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

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Making COMICS work for your students during the summer and beyond...

Show me any teenager, no matter their nationality, who doesn't know the Simpsons. That is why, when I started my summer remedial support program, I thought of using their comics as a way to outreach students and make them see the brilliance of reading through comedy and quality life lessons. So, having found some nice pdf versions of some comics I shared them on the students' Edmodo classroom and assigned them to read the first story, which is only 14 pages long.  It had an instant effect and the students responded favourably instead of the normal moans and groans associated with summer reading.

The easiness of producing questions for such stories cannot be understated.  You can type up fifteen to twenty questions in no time at all.  That is becasue I suggest producing surface comprehension questions.  You should focus on the surface nature of the narrative, and that way, at the very least, you can undwerstand if the students have read the stories or not. The students don't want to be bogged down with seriously thought-provoking teasers during their summer holidays down by the pool.  Getting the to read in the target language at all means you have succeeded somewhat.

Apart from the students just simply enjoying the story of Homer

and his family of rather adorable characters, you can get the students to pick up on new vocabulary items along the way.  Once they find some, they can then find the meanings and write sentences or mini paragraphs to show that they have understood what they mean and how best to use them in written English.

I went into the comic first and looked for the words I thought the students might not have seen before.  This way I can check once they all respond on Edmodo with their sentences or mini paragraphs to see they have found them all.  The list is below

I always keep an answer key on my google drive so that I have instant access to the information for either feedback day or when we return to class.  Since the advent of google drive I have made this a must-do thing for myself, and it has meant a lot leass time spent faffing around looking for answers to questions you maybe made three months earlier.  I thank my colleague Brentson for convincing me of overly planning each unit we prepare, and providing ourselves with these real time answer keys.

The final part of the activity is to make a quiz based on the questions you found when you were reading through the comic.  As I wrote earlier the majority of the questions are surface from the narrative just to keep the students aware they are being monitored for their summer school work.  I will throw in perhaps a teaser that also gets them to think more about the theme or storyline, but it is just to vary the question type.  Nothing too heavy.  In this quiz that question was basically testing whether the students could work out that the Simpsons creators like to have a wee social commentary going on in the sub text.

This image is from Edmodo Quiz feature, and it is set up as short response questions.  I prefer those to multi-choice or T/F for reading, since students tend to guess and don't read properly if you chose the latter two types.  It also gets the EFL students to practice using the proper syntax in their answers.

Once they have done the quiz and had feedback of right or wrong and why, I get the students to write a wee testimony saying whether they liked the comic or not, and hopefully why.  The last part is more difficult to get them to do in the summer, but it is always nice to see what they think anyway, if they write one.

So, all in all the experiment was good, and I will be adding more comics for the students to work on.  It is refreshing for them and a lot less tedious than heavy-laden prose for them to try and read in the summer holidays.  I wish you luck should you want to try this idea also with your own students...there are links to the materials below this image

Monday, 1 September 2014


Unlike most teenagers, who are dragged back early (in their view) from sun-drenched summer holidays and forced back into formal education, every teacher I have ever met loves the first day of school.  It is not in any way a masochisitic appreciation, but, indeed, it is the pleasure of getting to meet your new group of students that you will work with for the upcoming academic year. However, it can be quite daunting for students to stand up and give some personal background to their peers; especially in a foreign language. So, I would like to share some ideas for you to try in your classes, should you not have any of your own, or you just would like to try something new and different.

First of all, I do not think it necessary to have the students introduce themselves at the outset.  Instead, we showed our promotional video posted below...

The video lets the students see something of what they are to expect in the following year.  Now, that they are all smiling and feeling a little more relaxed we then introduce them to some activities that take almost no effort, but end up being extremely effective.


I particularly like this to start the ball rolling, since as you will notice, there is no language transfer going on.  It is all about eye-balling and movement through various signals and visual prompts.


With this activity the students have their first opportunity to communicate verbally, albeit the idea behind the activity is for recognition of an unknown person, and memory of the students names that have gone before them.


We wrapped with this today, and I felt it was the appropriate time to have them write a little sentence so that they could develop it should they want to.  We had several attempt to expand on their choices, which was very refreshing.  In fact, we were pleasantly surprised by some of the ideas the youngsters produced on a nervous scary first day.

We got the feeling that the students enjoyed their introduction to Hisar Hazirlik.  It was a smooth one, and nobody seemed to get stressed out, not did they go silent and introverted.  Tomorrow, we will do an orientation walkabout the school with 25 points of interest, and necessary places like the Principal's office, infirmary, library and food hall. My colleague and I are both looking forward to our year ahead in Hisar Hazirlik.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Publish Your Docs to the Web

For more than two years now, I have been an avid user of Google Drive in and out of the classroom.  Both my colleague and I have written several posts on the blog describing the various ways that we use Google Drive, from doing group presentations to giving students feedback, both done in real time.  We have enjoyed using it so much that, lucky for us, our school agreed to get us more storage space in Google Drive to put all of our resources there for instant access wherever we are. We now have over 100 GB of space to use as we please.

The amazing part, for me at least, is that the more I use Google Drive, the more I discover new tools and tricks it has to offer.  My most recent discovery was how to publish a Google Doc to the web.  This came about as my colleague and I were asked by our principal about how we could put our UbD (Understanding by Design) curriculum unit plans onto Drive to make it more accessible for her to keep track of what is being taught at school.  After coming up with a basic UbD template on Drive (which you are more the welcome to use by clicking on the image below), we spent the next several days copying and pasting our exisiting UbD unit plans on Microsoft Word to Drive.  


After that, I wanted to make them as easy to access as possible, and that's when I stumbled upon the 'Publish to the web' feature.  For avid users of Drive, like myself, you will certainly be aware of the normal 'Share' settings available at the top right-hand side of the screen after you create a Google Doc. You are presented with three options to share your document: publish on the web; anyone with the link; or only with specific people, as pictured below.

If there's already an option to make your Doc public on the web, then what's the advantage of publishing it to the web? I considered this myself before I actually tried out the publishing option.  However, what I discovered is a huge difference in speed when accessing the document.  When you share a document on the web, as opposed to publishing it, you have to wait a few seconds for the Google Drive to open up, and then the document appears.  On the other hand, when you publish a Doc, Google Drive actually turns your document into a web page, meaning you get instant access to it.

In order to show you this, I have created a test example for you to try out.  I created two Google Docs, one of which has been shared on the web, and the other has been published to the web.  Click the two links below...

Google Doc Shared Publicly on the Web

Google Doc Published on the Web

What do you think?  For my colleague and I, it was a no-brainer.  For documents that we want to share publicly from now on, we will certainly publish them to the web.  That is what we did, getting back to my earlier story, with our UbD plans.  We published them all to the web, and then linked them all together into one Google Doc (pictured below) for the principal to access whenever she wants.

In short, if you want to publish a Doc on the web, you can do it only two mouse clicks.  After you create a Doc, click 'File' at the top left-hand side of the screen, and then 'Publish to the web'.  Google Drive will then ask if you if you are sure you want to publish your document.  Click the 'OK' button, and you are done. Copy the URL address, and share it or link it wherever you want.  It is a wonderful tool that Google has come up with, and with all the research and development that Google is putting into Drive, there is without doubt doing to be many more features to be discovered in the near future. 


Monday, 11 August 2014

VIDEO CLIPS Can Springboard the Creative Process...

Being a long time advocate of using video in the classroom, I am constantly looking for ways to include it in almost all of my lessons with my young teenage student demographic.  They love visuals for lessons, and if they are presented with quality, thought-provoking ones, they tend to respond most favourably. Therefore, it makes sense to use visuals and video to stimulate the creative process in L2-students.  

The film I have chosen to use in this activity is a British prison drama, Starred UpIt is one of the gritiest and most powerful prison dramas I have watched in many years.  However, it is certainly not suitable for anyone under 18, so you may be asking what are you using it for with 14-15 yr olds then?  I 
agree, and would never do that.  In fact I don't use full length featured films as a springboard for lessons.  That is totally unnecessary, since there are fabulous editing tools now available for you to use to cut segments of films (e.g. Wondersher's Video Convertor- which allows you to hardcode subs too). It means when you find a section that is excellent, but the whole film is not needed, you can present it without any repurcussions of inpropriety. Plus, you don't use up valuable class time watching the whole movie.

That is why I have chosen this clip very carefully for the activity.

First of all, watch the short clip below and I will explain how I intend to use it with my new intake of students this year for a creative writing piece.


So, as this is the hook of the movie I thought it a really good time to show the students how important that is for any story, visual or textual.  I was struck by how well the director captured the mood of what it must be like for a young prisoner moving up from a juvenile detention center to an adult prison.  In the five minutes long clip, there is no dialog, only guards barking orders.  But, as a viewing audience member looking in on the plight of people like the teenager, you get a sense of foreboding of what a person is faced with when they first arrive in prison.

First of all I will give some necessary vocabulary for the students to use in their writing:

jail,  prison, prisoner, cell, guard, casuals, isolation, exclusion, lonliness, parole, depression

to strip, to stand still, to keep quiet,  to obey,  (not) to talk back

sad, frightened, worried, scared, terrified, lonely, alone, isolated, bored, angry, disappointed, regretful, isolated, embarrassed, ashamed, naive 

These lists, although not exhaustive, can give the students more choice for writing, and allow them the opportunity to write more freely during the process.

Before the students begin, I will have a small discussion that asks some critical thinking prompts or Essential Questions (EQs) as we prefer to call them.

What would you feel like being locked up in prison?

How do people cope with the situation?

Why do prisoners feel alone?

What do you think are the frustrations of being in a cell?

Should prisoners be locked up alone for great lengths of time?

Why do some prisoners become repeat offenders?

After we have discussed these salient points, I will get the students to consider how the character from the clip is feeling on his arrival. They will then be told to write as the character in prison and how he is feeling on that first day.  The next paragraph will be one week later.  The final paragraph will be learning that he has parole.  I will also ask the students to write the piece in the 1st person.  The students will do this on penzuclassroom and submit by the due date.

I know this is nothing new for you, but I wanted to share how it is possible to use clips from films that can hopefully lead to students writing more freely in English L2.  If we personalize the task, and get them to be creative for a character (probably) none of them will ever be, it could make for some quality writing practice and allow them to see how their creativity is an integral part to the learning of any language.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

EDPUZZLE: Listen to this, it is seriously awesome!

Every few months a new ICT-Tool catches my eye, and I get hooked, obsessed, passionate and tell every teacher I talk to that it WILL really make a difference to their lessons. Well, that time is here again. My find, actually my colleague Brentson's find, is EDPUZZLE, a marvellous ICT-listening-TOOL. It is that good, I know you are going to start using it once you see the easiness with which you can make one, and how much your students will love it.


Apart from ICT the reason for posting this is I believe by giving numerous listening formative assessments like these, the students can train their ears for better listening.  I noticed this by observing how many students, who may have been having lessons for up to eight years, yet still come to the English-preparatory-for-high-school-program with less than 20% in the final exams and after very poor returns on year-long projects in year eight, still have better listening comprehension compared to the students with little or no English.  Even those more successful student types who surpass those 'eight-years-in-English' students for reading and writing after a couple of months, tend to be no better in listening than those students with more years exposure to the sounds.  This has perplexed and frustrated me for years, so when I saw this tool I jumped at the chance of using it with a focus on making and ensuring the students with less exposure have more focused listening comprehension activities through this approach and platform.  The initial responses were extremely promising with the students saying how much they had loved it. It appears that since they can go back 'n forth and listen to it at their own pace with headphones on, then there is zero embarrassment or self-consciousness with peers.  


The first step is to go to www.edpuzzle.com and sign up as a teacher. You will then have an account to make edited videos from your favorite shows/films, upload from several websites like youtube and vimio, or use video footage with your own audio track (this is good if your students like, and are used to your voice, so they can tune in quicker- it also allows you to share some of your own personal information with them, and they always like that).

Next, you work out the interface, which is reasonably friendly , and you will have it down in a few clicks.  You will make your videos, make your classes to which you then assign the videos you wish for those students, it gives you a summary of how much has been watched and formatively assessed for checking with the students later.

After you have uploaded a clip, edit or favourite video on to the site, OR, you have used the various websites available as direct uploads for video content, here is how it works...

Watch this video feed forward to learn more...


Once you make the videos they are stored in the Edpuzzle-listening cloud for easy access. 

Here below are some  EDPUZZLEs I made earlier and have embedded for you to have fun. 







I trust you enjoyed doing the EDPUZZLES?  I would really be interested to hear any feedback from you, and if you do I promise to get right back to you.  We could even collaborate should you wish, starting in August.  I will also be showcasing this platform at the Hisar School Google-edu conference in Novemeber.  Watch this space for more details. 

Saturday, 7 June 2014


Although students may not like Reading and Writing while they are at high school, there is no doubt that they will have become reasonably proficient in both skills should they wish to go on to tertiary education.  That means, for me as a prep. teacher or hazırlık oğretmenı (in Turkish), I have the opportunity to try and convince my students that if they have the fundemental building blocks for a well-organized academic essay, it will go a long way to support them throughout their high school and university life. Many of you might comment that this way is too restrictive for the creative process, and I would respond that I know it is very prescriptive, and controlling. However, it gives EFL-students the basic blocks for building on their own creative process once they have mastered the organizational model of this framework.  That would be why I believe it is a worthy model to use while teaching the writing process in the early years of high school academic writing.

So, I prepared a powerpoint that goes through each part of the organizational process, and to which I will now make you party via pics.  The original powerpoint can be found HERE

So, how does this work in practice?  I will post snips of a student's work where you can see how she used her online journal, penzuclassroom, to write up a response based on the frmaework described above.  She then received color-coded feedback:


post-feedback draft

The drafts were done using teacher feedback and academic organizational models set up and checked by me.  However, what makes it exciting is how this students has managed to transfer the information, and done her own process by producing a superb draft for her final portfolio.  Here it is below, and remember this girl is fifteen, Turkish and had no feedback for this submitted essay.

What makes me very pleased is that Gözde, the student who produced this great work, has taken to the system very comfortably; the system and framework that she can now hone and develop, so as to identify her own academic writing style for the future. If teachers have any doubt that the Writing Process doesn't work, they should just have a wee read of Gözde's essays. 

Monday, 26 May 2014


My long time EFL teaching colleague (different school) and Scots freen (different region), Gordon Dobie (A West Coaster, but he canny help thon), shared with me an activity for the practice and production of REPORTED SPEECH with my students. He uses it himself, and his students claim it is the best thing they do all year.  I immediately wanted some of the action and he explained how it worked. So, I informed Brentson, my colleague, and we made a BLENDSPACE tutorial for the students and also we wanted to share with you all.  Of course, the tutorial is self explanatory, but I would like to break it down a bit more on this platform so that you can see it at a glance without moving away from here.


Get your students to think of their favorite song or album of all time (with young teens this can be in an instant for forever depending how fickle they are being.  So, give them a time limit of 5 minutes only.


Tell them to open their computers and go to www.amazon.com or www.amazon.co.uk  to find their song or album they wish to read the reviews about.  There they will see on the left (as above pic shows) 1 - 5 star ratings from which the students can choose.  They should read the 5-Star review first so that they feel good about their own favorite matching someone else's opinion.


The considerations of EFL are part and parcel of our extensive planning, so vocabulary is tantemount to success and growth for the students. Monsieur Dobie is a huge (I don't mean his belly) proponent of extensive vocabulary instruction, and I strongly support him in this.  So, you will ask them to identify as many song/artist/album new examples of language about music itself.  It is surprising how many terms we take as granted being native speakers of the language.  Those items are highlighted in yellow above.
BTW, this is where ICT really comes in handy.  The students take a snip of the review from the website then convert the snip to a pdf or ebook page or insert it into a word document so they can highlight the text.
After they find the new vocabulary and record it for use later, they then find the opinions and lexical cues for use in the reported speech activity itself.  These are highlighted in torquoise or light blue above.


The students then read the one star review, which will undoubtedly keep them engaged, since the reviewer is nothing but negative of the students' favourite song or album.  You can see from the image that the process for vocabulary and opinions is exactly the same.


Now the students start to prepare for the final stage of the activity.  This involves GOOGLE DRIVE (of course), as we always like to get our students up to the board to report their own findings.  But before that, you give them reporting verbs suitable for written work.  Since we have instilled in them the use of SAY & TELL as the primary verbs in speech, it is important to also share with the students some more appropriate verbs for reporting comments in writing.  So, the list above, although not exhaustive, is a good enough size to get started.
The student reports to his/her friend who then checks for authenticity in the original review. They practice these before transferring them to their Google Drive ppp.


After the students have practised the single reported statements, and shared new-found "music" vocabulary with their friends, you will now have them write in paragraph form what they thought of their 1  & 5 star reviews/ers (like above).  I believe this is better than single response reported statements at this time, as they have done plenty during the rules and drilling stages. So, it makes it much more authentic to use the reported speech in a wee report/opinion piece for presenting to the class.  Point of note: there is absolutely no question that when you get students to write in paragraph length chunks there are far less grammar and syntax issues, compared to single statemenst out of context (but you knew that of course:-)

Here is a video of one student, Sinan, who allowed us to video tape his presentation. He is a student who embraces learning and loves to engage in everything we throw at him.  Below his video there are three snapshots of another student, Gözde, who probably has the strongest English in our 2013/14 group, overall.  She actually approaches her lessons with classic Turkish pragmatism, but the difference is she likes to complete everything by herself without cutting any corners; which is unusual for a 14-15 year old girl :-)

I would like to finish this lengthy post by saying thanks to Gordon Dobie for his heads up on the quality activity.  The fundementals are pretty much the same as Gordon's original, but by changing it to allow more ICT and grammar into the activity we have broadened it past Gordon's vocabulary and reading outcomes.  However, that is the way we do things in our program, and the kids have become used to it.  That does not mean it is better, but it is always good to do things that the students are used to; afterall, if you try to do too much in a different way, they simply rebel.