issues we ought to consider when developing corporate training materials.

My favourites include task 6 which draws on research by Williams (1998) comparing the language prescribed by coursebooks for functions within meetings with actual usage.

Agreeing

Examples from contemporary textbooks:

  • You’ve got a point there.
  • I totally agree with you.
  • Absolutely. / Precisely. / Exactly.

Examples from real-life business meetings:

  • Mmm
  • implied by the function ‘accept (e.g., yes)
  • implied by not disagreeing
  • nods

Frendo goes on to state:

It is easy to see why St John described business English as ‘a material-led movement rather than a research-led movement’ (p15). It is writer’s intuition, rather than what we know about discourse, which has been leading the way. And many commentators feel that not much has changed since that article was written.

There are also several transcript-based tasks that draw attention to features of Business English as a Lingua Franca (BELF) including “code-switching, ellipsis, silence, incomplete utterances, repetition, deviation from ‘standard’ English” all of which Frendo suggests as worth exploring in the training room.

I found the section on techniques for gathering this kind of evidence interesting. There were some that I was familiar with such as language snippets, recordings, corpus analysis, work shadowing and questionnaires and others that I’ve never actually used such as simulated conversations and anecdote circles (sort of like an FGD but more informal).

Task 11 is another interesting one. It asks the reader to analyse an annual report and identify authentic texts that could be used for different roles and needs. I wonder how many Business English trainers have actually read an annual report.

There are also case studies of training projects Frendo has worked on and the solutions he facilitated. Again, we see a strong integration of what actually happens in organizations such as scrum meetings and how this might unfold in a training programme.

How to write corporate training materials is a useful compilation of practices for someone who is making the transition from General English to Business English/ESP and it’s particularly relevant to those who are working as independent consultants. However, it’s also full of insights for practitioners who have been consulting in corporate contexts for a while because it questions some of our practices, especially when we rely on intuition, rather than observation and research to inform our design.

You can purchase the book from Amazon as a direct download or through the Kindle and you can read more about Frendo’s work at his site.

Action songs for engaging YLs

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At the weekend, I attended another workshop at Adhyayan. This one was on Action Songs and was facilitated by three students, Becky, Bonnie & Rachel, from the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama in London. One of my CPD goals this year is to develop my ability to work with YLs and Action Songs couldn’t have come at a better time.  I’ve divided the activities we did into warmers & energisers (sans songs!) and ones that used songs.

By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, action songs are as the words suggest, songs that involve actions.

Warmers & energisers

Ball game 

Students stand in a circle and toss three or more balls to each other. In round one, they say their own names while passing the ball. In round two, they say the name of the person they’re passing the ball to and in the final round, they don’t say anything all and indicate they’re about to toss the ball with eye contact.

Ha Ha Yeah 

A tweak of the classic Hee Haw Ho. Students stand in a circle with one in the middle. The student in the middle puts his or her palms together and points to another student while saying “HA”. Students who are pointed at by the one in the middle must raise their hands over their heads, and also say  “Ha”. The two students on either side need to do a chopping gesture and say “Ha yeah”. An additional tweak is to ask students who are out to die the most dramatic death to rejoin the game.

Splat 

A variation of Ha Ha Yeah. The student points an imaginary gun at a student in the circle. This student then ducks. The students who are to the immediate right of the student who ducks must shoot each other with imaginary guns while saying ‘splat’ really loudly.

Counting … eyes closed 

Students sit in a circle with their eyes closed or heads down. The group needs to count to 20 without interrupting each other. The T starts by saying one. Any student can then say two. If students talk on top of each other, the T starts the count again. This is a brilliant activity for teaching the value of listening, being patient and supporting your peers.

Similarities & differences

Students walk around the space and when the T calls out a number, they form a group of that size. They then have a minute to discuss their similarities and present a still image representing these similarities. The other groups try to guess what the similarity might be. Repeat for differences and other variables.

Seven-up

Students stand in a circle and each person says a number in sequence from one to seven. While students say a number, they should also indicate the direction by folding the left or right hand across their chest. They can change directions at any time and their neighbours need to stay alert. The person who says seven places her hand on top of her head and says either seven or seven-up. The direction of the hand indicates whether the person on the right or the left needs to start again at one.

Action songs

Everywhere we go 

T  leads this call and response. Here are the lyrics and here’s a protest march using the same tune.:

Everywhere we go,

People want to know

Who we are

Where we’re from

So we tell them

We’re from <city’s name>

Mighty, mighty <city’s name>

My name is <name>

(and then everyone sings) Her name is <name>

And then it goes around the circle with these last two lines until everyone’s had a chance to share their names.

Number game 

T shows the students how to sing this song after which the students take over. The pitch rises as the numbers ascend and falls as the numbers descend. Many thanks to Anahita from Adhyayan for recording the tune for us.

1

1 2 1

1 2 3 2 1

1 2 3 4 3 2 1

1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1

1 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

When students have mastered this sequence, ask them to now do it backwards from 8. Then make them put it all together (start at 8 and then when they get to 1, start the ascending sequence).

Number-finger game 

This one’s a bit tough but lots of fun. Get the students to count on their fingers as they sing the numbers. And here’s Anahita with the tune.

1 2 3 4 5

1 2 3 4 5

1 2 3 4

5 1 2 3

4 5 1 2 3

4 5 1 2 3

4 5 1 2 3

4 5 1 2

3 4 5 1

2 3 4 5 1

etc,

The pirate song 

You can get the tune from this YouTube video but the lyrics I experienced were a bit different

When I was one

I broke my thumb

*The day I went to sea

I climbed aboard a pirate ship

and the Captain said to me

We’re going this way, that way

Forward, backwards

Over the Irish Sea

A bottle of rum

To fill my tum

That’s the life for me

Second stanza: When I was two, I broke my shoe (and then repeat from *)

Third stanza: When I was three, I sat on a bee (and then repeat from *)

Fourth stanza: When I was four, I knocked on the door (and then repeat from *)

Fifth stanza: When I was five, I felt alive (and then repeat from *)

After the facilitators got us to sing this as a whole group, they divided us into smaller groups and got us to create our own verses but substituting English numbers for Hindi ones.  For example, when I was ‘ek’, I baked a cake the day I went to sea etc.  and then teach our version to the rest of the group. A lovely little adaptation to bring some multilingualism into the classroom.

Listen & respond

Students listen to a piece of music (in our case, it was by Moby) and respond to it in groups either through a freeze frame, drama or dance.

The grand old duke of York 

Teach the students the lyrics of this song along with some appropriate actions. You can get some inspiration from this YouTube clip.

Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down.

When students get a hang of it, ask them to swap actions on up and down. So instead of pointing up when they say up, they should point down. Then ask them to do the actions without saying the words up and down. Finally ask them to do the reverse actions without saying up and down.

Bear hunt

The T starts this off by doing a call and response but students will get a hang of the chorus pretty quickly and after the second stanza, you’ll need to do call and response with just the new stanzas and not the chorus.  You’ll need to add appropriate actions – here’s a great video by the original author of the Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen (lyrics may differ a bit)

We’re goin’ on a bear hunt
We’re going to catch a big one,
I’m not scared
What a beautiful day!

Oh-no Grass!
Long wavy grass.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!
Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy!

We’re going on a bear hunt…

Oh-no!
A river!
A deep cold river.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!
Splash splosh! Splash splosh! Splash splosh!

We’re going on a bear hunt…

Oh-no!
Mud!
Thick oozy mud.
We can’t go over it,
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!
Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch!

We’re going on a bear hunt…

Oh-no!
A forest!
A big dark forest.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!
Stumble trip! Stumble trip! Stumble trip!

We’re going on a bear hunt…

Oh-no!
A snowstorm!
A swirling whirling snowstorm.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!
Hooo wooo! Hooo wooo! Hooo wooo!

We’re going on a bear hunt…

Oh-no!
A cave!
A narrow gloomy cave.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
We’ve got to go through it!
Tiptoe! Tiptoe! Tiptoe!
WHAT’S THAT!
One shiny wet nose!
Two big furry ears!
Two big goggly eyes!
IT’S A BEAR!

RUN!
Back through the cave!
Tiptoe! Tiptoe! Tiptoe!
Back through the snowstorm!
Hoooo woooo! Hoooo woooo! Hoooo woooo!
Back through the forest!
Stumble trip! Stumble trip! Stumble trip!
Back through the mud!
Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch!
Back through the river!
Splash splosh! Splash splosh! Splash splosh!
Back through the grass!
Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy! Swishy swashy!

Back home!

Now comes the really fun part. Divide students into groups and ask them to come up with their versions. They’ll have to think of something to hunt and six places they will need to travel through and the actions that will accompany their song. As students get their song ready, give them chart paper, colours, glitter and miscellaneous craft supplies and ask them to draw the thing they’re hunting as well as their path through these six places. Each group then teaches their song to the rest of the students.

Living machine 

Students stand in a circle. Tell them that they’re going to construct a living machine.  A student goes into the middle of the circle and performs a repetitive action along with a sound. The other students join this student one by one and construct a living machine. Ask students to construct a new living machine, this time using more expansive gestures and actions.

Heads, shoulders, knees & toes

The facilitators used this classic action song to suggest that content could be taught through action songs. They first got us used to the song along with the actions:

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

And eyes and ears and mouth and nose

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

And then taught us the French version.

Tête, épaules, genoux pieds, genoux pieds

They elicited that to a child learning a language, this can sound like gibberish and that it might be important to isolate word and actions within the song. You continue doing the action (for example touching your head) while saying hmmm.

Hmmm, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

Hmmm, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

And eyes and ears and mouth and nose

Hmmm, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes

 

Heads, hmmm, knees and toes, knees and toes

Heads, hmmm, knees and toes, knees and toes

And eyes and ears and mouth and nose

Heads, hmmm, knees and toes, knees and toes

etc.

We then practised the French version with the hmmms before the facilitators asked us to come up with a Hindi version we could teach them. It was actually quite catchy – here are the words in Devanagari & IPA.

सर कंधे घुटने पैर घुटने पैर
/sʌɽ kʌnɖheː gʊtneː pɛ:ɽ gʊtneː pɛ:ɽ/

आंख और कान और मुंह और नाक
/aːŋkʰ oːr ka:n oːr mʊʰ oːr na:k/

We had a lot of time on our hands and this being multilingual India, we also tried our hand at heads, shoulders, knees and toes in Marathi and Tamil.

The extension activity involved working with our groups to come up our action song inspired by heads, shoulders, knees and toes to teach the facilitators something about India. We used the same tune to teach Indian states and capitals and pointing to different parts of our body as if it were a map of the country.

I like the flowers

Teach the students this song along with some actions. Here’s a YouTube clip for the tune.

I like the flowers

I like the daffodils

I like the mountains

I like the rolling hills

I like the fireside

When the lights are low

Singing ah doo wopa, doo wopa, doo wopa doo

Singing ah doo wopa, doo wopa, doo wopa doo

Divide the students into three groups and have them start singing in staggered way. As an extension activity, you can ask students to replace the nouns with ones of their own.

Green screen 

Any of the action songs that involve students creating and performing their own version can be coupled with a green screen recording.  Green screens are used in television studios to enable a computer to superimpose a background during production. They’re quite reasonably priced (around ₹500) like this one. Get students to select an image they’d like as a background and load this into an app on your phone or tablet such as Green Screen for iOS and voila you’ll have a video of students performing with an interesting backdrop. If you’d like to know more about using green screens, check out this video and this lovely showcase of what children can do with green screens.

While action songs are meant for YLs, I have a sneaky suspicion that I am going to be trying them out on my unsuspecting adult learners. 

Image attribution: Public domain

 

Text Inflator | Make your text wordier

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Why would you use an online tool that makes your text wordier, right?  But there is possibly an instructional use waiting to be exploited. The text inflator injects unnecessary adjectives such as basically, essentially and literally along with multi-word phrases such as for all intents and purposes.

I reckon this site could be used in Business English and ESP contexts to get learners to explore how their writing might become unnecessarily wordy and it’s kinda fun. It could also be interesting in creative writing courses.

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Pumping up the desperation metre can, however, render the text incoherent.

Here’s the link and don’t forget to read the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.

Upcoming MOOCs for ELT Educators | Jun – Jul 2017

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The monsoon has just broken on the west coast of India and in the digital world, it’s raining MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). I can’t think of a better time to indulge in a MOOC binge. A hot cup of filter coffee. Rain pattering away at your window. And a MOOC or two or a dozen to keep you company 🙂

All of these courses are free and start between June and July and last for between four to six weeks.

English for Specific Purposes 

English for teaching 

Phonology 

Literacy

Teaching with art 

21st century skills

Technology

Managing behaviours & special needs 

Teaching: ELT

Teaching: General topics

Learning: General topics 

Exams

Other

EU NNESTs vs. Non-EU NNESTs? Discrimination by any other name

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This was a timely tweet because on June 1, I was facilitating a CELTA input session on CPD and getting jobs.

In a task on different teaching contexts, the trainees browsed jobs on online portals and they were quick to note that a plurality required ‘native speakers’ and the ones that didn’t often included this remark:

This post is open only to those with the right to work in the EU.

It might be EU law to not discriminate against non-native speakers, but it seems it’s perfectly (and legally) acceptable to discriminate in favour of EU citizens.

I’d like to be completely transparent and state that India has a similar law: To get a work visa in India as an expat, you need to be a highly skilled professional earning more than $25,000 a year. However, the exception to this rule are foreign language teachers who can earn peanuts and still get a work visa. English language teachers, are an exception to this exception. In fact the legal clause actually states:

Language teachers (other than English language teachers)

This is because the Indian constitution sees English as an Indian language and the rationale is that we have enough teachers of what’s perceived to be one of our own languages.

Oddly, this hasn’t stopped discriminatory practices. International schools often circumvent this law by hiring for example an expat geography teacher who also happens to teach English and it’s no surprise that there are a lot of complaints from local teachers about the vast differences in salaries.

I realise there’s no easy answer to this but the employment market seems to be evolving a new dichotomy, yet again based on discrimination, to respond to demands for equity and fairness: NNESTs from the EU vs. NNESTs from the rest of the world. You can see how this might validate the views of those who have held the belief that this has always been about something other than the colour of your passport.

To a newly qualified teacher, the scene both at home and abroad, is deeply disheartening.

Image attribution: Public domain