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About

Using (a little) Technology in the Language Classroom

Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico / Centro de Estudio de Idiomas-Culiacan / Universidad Autonoma de Sinaloa

It was the beginning of the trimester when I decided to start a special project with my students in Course 5, a class that has around two hundred hours of instruction in English. The reasons for that decision were to improve students’ pronunciation, mainly, and intonation. This is because of the low performance and fears to speak in the last courses, Courses 8 and 9. When students get to the 8th or 9th course, they usually are reluctant to speak the target language because they know their vocabulary is low, they mispronounce words, and they are not used to speak the target language. I also know this because I have been teaching 8th and 9th courses during the last two years. Therefore, I decided to teach 5th courses in order to help solve the problem.

The project began at the beginning of the term; in the fourth week in this course. Every course is fifty hours long. Our language center does not have a syllabus; courses are based on commercial textbooks, three different editorials. Regular courses are an hour a day while the intensive courses are two hours a day, on weekdays. I have four groups of around 20 students in each group. This is Course 5.

Developing the Project


Students were shown some digital stories in order to expose them to native speakers' real stories and real language use. Later on, they were taught the basics of recording or narrating in ©Microsoft PowerPoint. It was emphasized to narrate not to insert audio files because they had to send their work to me through the e-mail. They also received a basic and brief course on how to use ©Windows Movie Maker.

It can be assured that these brief introductions to Powerpoint and Movie Maker were not enough but students are like fish in the water when the topic is technology. I know this because once they started to use those tools they asked me a lot of questions and became engaged in learning them thoroughly, especially Movie Maker.

As an additional help, I told the students to type their script in Word or Powerpoint due to the help they get with the target language. It could be assumed that some of them did not understand and know about the correction tools in these programs (software). Some students asked what those red and curved lines under some words or fragments were. They were told that the emphasis was on pronunciation and intonation, as well as content. Some students suggested doing their video using their cellular phones or digital cameras. This was accepted and optional since not all the students have the economic possibilities to have these gadgets.

Working on their Projects


The process was simple. As a first activity, they had to deliver their script before recording it. This was done to allow and do some peer correction on their work. Their work was not corrected by the teacher; instead, they were helped through correction symbols. Students were not told of every single mistake they had because it was going to be kind of disappointing and they could have stopped doing the task. You may find some mistakes but not important in their communication. Students were told to use some extra help when the teacher was not at hand, that is, they were told to use the dictionaries on CD-ROMS in the self access center or to use MSN Encarta online dictionary for pronunciation and meaning of words.

The Outcomes


A lot of different final works were received. Students received feedback about their pronunciation and intonation. They were asked how they felt about this project. Most of them said it was interesting to notice the different stages in the task. They emphasized that this way helped them improve their pronunciation.

It is important to tell you that some learners delivered their work three or four times before the final version. This was because the quality of the sound, students breathing on the microphone, low volume, mispronounced words, and/or outside noise. Most importantly, their pronunciation was not acceptable and, some samples, the content was different from previous deliveries -in the peer correction stage.

Finally, I asked the permission of some students to upload their final work and share with other teachers and students. They agreed on this, so I'm glad to tell you about them.

Important Aspects and Variations


Some students suggested not talking about themselves in order to protect their privacy, instead, they suggested and did a kind of retelling a cartoon, a movie segment, a video clip, and a kind of translating from Spanish to English what people were saying in documentaries. Other students asked to deliver their work as a karaoke song. I agreed and received a few of them. By the way, I downloaded KARAFUN (I heard about it in Web Classroom 2.0). It is not a commercial promotion but I have used it successfully in class. I told learners about it, they downloaded it and used it for their projects. To make this work, you need the karaoke final version and the audio file of every presentation.

Summarizing


After three weeks in this project, I can say that about half of the students really cared and improved their pronunciation and became aware of some difficult sounds to produce. Some of them started to use Windows Movie Maker in their assignments from their schools -most of these students are in high school- with recognition from their teachers and success in their homework. Therefore it could be concluded that it was and still is a successful project. I said half of them really cared because I noticed that the other half prefer not to complicate their lives and due to the project was an additional activity where they got some extra points for their final grades. The trimester is about to finish next month.
Other students are really busy since this is the period for semester evaluations in their schools and they have a heavy load of work. These learners sent their work with (a lot of mistakes, some of them) but were not interested in correcting them or doing the project again. I gave them feedback on what their mistakes were, asked them to correct their work and talked to them and got the common responses that it was a lot of work for 2 points. I told them that they should care for autonomous learning and got the replies that they do not have time because this is an optional subject in the professional training. Oops!

Even though only half of the students –around 50- were helped through this project I can say that it was and still is a success!

Carlos Raul Lopez Reatiga


creatiga@gmail.com


January 2008


Important: This project was designed to help students take advantage from technology not to teach students how to use technology. OK?

Downloads: 52


Supporter
Comment by Greg Oz on January 29, 2008 at 2:24pm
Hey Carlos, drop on by to check out what's happening in my class. It'd be good to see you.

Supporter
Comment by Justinoxxii on January 29, 2008 at 6:16pm
Thanks for sharing that, it helped me with some ideas.

Supporter
Comment by Jhonatan on February 9, 2008 at 3:13am
That sounds great! Actually I really like using technology inside the classroom. I believe that technology can enhance and improve the learning process of the pupils because it can be used as a worthwile tool!

Supporter
Comment by ddeubel on February 9, 2008 at 4:05am
Carlos,

This sounds outstanding! On several counts I'd like to mention.

1. You are teaching so much more than just "English". Soft skills such as using technology are a key to their future and you are helping them immensely.

2. Using THEIR narration and voice. This is crucial and such a big part of language acquisition. They need to use voice with text and new technologies are enabling this.

3. Presentation - Publishing - Performing. So often teachers forget the most important part of the process - letting the students be PROUD and showcasing, presenting their stories or assignments. You also asked how they felt about the course which allows them to REFLECT, another essential part of learning.

Wow! I hope you will share some of the final products.

By the way, what digital stories did you show to inspire them?

Also - you might want to consider Photo Story 3, from Microsoft, as an intermediate step up to Movie Maker. It is a lot simplier than Movie Maker and would be ideal in this way.

David

Supporter
Comment by Carlos Raul Lopez Reatiga on February 9, 2008 at 5:54am
David,
I really appreciate your words. Thanks a lot.
I promise I’ll show this message to my students. I’m sure they will be proud as I am now.
I, especially, agree with you about learning soft skills and using technology as a helpful tool for their future professional and working lives. A very few days ago, (February 4 and 5) I was invited to a kind of school fair. The invitation came from a female student who continues using Movie Maker for her school assignments, Elena. She’s not my student anymore but she tasted the magic of Movie Maker and started working on her own. She started a course for her classmates where she was the teacher. She taught them how to design their assignments with this tool. Those students and Elena presented their final work as part of their personal projects in different university careers.

I have had the chance to work with Photo Story 3 which is also easy to work with and free to download but the problem is that in our language center, in the computer room or self access center, Deep Freeze, I guess this is the correct name, is installed to avoid problems with those students that like to download and install everything they want. The software does not allow anyone but the administrator to install other software.

I would like to tell you about the digital stories they watched but the problem is that I have downloaded so many of them that I can’t recall where I retrieved them from. They were downloaded from different websites.

Finally, I promise I will upload some samples from my students so they can be of some help and motivate other teachers and students to do similar things. There is a video from a student that you can watch. It is called “Me and My Friends” and you can find it at http://eflclassroom.ning.com/video/video?sort=mostRecent&page=2.

Carlos Raul

Supporter
Comment by Carlos Raul Lopez Reatiga on February 9, 2008 at 5:59am
Jhonatan,
You are completely right and I agree on that.

However, I may add that learning is not based on technology; it is based on ideas and pedagogical objectives. Technology can help you deliver those ideas to reach those pedagogical objectives in a different, motivational, and innovative manner.

Carlos Raul

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