As a student, I remember reading lots of materials on the use of videos for educational purposes. There are lots of worth reading materials, but I guess experience is the best reference when working with media products. Working with Videos in the classroom has been mistakenly confused with unplanned classes and with lazy teachers. Learning (and teaching) a second language that is not spoken in the country  may become rather boring if students always work following the same patterns, routines, and if they always listen to a non-native (though good) accent.

First of all, if you are planning to work with films, I think a little knowledge on film related vocabulary and the meaning of the different camera positions for instance, is a must if you want to include activities that really engage students as critical viewers.

Then, you should be acquainted with the likes of your students, and see what kind of films are appropriate to their age and level of English.

It would be excellent to have video guides prepared in advance, so as to avoid preparing some not encouraging activities just to fill class time and requirements. As regards this, we have to consider the purpose of the watching activity: are we watching a video just for fun or to expand our knowledge on certain topic?

This is important so we can choose after watching activities that are appropriate to work with, keeping in mind that video watching is an activity in itself.

When preparing a video guide, it’s frequently recommended to divide it in three parts:

Pre- Watching Activities, where you may introduce the topic of the film, elicit background knowledge from the students or predict what the film will be about.

While – Watching Activities, which I think should be just short vocabulary note taking so as to let students concentrate in the watching, and

– Post – Watching Activities, which can be individual or group activities, written or oral, depending on your likes and the students’. Usual post – watching activities include gap filling, comprehension questions and summary writing.

We, as teachers, should put all our efforts in creating appealing video guides and activities to motivate students. And I’m not saying that we have to print colour copies or something like that. I think that at least one or two images and a nice font can be used to improve the aesthetics of a worksheet, but if the content is not good enough, there’s no use in embelishing it.

If class time is a problem, why don’t you work with TV Series? They usually last 30/40 minutes, and they can be a great source of material for your teaching practices. Not only will your students be learning with authentic material but also they will enrich their vocabulary with words not usually found in textbooks.

Another option could be to choose scenes from different films that go along with the syllabus/coursebook unit you are working with. You can choose the length, the vocabulary and, what I think is the best about this, is that you can motivate your students with creative post-watching activities. Showing them, for instance, a plane crash in a deserted island (LOST, season 1, episodes 1 and 2) really motivated my 9th grade students last year.  After watching the scene, they started guessing what would they do in that situation and we played a “Lost Island Game”, where they had to choose either 3 things or 3 people they would take with them to a deserted island. It was a great revision of grammar and vocabulary we had been working with throughout the year.

The last option, and I mean the last because not everyone has an Internet connection at school. is to work with youtube or other online videos. There are thousands of videos to watch and, again, you can choose the best to fit the likes of your students.

Some interesting links to check:

Video: Animals, Travel, Kids – National Geographic

Teacher Tube

Very Funny Ads

Learning English Through Movies

The English Learner Movie Guides

English Trailers

Teaching with Film and Video


{January 16, 2009}   Online Learning

For the past 4 or 5 days, I’ve been taking part on a series of online teaching and learning sessions, and I’m really looking forward to tell you all about them.They are 6 week courses and this was the first week.
Some courses’ topics are blogging, digital media and education, teaching a language and conflict resolution in the classroom.
I’ll try to upload a weekly summary of the activities, so you can see what this geekyteacher does during her holidays!

BTW, I have to sit down here and order my bookmarks! I’ve got lots of nice things to share with you, but first, they should be in the right place 😉

{January 9, 2009}   Private Students

As many English teachers, I have some private students at home. They are mostly teens and adults who want to improve their level of Spoken English or need some business lessons, and children who need some extra practice.

I generally prepare a syllabus according to the needs of the students, but following some general principles, such as:

–  he or she knows basic grammar rules

– he or she has a wide range vocabulary for his level

– he or she needs to develop ___________ skills.

Of course, not all of this can be prepared beforehand. More than often I prepare the first two classes as general review, and the third class develops in the form of a test. Then,  I can decide where I should focus my classes on.  When I meet the student for the fourth time, I explain how classes will develop from that point onwards. They generally like this way of work, because they think it’s more personal and they can practice the areas they feel they are weaker on. Another advantage for students is that, generally with this kind of classes, they can choose the topic areas to work with. Men for example like cars and sports more than other vocabulary areas, whereas some women prefer topics such as shopping and cooking more than others. I really feel this helps them be more comfortable in their classes, because those are vocabulary areas they know well in their mother tongue, and with a bit of help, they can master them in a very short time.

I keep a record of class time and topics for each student, and devise a short term syllabus. If this works well, then, I go on planning my classes.

Do you have any specific tips for this kind of classes? How  do you manage with private students? Do you teach at home or do you go to your student’s place?

{January 7, 2009}   The Importance of Reading

When working with children, literacy and reading ability are crucial factors. Little children learn to read generally at home, with their parents. But sometimes, parents leave the teaching of some basic reading to school teachers, what makes our work harder.

How do children acquire their reading ability?

Up to age 8, children first learn to listen and to speak, while later, they start to explore reading and writing. From early babyhood, parents develop children’s literacy, helping him to learn the basics of conversation and communication. Throughout childhood, children develop communication skills as they try to express their needs and desires through words and body language.
At the age of 1, babies start associating words to meaning, and by the age of 3, most children are fluent speakers without conscious effort. Children develop the four language  macroskills gradually and at the same time while they listen to their favourite stories and retell them on their own, play with alphabet blocks, draw pictures, scribble and write letters and words, and watch adults read and write. Children learn by discovering language as they play, explore, and interact with others. During play time, children develop some literacy skills such as sorting, matching, classifying and sequencing materials.Other activities, that include playing with their hands and fingers (such as rolling playdough) help children strengthen and improve the coordination of the small muscles in their hands and fingers used to control writing tools such as crayons, markers, and brushes.
Reading and writing skills develop together, both by looking at how other people write and by doing their own writing. First, they scribble or use their own spelling to communicate a message. They dictate stories and turn pags of storybooks to see what happens next. They gradually recognize specific letters in unfamiliar words and write “words” made up of known letters. They start sayinh the alphabet and fingerpointing while being read to. Later, they will spell words phonetically, relating letters to sounds and they will recognise words that rhyme. By the next stage, children will master conventions of written language: recognize lower and upper case letters, correct spelling and the use of spaces between words. WIth some practice, these will happen automatically.
What is important here is phonemic awareness – the ability to associate specific sounds with specific letters and letter combinations. Phonemes, the smallest units of sounds, form syllables and words are made up of syllables. Children who understand that spoken language is made up of discrete sounds – phonemes and syllables – find it easier to learn to read. Effective readers and writers can recognize letters and words, follow rules for writing, and use routine skills and thinking to create meaning. Many children develop phonemic awareness naturally, over time. Simple activities such as frequent readings of familiar and favorite stories, poems, and rhymes can help children develop phonemic awareness. Other children may need to take part in activities designed to build this basic skill.
By the age of 8, children improve their comprehension by relating what is new to their background knowledge, creating and changing mental pictures and making predictions. It is at this age that children start figuring out the meaning of unknown words and understanding elements of literature by comparing different stories, settings, characters and events. Children can recognize various simple genres and recreating similar stories on their own, while using correct and appropriate conventions of language (spelling, capitalization, punctuation, legible writing, a wide range of vocabulary and complete sentences.
Learning to read and write is critical to a child’s success in school and later in life. When children become good readers in the early grades, they are more likely to become better learners throughout their school years and beyond.

How does this relate to English language teaching?

When teaching a second language, one can use the students’s knowledge of the mother tongue as a basis for teaching. Children learn a second language just as they learnt their mother tongue. They first develop their listening and speaking skills and later reading and writing ones. At the age of 9 they are capable of understanding and differenciating second language grammar rules and structures, so a good basis of reading in the mother tongue is really useful to help the children compare and contrast the different languages. As a teacher of English to Spanish speakers, I find really useful to include the teaching of phonics to younger students, to help them recognize sounds of the English Language. A great resource for this was foniks,  a site with phonics reading practice. To introduce pronunciation, I sometimes use some material from ship or sheep, a minimal pair ESL pronunciation practice site and from fonetiks, a site with pronunciation exercises.

Reommendation: Younger children LOVE the story of Oh and Ah!

Some extra reading on the topic:,1607,7-140-5233-23207–,00.html

{January 7, 2009}   Teaching VERY young kids

Did you know that is possible to teach English (or any other second language) to babies?

When they are 8 months old, babies are capable of acquiring every single language we know about. The babies will be receiving input from the language speakers, and, perhaps, they will not use the language for many years. But when they start having formal education in this second language, they will magically remember rules and pronunciation from their babyhood.

{January 6, 2009}   Holiday Research

While on holidays, most of us like doing some research on education topics. These are the most interesting articles I came across during these past weeks:

Interesting information about Braile

Pinter and the odd literary law for geniuses with crazy politics

Christmas food language is ‘pointless waffle’

The Brain cannot Multitask -> really interesting!

Spanish for business

Reading is Fundamental

Banished words of 2009 -> this reminds me of a teacher I had long time ago…

Holiday and New Year lessons and links

PD Guides

High School Ace

World History and Geography

Writing Fix

Homework Help

Digital History

Teacher Resources: American History

et cetera