Our Educational Message

Hi, and welcome to our blog. This space is designed to share ideas and methodologies that we use to teach Turkish teenagers. In particular, there is a strong focus on ICT-ELT, which means if you like visual and technological support for your style of teaching, this blog is for you. My colleague, Brentson Ramsey, has been working alongside me for three years. He is also a big proponent of the ICT-ELT Paradigm, which means he will also be posting from his own teaching perspective on the blog.

2010 was the beginning of this new journey, and although there is no definitive ICT-ELT road map available for everyone to follow, it is exciting to explore the technological means to make teaching more fun and affective for students. Our main message is for teachers to ADOPT & ADAPT the paradigm shift for their own needs, and remember that

Thursday, 23 January 2014


There are so many ELT activities out there for teachers use, adapt and have success with in terms of quality student outcomes.  Many have become outdated, and not moved with the times; whereas others can still be effective if they are brought up to modern times with the advent of ICT-in-ELT.  One such classic activity is the "What would you do if you had to survive on / or travel to a desert island?" i.e. What items, things etc would you need if you were in that position?  This is asked of the students, and they have to make a list.  Of course, as a language teacher, the activity would not be worthwhile unless some grammar or language component was added for production and practice.

There are many possible add-ins, and for this section of our syllabus, we decided to use the 
2nd or Unreal Conditional:
         "If I was/were stuck on a desert island, I would need/ have / take + noun..."

         "If I went on holiday to a paradise island, I would need / take + noun..."

Here is the BLENDSPACE of the activity which displays and explains how to do the first part of the lesson using De Caprio's "The Beach", and the second part which has the modern twist (of sorts).


The horrific advent of reality tv shows has meant the proliferation of various ideas and concepts disguised as entertainment and "good" tv.  From Big Brother where several rather uninteresting people are herded together and imprisoned in a house until they are eliminated one by one, week by week. In the early days these shows would command millions of couch potatoes overly excited and engaged in the utter nonsense.  However, that format became tired, so, as with all tv, it has now evolved into locations, exotic or otherwise, and "normal" Joe Public has been replaced by so-called minor celebrities, who are filmed in jungles, on desert islands and in very uncomfortable situations where their tenacity, bravery and downright stupidity are put to the test.  

The show we included in this lesson, and the one that really got our students worked up and seriously reactionary interested was. "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here."

The episode we used, taken from YouTube, and shown below, with George Takei, from The Star Trek franchise, being made to eat different species of live insects in order to get main course and beverage credit later that day.  This, in theory, is to enable him to survive. 

Watch it now to get a sense of why our students were going crazy when they saw it.

The question we then posed was, "What would you eat, if you were George Takei?" 
(The question embedded with the unreal conditional to let students here it being used.)

The great thing was to see the students' reactions to the "celebrity" being faced with his gourmet meals and his brave effort to swallow the living bugs.


There is another extract from the horrible show described above.  This time another celebrity, not George, is asked to stick her head in a photocopier (in the Jungle? --OF COURSE!!) and retrieve three objects that are under the lid.  The only problem is there are hundreds of giant cockroaches squirming about.  Dohh... We are going to do it tomorrow on the last day before the holiday...

Wednesday, 22 January 2014


THE RANT: Here is my second recent post on the current buzz phrase and practice (and a previous post): "Using Affective Formative Assessments in Your Classrooms"
If you have read my last post, or myriad of others being pumped out from every academia loving nook and cranny stalwart-teacher around the globe, you will know that FAs are tools used to measure the progress of students in their daily turgid endeavours to build a so-called future for themselves.  This post is not meant to  offend those who disbelieve this "new fangled approach" to assessment is the only way to go, but only to show some real life examples of how, if you try this method of teacher-student trust and assessment with transparent walls, you can have genuine outcomes that make students feel like they have done something for themselves that is worthwhile.

THE BACKGROUND: Now that we are at the end of the semester and in the final week.  Apart from going along to the school sports fest we felt it better to also continue with our lessons; even though the students do whinge at the prospect.  However, once they get started they do start to realise it isn't a bad idea compared to watching little 'uns running around in frenetic swarms following a basketball or football.  We came up with an activity that simply kills many birds with one stone, or if I use an educational idiom: teaches and engages all the class with one interesting activity.


Download the songs from my Google-Drive Cloud 

 CD 1           

CD 2          

          CD 3                     

These files can now be shared with your students, so that they can get on with choosing the song they like and the song they don't like.  The whole lesson has also been turned into a BLENDSPACE tutorial, which explains it very clearly 

Now that you have the background materials, Blendspace tutorial and activity ready to go, fire on and have your engaged lesson...

A student, Talya, shows her finished product in this video


In our classes we assess the students 51 formative times in each semester.  For some FAs we give grades and for others feedback both verbally and in written or video form.  We also have peer-to-peer feedback, and this really makes the students feel happy that they get to be part of their friend's Performance Grade assessment. One other highly successful FA are Can Do statemenst and interviews based on the CEFr.  Again students welcome this assessment because they really do get to be part of their own learning outcomes, personal reflection and the opportunity to discuss face to face with their teachers what it is that they have to do to keep growing.

You note that we DO GRADE FORMATIVELY as we believe students need to have a gauge on where they are at any given time.  Transparency, continuous reflection and joint-understanding of what each student ahs to do makes for a much more positive atmosphere and environment.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

SPRE it up with Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes is arguably one of the most well-known comic strips around the world. There is a small part inside all of us that connects with a young, mischievous boy, his imaginary stuffed animal, and the adventures that they experience together. Though not that popular in Turkey, even some of our teenage students have heard of it. Those that haven't, quickly associate themselves with Calvin, and become interested in reading more of the comic strips in their free time.
For this reason, my colleague wanted to incorporate Calvin and Hobbes in a creative, yet enjoyable project in which the students would have to come up with their own stories, and create the dialogue for it. We found one of our favourite original Calvin and Hobbes strips, and with the aid of technology, we erased the dialogue between the two characters, as pictured below. Then, in classic ELT-style, we print off the comic for the students, who, using the pictures as a guide, create their own scenarios.

This seems like nothing new, you might be saying to yourself.  This type of activity has been done millions of times. True, indeed, but in this version, there is much more going on behind the scenes, per se. Creating the dialogue for the comic strip is the end product of several lessons focusing on, and scaffolding of, the SPRE model of analysis and organization.

I was introduced to SPRE by my colleague, David Mearns, several years ago, and have loved the simplicity of it ever since. In fact, he wrote a blog post on the model itself two years who, which you can read by clicking here. Briefly however, SPRE is a model of analysis that can break down any well-written story, be it print or media, into four basic elements...

Describing the main character(s), the setting, and the situation he/she/they find themselves in at the beginning of the story.


Identifying the problem(s) that the protagonist faces.

Explaining how the protagonist tries to solve the problem(s) that he/she faces.


Concluding how the story ends in regards to the protagonist and the problem.
It is amazing how simple, yet effective it is in trying to understand the root of any story.  However, it doesn't only have to apply to fictional stories. It can apply to real life stories as well, and one area that gets our students totally engaged is sports, which is how he first introduce the SPRE model to them.
Turkey, like many countries around the world, is extremely passionate about football. Therefore, we knew that this would get most of the students on board straightaway. We introduced the 2005 Champions League final between Liverpool and AC Milan, which was held in Istanbul.  If you are not familiar with the match, it is easily one of the most enthralling football matches you will ever see.  Liverpool were losing 3-0 in the first half, but managed to come back and tie the match in the second half, 3-3.  The game went on to extra-time, where Liverpool won on penalty kicks. We made a tutorial for this SPRE from a Liverpool point of view on Blendspace, which can be reached here.

Thereafter, we have the students go through other SPRE tutorials on Blendspace based on basketball, as well as the life story of Robert Downey Jr. Moreover, the students go back through all of the short stories and ESL readers that we have done throughout the semester, and we discuss the SPRE models for them.

By this time, the majority of the students have a decent idea of what SPRE means and what it is used for.  Once you get to that point, you can move on to more creative SPRE projects to see whether they truly understand the concept or not, leading us back to Calvin and Hobbes.

So, before the students even begin to consider thinking about the dialogue that they will write between the characters, we led them through an exemplar that we had made with the same comic strip, as pictured just above.  After reading it out as a class, the students had to identify the SPRE within it, which is as follows...


Calvin is unhappy because he has to do a research paper on bullying.


He doesn't want to do it, especially when he finds out that his partner in the project is a girl.


Calvin calls his partner, and tries to make the excuse that he has no way to connect to the internet.  The girl doesn't believe him, and tells him that he should find a way to connect to the net, like going to a local cafe.


In the end, Calvin continues to be unhappy and hate girls because he has to do the project.

Finally, after going through our exemplar, the students were ready to get started on their own stories.  To begin with, they had to first write down the SPRE model of their stories in their notebooks. This step allowed them to think more deeply about it, in addition to how their stories were going to match up with the pictures in the comic strip.  Once they showed them to us, and if were satisfied, they could then continue on with writing the dialogue.  

In the end, most of the students came up with creative, yet funny stories, an example of which is pictured just below.  Furthermore, through all of the scaffolding, the students had a better appreciation of how the SPRE model is beneficial for their learning.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Q-Running Around = Grammar Engagement

Imagine this scenario... It's Monday morning of a brand new week of English lessons.  You walk in the classroom shortly before the beginning of class.  As you are getting your things prepared for the lesson, you look around the room.  Some of the students have their heads on their desks trying to count just a few more sheep before the bell rings, while other students are still finding their way sleepily to the room.  You then begin the class by telling them that the day's topic is a new grammar point.  Without fail, some, if not all of the students, will begin to moan and sigh, immediately switch their brains off, and go back to sleep.

Unfortunately, this is an all too common reaction towards grammar in the ESL classroom.  There is a false perception by many students that grammar teaching is always going to be boring.  Yet, when you stop to think about their reasons for thinking this way, it is completely understandable.  For most students, grammar lessons are usually spent copying down the teacher's notes from the blackboard, and then going through some fill-in-the-gap drilling in a course book.  While these two activities are indeed beneficial to a point, they are all that far too many students do with grammar.  They are rarely given a chance to do something creative or productive in a real world sense.  That is when grammar truly can be fun and engaging.  Yes, it is possible, and I will show you an activity that my colleague and I have used for the past two years that consistently gets our students asking for more.  We call it a Grammar Run.

The basic premise behind our Grammar Run activity is to get the students into small groups, and together they go to five different areas of the school, led by QR codes, as seen just above.  Once they scan the code, it directs them to one of the five places, and once there, there is an A3-sized paper with a question at the top, and their names below.  They must then answer the question in a grammatically-correct sentence about that particular place. 

For example, let's say group 1 is directed towards the library.  On the paper, seen just below, the students must write a sentence about what they did (focusing on the simple past tense) in the library last week.  It could be from something as simple as, 'I read a book in the library last week', to something a bit more challenging like, 'I came to the library last week to research my topic for an academic essay'.

Thereafter, the students scan the QR code at the bottom of the page, which then directs them to the next place in the school, and the procedure is repeated.  When all groups have finished, we collect the papers, check them for any grammar or logic issues, and then give the students feedback on their performance.

The brilliant part about this activity is that it is so easily adaptable to any grammar tense.  Instead of practicing the past simple tense, you could simply change the question on the paper from, 'What did you do here?', to, 'What do you do here everyday?', to help students practice the simple present tense.  It can be used for conditionals as well. For instance, 'If you could eat anything in the lunchroom today, what would it be?' That way, you don't have to put in all the effort of organizing this activity to just do it one time.  

Yes, it maybe be hard to believe, but your students will want to do this activity again and again.  They love having the opportunity to get out of the classroom and walk around the school, but with an academic purpose.  In addition, they get to use their smartphones to scan the QR code, which is always a plus for teenagers.  Then, there is the engagement of it being like a scavenger hunt, as they are not quite sure of the five places around the school that we have chosen.  That, of course, is adaptable as well.  Each time could be five different places.  If you were to choose the library and lunchroom the first time, then you could change it to the gym and theater the next.

Our students recently had a chance to have their say on a class survey about the activity, and here are the results...

Give it a try!  I am sure that you won't be disappointed.  Furthermore, stay tuned to the blog, as there will be another post on a different variation of this activity... paperless!

Monday, 13 January 2014


This cartoon really tells the story for far too many teachers.  It never  ceases to amaze me how many colleagues over the past two decades have confused learning with a summative exam, and that it is the only form of (unnatural) learning (my addition of "unnatural") they can possibly enter into since "that's what children want and expect". 

I think that it is the most unfair, improper and incorrect assumption from anyone who works to this model.

The following definition I found of Formative Assessment, courtesy of Carnegie Mellon & The Eberly Center is the most succinct, erudite and logical one I have seen, so far.  The reason I write this is because the confusion this newly formed 'buzzword' is causing around colleagues.  Anyway, here it is below, see what you think for yourselves...

So as to keep those proponents of exams happy, here is the Summative description

In any case, why would have I posted these pictures on my blog, if I didn't have a class activity for you to try and use with your students.   This activity involves Formative Assessment and includes the following:

Explicit grammar through 'classic' styled drills (not preferred-but they give a focused structure for the beginning of any new grammar point);

Video Prompts to get some springboarded production in short response (we use a lot of video just to get students engaged and to use the grammar at that time);

Students are given pictures of people, places and things where they had to write a sentence for each, partner up and make a co-joined paragraph on GoogleDocs, which was monitored by the teachers (very useful and effective formative assessment tool as you can give continuous feedback in real-time throughout the activity from your own lap top or smart board);

These were three lengthy activities done over a week with other lessons interspersed. Today's lesson involved our GRAMMAR RUN activity. This involves having the students listed on an A3 paper, and posted around the school in 5 different locations.  

We TRIPTICO the students names to get a selection and randomized groups.  The students then use their mobile phones to read the first QR CODE.

Once they reach their destinations, they each have to write a sentence relating to the place it has been posted. ie library, canteen, the Principal's office, infirmary and computer lab.  The group is theoretically responsible to assist the weaker students (however, with 14-year olds that is nigh on impossible to achieve)


Once all the groups have finished their sentences, they return to class with the final group returning with the papers.  We then scan them on the PDF printer, and send by email to our school accounts.  We then enter into class peer-check review of each person's sentences.

This last stage is the reason I am even more excited than normal.  It involves TRIPTICO again, but this time we use WORD MAGNETS.  Basically, in between classes we take two sentences from each student's effort to write a sentence using a relative clause.  We write it properly and make a jumbled ICT-powered line of words.  The students come to the board and rearrange the sentences into the correct form. Watch the video below

I must say that I really felt like we had done a good thing for the students.  We have only been doing and giving feedback for this tricky grammar point.  It culminated in this activity today.  The whole process involved listening, speaking, writing, rewriting, thinking, recall, working-outside-the-class, group work and ICT.  This did NOT take much planning; in fact apart from a few QR codes and photocopies it is as easy if not easier than dragging through endless drilling exercises as a means to an end.
We asked the students to write a response on Edmodo to give their honest feelings about the whole process, and with it ending in the Word Magnets. Here they are...