31 October 2019

Why Memes Belong in the Classroom

Call me old-fashioned - it won't change my mind. I still delight in memes and how students can share their sense of humour with a meme. 

It's not only students' sense of humour; just like a make believe tweet expressing what they learnt in class (i.e. an exit ticket as a tweet), a meme can also be used at the end of a lesson or at the end of a week and/or theme. Additionally, creating a meme doesn't take too much time, isn't challenging and most of all, it’s fun.

I have mentioned memes before  and here are some more ways for learners to create their own meme as well as a bit of background on memes.

What's in a Meme?

Some tools to create memes include:

Meme Generator

Kapwing Meme Generator  -  a free online image, GIF, and video meme maker.

Make a Meme - by uploading your own image; or, if you wish to use one of the images suggested Make a Meme

Meme Better

imgur - generates memes and has its own daily meme.


quickmeme and memeois for iOS devices.

Then there is adding that extra bit of motion to a meme.

Enter filmora:

If you would like to create a GIF:

Further Suggestions:

Playing with Images

Adding Magic to Images

Visual Libraries - Free Images

Do You Have Visual Swag?

Proverbs & Quotations with Visuals

Free Images for the Classroom

Learning Visually with Themes

What is a Meme?

What's in a Meme?

10 Best Meme Makers Online (Free to Use)

Digital Delights - Images & Design - memes

30 October 2019

Decision Making in Class

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Every new day brings along a range of new decisions to make. Some are pushed into our routines and become almost automatic; others gnaw us until a final decision is taken. 

A common activity in EAP and ELT classes is to have students debate an issue which may then lead to a writing task. Debating and discussing in class can be set up in different ways and with different purposes as well. In the field of EAP, for instance, practising debate skills helps students when they are practising seminar skills. Despite being slightly different skills, speaking and sharing one's ideas around a topic gives students the confidence they often need when speaking in English publicly (i.e. in classes). 

iDebate (already referred to here), offers teachers and students a wide range of controversial topics to debate and think about. 

From Should the airbrushing of women’s bodies in the media be banned? to This House believes university education should be free, there are topics to meet a wide range of interests and contemporary issues. 

Below is an example. Even if students don't log into the site, they can still vote on a tool such as Tricider

iDebate is offered not only in English but also in other languages:  The International Debate Education Association (IDEA) is a global network of organizations that value debate as a way to give young people a voice, with entities in the Netherlands, USA, UK, Macedonia, Kyrgyzstan and Tunisia.

There is support and guidance for teachers and students and of course, teachers can always tailor the discussion to their own teaching/learning context and learners. There are also podcasts which may be as models of a debate for learners.

How do you set up debates and discussions in your classrooms?

Playing with Words to Overcome Writer's Block

Postpone that email.

Postpone that summary.

Postpone that assignment.


That assignment's deadline is tomorrow.

Another long night melts into dawn, dawn melts into a chaotic day filled with oblivion and desperation to sleep.

And all this while the teacher teaches on and shakes their head wondering why students don't get enough sleep.

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Whether through disregard or simply owing to writer's block, students do struggle with deadlines and writing assignments.  Mind maps may help some learners,  taking notes  may help others, while there are still students who will continue struggling with a blank page. 

The question is how to conquer that fear of white sheets and production of ideas. How to jump that invisible barrier of creativity and begin writing?

There is no point in asking students to be creative while flapping one's arms, asking "What do you think?" - that is rather pointless when a student (or anyone really) has a question and/or needs some help/clarification. There is a time to focus on questions and a time to offer possible suggestions to overcome a misunderstanding or problem.

When it comes to writing, playing with words, with vocabulary, 
is one approach to overcome that dreaded writer's block and fear of writing.

Playfulness  too, can often aid solve a myriad of learning challenges.

 Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

OneLook Thesaurus may not sound initially like a fun place to begin exploring/playing with vocabulary, but once you look closer, you will notice how " This tool lets you describe a concept and get back a list of words and phrases related to that concept ".

For those who like having add-ons, there is also an add-on for OneLook Thesaurus.

And who knows? This may just be the invisible nudge that a learner may need to get that writing assignment on its way to being completed. 

Some other dictionaries which are great for learners of English
include the following here below:

How do you overcome writer's block?

Writers' Block from WONKY Films on Vimeo.

Further Suggestions:

29 October 2019

The Pumpkin Patch

As a child, I grew up celebrating Halloween and Valentine's Day.  Halloween was definitely a lot more fun with colours and costumes, promising buckets of sweet delights (even if that meant visiting the dentist shortly afterwards). Over the years, I have noticed how these two celebrations have seeped into other cultures, even if mostly at a commercial level. 

In these northern lands that I now find myself in, the shortening of daylight, lengthening of shadows and corners of darkness,mingled with  the sharp, crisp cold air, these all bring back memories of traipsing around the neighbourhood with friends, in equally garish colours and fabrics - and with a jack-o-lantern to boot. 

For those who celebrate Halloween with their learners, here are some possible activities and suggestions:

Halloween digipuzzles  (mostly for young learners)

Special Effectively Spooky - digital stories by students

#CelebrateWithDE – Halloween - by the Discovery Channel

Halloween Tales - podcasts by the Storyteller

The best scary podcasts to listen to this Halloween 2019

From stories and visuals, to podcasts and videos, what spooky tales and webs of Halloween activities will your learners be up to this Autumn?

Happy Halloween!

Further Suggestions:

Headless for Halloween?

Seasonal Resources for Autumn

Avatars and Poetry Generators for Halloween

Games and Avatars for Halloween

Infographics with Beautiful News

Classroom resources for a spooky Halloween lesson

The Power of Images

Photo by Efdal YILDIZ from Pexels



Enchanting or disenchanting, images have the power to inspire or repulse us. Our perceptions  of images will naturally be different, or overlap with similarity; so much depending on one's points of references and contexts. 

Educators have used images in lessons long before the WWW enabled a whole world of images - many free to access as well. There are so many different ways to use images when teaching and endless array of projects that learners will need images  or icons to enhance their work. Here are some suggestions to share with learners: (please note that this Padlet below will be having updates)

Made with Padlet

Choices when Searching

Photo by Tobias Aeppli from Pexels

In some ways I have found that all the apps and travel sites have drained away the pleasures of travelling - those pleasures which happen when one stumbles upon surprising corners and squares, the delight of interacting with people who share different languages and customs, and the natural beauty which has not been destroyed by self-sticks and package tours. And the sheer joy, despair and joy again when one is lost then finds his/her way once more. 

Everyone appears in a rush; that maddening rush to take a dozen (or more) "perfect"selfies, to freeze a moment rather than inhale and experience one's surroundings, to move on, tick an item off a list (grocery-shopping style) and boast how they "did India in 5 days". 

It's complicated. 

However, when it comes to studying and exploring the web for references, speed and a certain degree of accuracy is indeed necessary. There are choices and alternatives to Google. From EAP students searching for academic articles to someone looking for specific lyrics to a favourite song to search engines which are appropriate for younger learners, there is no need to be frustrated when searching. You can even use a search engine which plants trees (more on this further below). 

Here is a selection of suggestions for alternative search engines:

Made with Padlet

I still think that being able to evaluate a website is a key learning activity and that extends to evaluating search engines as well. Instead of always telling learners which search engine to use, students may work in pairs or small groups, experimenting and analysing a search engine, then report back to the class with their findings. After a group discussion they may decide on which search engines would be most appropriate for their own personal use and which would be more helpful for their academic studies. In this way, learning about search engines becomes more learner centred as well as giving them the opportunity to own their learning process. This doesn't even need to be done during class time; students can carry out the task out of class, which would foster their skills in learner autonomy even further.

A word of caution though - over the years I have come across other search engines which today have become been sold off and/or ended. That too is another consideration to bear in mind when analysing search engines (i.e. the longevity of a website/web service).

What other search engines do you recommend?

Further Suggestions:

Seeking References in EAP

Evaluating Websites for EAP

Search Engines and Digital Footsteps

How Do You Search? Let Me Count the Ways

Carrot2 and Behold

Visual Search Engines

The Missing Link to Open Educational Resources: A Search Engine

Think you know how to Google? Here are 36 search tips you probably don’t know about

Do Not Track - Do Not Track (DNT)
is a way to keep users’ online behavior from being followed across the Internet by behavioral advertisers, analytics companies, and social media sites. It combines both technology (a way to let users signal whether they want to be tracked) as well as a policy framework for how companies should respond to that signal.

26 October 2019

From Dreams to Shared Realities

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

In all classrooms that I have participated in as a teacher, it has never failed to surprise me how talented students can be. Whether it is playing a musical instrument, a  gift for drawing/painting, a keen eye for photography or a love of sports, students' interests and talents are a rich source of learning which often goes untapped. Teachers are too often hampered by a handed down curriculum and then there remains little time to explore and even dare I say, exploit,  what is most relevant to students. 

When I have asked whether students blog to showcase their work, they often sigh and with a shrug, mention Instagram as micro-blogging. It is when I ask whether they would be interested to actually learn how to create their own website and blog that their eyes light up with interest. 

Blogging serves many purposes, including being  a contribution to a learner's e-Portfolio. This may be shared publicly or privately, only to a small circle of friends/peers (depending on platform). 

Telegra.ph is a webpage which can be easily shared. Clean and simple, it's minimalist features include uploading an image, embedding a video and Twitter link.

Then, all it takes is to hit "publish" and it's ready to share. 

It's a great tool for teachers to share information, updates and notices with students if  a LMS or class blog isn't being used. Although it can be used for sharing (from grocery lists to hobbies), it's a quick and simple way of sharing information - but it may carry a degree of anonymity, which is something that I strongly discourage students to do. If they publish anything online, then they should always include their name/reference, especially in educational contexts. Accountability and responsibility when posting online is definitely part of digital literacies.

Two other  similar minimalist blogging platforms are telescope  and Write.as. telescope offers both a free and pro version, while Write.as also offers a free version and a 5$ per month account to create a custom domain site. 

Caramella is different - and great fun to play around with ("play" as in learning how to use it); very appealing to those with a drive to learn new digital platforms:

With Caramella you can create webpages, blogs, PDFs, posters - and more. 

When class time is not enough (it never is!), giving students the means to develop these projects in the library and after class is another option. From book reviews and book reports, to so many other blogging assignments, students learn not only how to use a particular communication platform, but also the characteristic of "playing" with a tool, i.e. learning how to use it.

Even if an institution doesn't offer an internet connection to students,
creating posters with pen and paper, then pinning  these poster on the classroom walls, is another way to foster a classroom culture while sharing students' personal talents and interests.

Learning can be frustrating - and that includes learning how to publish online too. Yet, it is through the autonomy of learning that students develop an ownership of their learning.

Sharing one's talents, natural gifts and interest, showcasing one's ability - definitely learner centred and a light of motivation towards further learning.
Photo by AliseAliNari from Pexel

Further Suggestions:

A Wall of Magazines

Blog Bytes

Creating Websites

Blogging Platforms Around the Block

Organising Writing and iPad Publishing

Teaching to the blog – How assessed blogging can enhance engaged learning

Blogging for English-Language Learners

Blogging as Pedagogy: Facilitate Learning

How to Flatten Your Classroom and Encourage Authentic Writing Through Blogging

Motivating Learners with a Juke Box of Aims

WRITER'S BLOCK - A Supercut from Ben Watts on Vimeo.

Sound familiar?

The same happens with learners in different contexts - especially on eves of assessments.

Aim High  offers tips for both teens and adults in an interactive format as well as in PDF format to print.

By clicking on each of the items in red, the user is led to advice, suggestions and snippets of common sense.

Trying to get your student to aim a bit higher and achieve?

Why not try a nudge from a jukebox full of tips?

Student Well Being - an Infographic

Photo by tyler hendy from Pexels

Wellbeing. A whole industry has sprung up around us offering tips and advice, pendants and purchases - need I go on? For the past three years I have seen an explosive offer of well being for everyone everywhere. Not only a millennial trend, in many ways life has indeed become more stressful for most people everywhere - including our students. 

For students in general, it is never enough to constantly remind them about time management; it is also necessary to call their attention to their daily well being. This includes spending quality time with face to face interactions, as well as drinking enough water and moving about in the fresh, open air (and not only sit in front of a screen within a closed environment). Quite often, a brisk walk outdoors is all it takes for confusion over a learning task suddenly becomes clearer. Below are some tips to share with students:

Student Health and Wellbeing

From Visually.

An Infographic for Vocabulary

One question that I have always found difficult to answer as a teacher is "What method do you use to teach X,Y,W"?


A strict, stiff, rigid, closed, suffocating method?

Do they even have place in classrooms which are flexible, unpredictable, open (relatively) learning spaces?

Just as learning is boundless, borderless and agile, I always have preferred the word "approach/es" - if I had to choose a word. The reason being that each group of learners will have their own idiosyncrasies, and every teaching context differs. There are however, invisible learning lines (approaches, perhaps) which do over-cross, mingle and entwine. Sometimes a task may become a favourite among students, while another group of learners may not like it at all. In some cultures, where the emphasis is on the individual's  success, collaborative work is not perceived as important in the classroom and students need time to experience collaborative work to understand its benefits. Having learners work on tasks in pairs or small groups is not only relevant in the classroom for that particular moment of learning, but also for students' future lives when they will have to interact professionally with peers at their workplaces. 

But I digress. So back to learning vocabulary. 

There are plenty of approaches to teaching and learning vocabulary according to context, level and purpose. One approach I enjoy introducing in class is using infographics - visuals and language with a twist of ideas and information. A simple tool for students to create their own infographic is Canva, but there are others as well.

This example could be for students  or professionals who are studying Business English or even EAP:

How to combat employee stress

From Visually.

After brain storming how stress can be avoided and/or kept in check, possible tasks would be to check certain lexical items and expressions (e.g. what is the difference between getting an issue off one's chest and getting an issue out in the open?), find opposites and synonyms, and finally, students could create their own infographic in a small group then share their work with the whole class. 

How do you use infographics with your learners?

25 October 2019

Digital Capability and Critical Media

I remember well when I first signed up to connect to the WWW. The dial-up sound promised open worlds and unlimited discoveries. There was hope that the connection would not slip and so we could spend a good chunk of time exploring this newly minted digital world. There was also a fleeting promise in the air that our working lives would change - in particular, freeing up more time for people to indulge in hobbies and non-work related activities. Time. Plenty and plenty of free, undemanding time.

Promises written across the sky are fleeting.

For the fine lines between work and personal life have become deeply intertwined; where does one begin and where does one really end? Work is no longer only the daily trudging to a physical location - it can be anywhere, anytime as long as it is online. We no longer need to manage our own RL (real life) identity but also our digital identity, as we participate more,  (in more diverse and complex ways) and longer on the internet.

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels
Students today take this duality practically for granted. It is second nature to those who have grown up digitally connected.

Got a question? Ask Google.

Need a solution? Ask Google.

Not sure of an historic even? Google will provide a plethora of references.

Finding possible answers and solutions online is merely scratching the surface of our regular, daily digital activities. Hence the need for focusing on digital literacies  - something I have often talked about in this blog. Yet digital literacies is not only a raising of awareness of one's digital identity or one's digital traces; nor even of being able to critically cross check sources and news.

Being digitally connected also requires digital wellbeing, knowing which tool/platform to use for a certain context most effectively, being confident to participate creatively and how to continue self-actualisation. These are skills which are essential for learners today and should be focused on in lessons.

Jisc has developed a framework Building digital capabilities: the six elements defined, which addresses these different skills:

 gives educators and learners a space where some of the above may be addressed in lessons with a list of different topics  on Digital Media which can be used in class or out of class, a DIY page with lots of creative ideas and activities on how to get students involved in learning and thinking critically, and an explanation of how digital identity matters. 

As with so many other resources, these may be used as they are presented or tweaked to meet needs, interests and requirements for all our different teaching contexts. 

Digital identity - not quite as fleeting as promises across the skies. 

24 October 2019

Reading -For Kindergarten to K12

I can't remember ever meeting a child who didn't like stories. Stories, whether short or long, simple or complex are practically part of our DNA as humans. Stories help us make sense of our worlds, help to nourish our imagination and help develop empathy skills. 

One of the challenges is to have learners actually enjoy reading for the pleasure of reading - they may appreciate storytelling but not always reading. Another challenge is for time-strapped teachers to find reading materials which are accessible and suitable for their students. 

ReadWorks is a helpful place to begin, with a range of topics and great for ELT and CLIL. ReadWorks if free and includes reading materials from kindergarten to Grade 12 . 

You can use ReadWorks in three simple ways as shown below:

As with many other resources for educators, there is also a Teacher Guide, a page taking you step by step on how to get started with ReadWorks, as well as a step by step Guide on how to set up classes, assign reading tasks and check students' progress. 

Intro to ReadWorks: Digital Tools & Features Webinar from ReadWorks on Vimeo.

It's never late to instill a joy of reading in learners. All it takes is continuous practice, opportunity and offering them a wide range of choices until they find the sweet spot of reading for themselves. 

Photo by Eleazar Ceballos from Pexels

Further Suggestions: