Blog 9 – Popplet, an easy and fun tool to discover

“Some 56% of respondents use Popplet to enhance English class activities with their students.” There are many programs available for the creation of mind-maps, and Popplet is one of them. I found its visual very simple but attractive, and its applications very easy to use and good enough for language learners’ uses of every school grade level. I would use Popplet principally for brainstorming before beginning a new activity or writing a text. The website proposes eight popplets examples with very different designs. It gives us a good idea of what it is possible to create when organizing our mind-map. So, after I would have given a topic, students can use the program to write down all their ideas about a topic. They can do it one by one or in team. There are a few options for text: three different font sizes, and three alignment choices. It is always the same color, which is black, and always the same font. So, no student can loose a long time changing the appearance of their writing and energy is all put on the brainstorming. 

I see two principal ways of using Popplet in language learning classroom. They can be alone, and create the popplet for themselves, or in team. I would certainly create teams so they can have the advantages of cooperative learning. By doing the first part of the work individually, they will develop their capacity to use the program, they will explore and acquire knowledge and self-confidence, and by sharing their discoveries with teammates, they will learn even more on the topic, the program and develop their cooperation behavior.

In team, I see two ways to create make them in team. All teammates could be around a single computer to complete the brainstorming orally. But that way, only one student would be writing the information. Even if they take turn, it will be very annoying and stressful for the student who writes every idea that other teammates tell him at the same time. But, an option that could be interesting too and that I would prefer is making all participants participate to the mind map using their own computer with their individual connection. This give you a much more quiet classroom. Also, if they create the Popplet document in team, working from different computers, they can use a different color to distinguish ideas from one student to the other. For the teacher, it gives a good idea of the participation of every student. Primarily to any in-team task using Popplet, I would give some rules to follow. For example, I won’t do very big teams. I think that teams of 2 or 3 students will be big enough to avoid fighting on priority of ideas because students could all have at the same idea while thinking on the topic. Also, if they are only 2, no student will get discouraged seeing the other teammate writing down all their new ideas.

To make it fair for everyone, I would introduce the activity by making them talk a little on a topic before the activity of mind-mapping in team. So they can discuss and individually choose one specific direction for their thinking. They could have 2 minutes to put ideas on the popplet mind-map, each of them having one subdivision of the topic. I would ask them to use only one color of poppies.  Following that, they could have 2 more minutes to add popples on their teammate’s subdivision. That way, they have time to see what their teammate have written and can add personal and non-mentioned ideas. If I want to know their level of participation, students will be asked to use their personal color through all the activity. If it is not the case, and that I want them to make it more comprehensible for a following class sharing activity, I would ask them to keep the color of the mind-map’s subdivisions. The lines between the poppies also create a real connection between all ideas of the same division. 

In Popplet, it is also possible to add images or videos. The program offers you to take them on Flickr, Facebook, Youtube, or to download them from your computer. As a following exercise to the mind-map with words, I would ask students to do researches online using the key words used in the mind-map. So, for each idea, they could try to find an illustration or a video related to each idea. They can also use the drawing option, but the pencil is really hard to use, and only seven colors are offered. I would use it for easy images like a sun, a happy face, a cloud, or a stick figure.

The last thing I want to mention about Popplet, it the zoom option. I find it interesting because, when I would like to project students’ popplets on the smart board and keep students’ attention on what I am talking about, I can zoom and only show the popple that I need, and I can move to another popple only by dragging with my computer mouse. This technique could also be used by students during oral presentations in team at a higher school grade. 

With Popplet utilization in ESL classroom, all students will develop some personal skills and behavior by working in interaction with others. They will learn how to use the program and develop their capacity researching pictures and information online. Also, they will have the option of using the mind-map for a further text or an oral presentation.

OTHER PROGRAMS

Another mind-map software like Popplet is XMind, which is more professional with more options. It could be used with students who have a strong knowledge about mind-mapping. 

There is also MindNote Pro , which is a good intermediate level of difficulty for mind-map creation, but it is available only on Mackintosh for 20$. “Brainstorming is vital for any student, whether it’s for a research project, an essay or your final year thesis.”

Blog 8 – Uses of digital cameras in ESL classroom

As teachers, we will be constantly looking for new interesting ways to make students participate and enjoy their language learning. I think one manner to get them more involve in their learning is the add the use of a camera through existing activities. There is many ways to integrate cameras in a classroom. Here I will share will you some of my ideas:

Who never had a teacher who was showing over and over the same videos that was provide by the government or the scholar institution? These videos are rarely up to date so most of the time you already have heard about it some years ago while your big brother was doing the same course. Sometimes you have many occasion to see it yourself. Not that surprising when we know how it costs to the government to create those videos for their classroom use.

But, why not to provide to students the opportunity to create videos by themselves? My first idea is that I would provide them some topics (examples: drugs, relationships, vacation, sport activities, etc.), and let them pick one of their choice. I think it can be a very good occasion for them to explore digital camera or video camera, but also to work in team in the realization of a project. They also have the occasion to reinvest their second language knowledge.

I totally agree that the “video camera in (…) the language classroom can be at least as productive for your students as playing back existing material.” Why not? Students like to create. If using a camera is one way to express themselves in a class activity, as a teacher, I will not able to ignore it. Creativity is very good for learning, and camera is the perfect electronic device to explore creativity. Here are the step that I would follow:

1- Give to students a short demonstration of the use of the selected device;

2- Create teams of 4, and let them experiment the camera for a short time;

3- Present the project to the whole class;

4- Put the topics you have selected on a list, and let them decide which one they would like to work on;

5- Provide them time for researches on websites, so they can gather information to prepare their texts (lyrics) needed for the video;

6- Find a quiet place in the school were they can produce the video without being disturbed.

7- Supervise the creation of the videos, and look at them before class presentations.

8- Plan a schedule for students to present their video, and answer classmates’ questions.

*Maybe the introduction about camerawork can be interesting at the very beginning, so my students will be able to experiment some cameras perspectives.

Another activity that I would ask them to create a totally invented family. So, they choose the number of members, the look of everyone, the personality of everyone and present them in a short video. They could use disguise to represent the family members, what could be a lot of fun. They could have some specifications to follow (e..g.: very precise body description, job tasks, two hobbies, some qualities and defects). “Not only is technology fun and motivating for our students, but also a powerful tool for learning.” Through the repetition for their videos, students will assimilate even more every word and expression they use. It would be a very good opportunity to listen at their performance, and realize by themselves when they need to say things differently to be well understood. With a digital video camera, they can practice the pronunciation, their articulation, the tone of their voice. Other ideas could be, perform a song for Christmas or create a commercial. Sky is the limit. I really think that students could also provide very original ideas.

Some researches have proved that digital video cameras are very effective in ESL classroom. An ESL classroom is more than a class; it’s a learning community that becomes a better learning environment when students are motivated, and comfortable with their classmates., and the digital camera is the prefect tool for it. During the observation, students spent much more time doing the activities which implied the use of digital cameras than in regular activity presented on sheets of paper. Also, they used their creativity, and put more effort in their tasks because of their interest. I am sure that my students will gradually learn how to work together, make new friends, and develop the quality of their English through an activity like that. Every repercussion would be very positive, from an individual point of view, but also in the goal to increase their cooperation with others.  

The digital camera is one of the most common tool that all people use at any occasion in life: vacation, birthday, competition, activity, other situations in everyday’s life. To give students a pedagogical occasion to use it would have a very good impact on many aspects of their life.

Blog 7 – Social networks, good or not for teaching?

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The list of social networks available is HUGE. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know about at least one on them. The most popular is certainly Facebook, which has more than 1 billion users at the moment, and will probably more than 1,5 billion by the end of 2013. But, does Facebook can be a good tool for second language teaching? I think it depends the way you use it with your students.

On one hand, I think it can be an excellent way for me to share information with my students, but also to keep contact with them and learn about their personal interests throughout the year. It is exactly the use we have in our “Computer Applications” course, and I think there are many good advantages to use Facebook with students. Here are some ideas that I would keep as a teacher:

First, I would use Facebook as a sharing location for the homework, and any important announcement. In fact, anything related to class will be welcome from the students as well: questions, comments, ideas, pictures and videos from activities. I could also add some videos related to topics addressed in class. It will be friendly for everyone. But, from the beginning, I would impose two very simple rules to be respected by every student: the respect of each other (when sharing pictures, and when writing on the wall or in personal emails), and the use of English at anytime. Facebook will be easy to use for them as they already know about it, what will accelerate the integration process of the tool.

Second, as they would have access to the classroom material and every important document shared during the day, it will facilitate and accelerate the process of getting informed for students who are absent. At any time, all documents will be available by the network. I think it is a good way to improve students’ independence and sense of responsibility. Student will know that they can ask me questions at any time. With Facebook, students could contact me any time as the network will instantaneously send me a notice to my personal email account. So, there will be only short delays before I receive it. On top of that, I will certainly have a cellphone that will inform me by a sound signal that I have a new email. I believe that through a Facebook account, everything about the group and the class will stay concentrated there, so all information will be easy to give and receive.

Third, Facebook can be very useful to learn about students’ personality and interests. I could put a question on the wall of the group, so all students can see it once connected to it, and they can answer by sending me a private and personal email. From then, I can gather the information, and keep it close for further ideas to consider if I create a new activity or project. Facebook will facilitate the communication between my students and I.

Four, if I feel that a student have problems of any kind, I could introduce my concern and have the first contact by Facebook. I think that it is more discrete than asking them to stay after class, and that some students will be more comfortable to share personal information through private emails than through meetings between classes. I have the idea that Facebook could be a very good intermediate to develop a good and professional relationship with all my students, but also could become a good help when it is time for me to help some students. Like parents could also use it if the direct discussion is impossible or pretty difficult for both parts. “After all, Facebook and other social networking tools are familiar communication vehicles for most U.S. children.” , and I would add: as well as in Canada and many other countries. I think that Facebook is a very safe place for everyone because nobody can be added in the group unless you decide it, what make it a very good tool for communication between the social network related to your class.

Finally, beside all these good points in favor of Facebook, even if I think it could be a very good tool to keep contact with my students, I don’t think I would use it much during class. Students get very distracted while connected to a network like Facebook. It will be more a place where to share discussions, ideas, and documents than an actual way to spend my classes time as elementary and secondary students are certainly not enough disciplined to ignore the presence of a computer in front of them when the teacher speaks in front of the class.

To help the implementation of Facebook in my classroom, I will certainly consider some advices like the one in this article: Beyond Facebook: How to Use Social Networking Productively in Your ESL Classroom (on Busy Teacher website), which are a good starting point when you never had that chance to experiment the using of a software like Facebook for your ESL class.

I would certainly try Facebook in my ESL classroom, but use it gradually more and more, and as long as the students behave like I want them to.

Blog 6: Teaching ESL Through Arts

As an artist, I suddenly had this question in mind:
Could the use of arts be efficient to teach English as a second language?

I was surprised to realize a lot of information mentioning that this approach as very efficient.
Here are some ideas of activity that caught my attention…
To that, I will add the electronic devices avenue that I would take to improve even more students’ ESL learning, but also improve my own teaching.

1…

“Findings reveal that unstructured art periods lowered the affective filter of language acquisition and led to greater ease in language acquisition for ELL students.”

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So, if students feel more comfortable and welling to begin a discussion in English through unstructured artwork, as a teacher, I would integrate an art activity to make them practice free English expression while exploring their art interest. I would make them choose an artist of their choice through Google image, and let them get inspired from him or her for a further personal artistic project. Internet is the most efficient technic for image research that I know, and I think it is important that students learn how to use it properly while they are very young as it will help them in all their life.

They will also choose the medium of their choice through a limited selection like watercolor, Acrylic, and pastel for example. The exploration will be the goal of this project as I really believe that arts is a great way to express our personality, and find our own identity. Using English will be an additional and important way to orally express themselves. I think that this opportunity to unify arts and speaking through a project will have very positive effects on their life in general.

Gathering information about this artist would be the first step of this activity. Thus, from the beginning of this project, they will be aware about key works that they will need to use during their artwork for discussion with other classmates. There, I will show them how to use valuable online translators like Google translator, and Reverso. They are easy and fast, and with a good supervision before and during using it, I will certainly give them the chance to master an essential internet tool. Students will learn by trying, get more confident, and the use of this tool will become natural and so helpful in many situations. 

I really believe that all students will be more ready for open discussion during an artistic creation if they choose an artist of their choice. Also, I this participation will widely improve their oral ability in English. Through an activity like this one, they will also learn new English words from each other if they work around a table, facing each other. Their artistic abilities in drawing or painting will improve as well. It is a great idea to improve English where the artwork is only an intermediate. They won’t be evaluated on their technique or artwork result, but mainly on their participation in English through the activity.

Here, the computer could come as an interesting option for students whose would like to use programs like Photoshop, Paint, or others, to realize their artistic creation. I could certainly help them with my formation in visual arts, what could provide to some of them a good occasion to discover, and improve their interest for this kind of electronic work. Also, as many things in life are about electronic devices, and programs, it will help them to become at once more comfortable with the art program used, but also with other most common programs because the creators, or programmer, basically used the same kind of applications and tools. As a teacher, I will open their eyes on many new technology options in arts.

2…

“Learning English through a work of art allows students not only to utilize grammar and vocabulary but also to use their creativity, which is a fundamental joy of using a language.”

An other possible activity would be to ask them to talk about a piece of art of their choice. They could learn many useful words: what they see on the painting (people, animals, actions, colors, etc.), what they feel about it (emotions, feeling, impressions, etc.), what they like and why, etc. I would also present this activity as a free discussion between team of their choice. The goal would be to make them participate as much as possible. I really think that they could improve a lot their level of proficiency in English, and their self confidence using the language.

In this activity, I will also teach to students how to use Online translators, and Google image for images and pictures’ researches.

3…

“Let’s think of all the words that come up to your mind when thinking about ART.”

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Now, a very different approach that I really enjoyed myself during a the SPEAK day we had last semester is to create art from related words. The idea is that in team, students write everything that comes to their mind about a specific topic like “Arts” and create an original visual. First, I would ask them to do 10 minutes of free writing (they can write in any languages), and they will need to translate every word in English with an Online translator before the next step. They can help each other. Second, they will have to gather all words of the team together, and use them to create an image of they choice. It is fun, different, stressless, and most of all, it can be a good occasion to practice English by sharing, learning and using new words.

This activity will be a very good occasion for me to teach them how to use basic functions in Photoshop, Paint, or other arts program. They could include related images or pictures from some Google Image research. The tasks could be devised through students. One student could be looking for images while the other begin the design with the selected words.

4… and more!

“The muppets, songs, and animation made learning accessible…”

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I could buy some muppets at the Dollar store, and ask students to produce a short exchange between their muppets. I think it could be a nice activity with a lot of fun. It would promote their decision-taking as they choose their muppets, and their topic, but also help them to learn new words while creating the scenario. They will develop their oral expression in English as they present it to their classmates. So, I think it is the kind of activity that is original and that promotes the use of English in a less stressful environment.

In this activity, I would provide cameras so the students could tape everything instead or presenting in at the front of the class. In they do it with friends, the stress with be even less present and the pleasure of using English as a second language will be increased.

***

The good results arising from an art activity using electronic devices in English classes:

• Students become more self-confident in English, in arts, and electronic devices like computers, Internet, softwares, and cameras;
• Students increase their sense of accomplishment through all tasks as they will learn a lot;
• Students quickly establish an higher level of English proficiency while because they practice it in an environment with a low level of anxiety;
• Students become more knowledgeable about arts in general (artists, artistic movement, and creation + artist software tools);
• Students improve their capacity for decision-making while working with others. They become more cooperative to complete their tasks.

***

I think that for every age group, arts and electronic devices make a very good team that bring, and keep attention from students in a English classroom.

Students improve their English proficiency through artistic creation, their knowledge of electronic devices while exploring simple and useful tools, but also, they increase their self expression through a favorable stressless environment, which is very important.