Tuesday, 12 March 2019

World Water Day 2019 on March 22nd

What is World Water Day?  World Water Day serves to raise awareness about water issues such as sanitation problems and water shortages in many parts of the world today.

What can we do in our classrooms to foster this awareness among our students?

I would suggest spending at least a session to watch the following video and reflect on this serious issue:

While  students are watching the video, you can ask them to take notes using this Cornell note-taking template.

If you wish to develop a gap-fill activity, click here.

You can access the complete video transcript from this link.

In any of the choices above, I would start by pre-teaching vocabulary.  First, you can create a word cloud with the essential words and interact with students to see if they know the words. This is a word cloud I have created. If students need further  help and you want to provide them with  definitions of the words, you can use this worksheet I have prepared. 

After working on the essential vocabulary as we described above, you can ask students to work in pairs and retell the content of the video using at least  5  key  words from the list. Finally, some pairs would read their versions of the story  aloud to their peers. By doing this final activity students will be developing their listening and speaking skills as they are used in real-life, that is, combining them as speakers of a language do. 

Monday, 25 February 2019

abpi resources for Science/Biology/Chemistry/PSHE, Citizenship and Physics

 This site  is supported by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. It provides teachers and students with high quality, free, curriculum-related, interactive resources containing animations and diagrams which can be downloaded as long as you accept their terms and conditions, which involve using the resources for educational purposes in the original form they are downloaded. Fair enough, I reckon.  

In order to see the topics you may find, you should visit the  list you can access from here . As you can notice, there are resources for all age ranges, from 5-year-olds  till 16+.  

The resources also include  diagrams and animations you can use in your lesson plans  by downloading them. Some topics  have additional worksheets both for teachers and students. These can all be accessed through the Download library

In the International Year of the Periodic table, may I suggest that you should try out  this great lesson plan ? 

The  resource above  includes an interactive game and so do many other topics. For instance, you can ask your students to find out about the properties of various materials by carrying out this interactive activity. 

Do you need any diagrams, posters  or animations to embed in your unit? Enter the download-library and filter the type of resource, age range and topic you are searching for. 
I am sure you will agree with me that this is a superb site so on behalf of all CLIL teachers I work with,  I would like to express our gratitude to the  Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry  for  the high-quality resources they provide for free and, above all, for their fight against disease.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Teacher talk in CLIL contexts

One of the most recent topics of debate among educators is related to the amount of talking time teachers should spend in their lessons. There is considerable agreement that teachers should make  an effort to reduce their talking time in order to enable students to communicate and, thus, learn. 

However, reducing teacher's talking time and increasing students' choices to communicate becomes a true challenge when we are implementing our subject through the medium of English. The CLIL teacher's speech has to be extra-comprehensible so it needs to have certain specfic features. 

I will focus on this issue in our February seminar session but I will try to arise your curiosity before attending the session by pinpointing the strategies a CLIL teacher can use to reduce his/her talk and make it more effective: 

1) Collegiality is a must if we want to achieve a successful delivery of CLIL lessons.  Collegiality can be defined as collaboration between subject teachers and language teachers. Ask the English teacher of your school to work on the language demands of your content lesson and your students will be able to express what they know about the unit you are focusing on.

 In my view, collegiality also includes working in cooperation with teacher trainers. After having worked with a high number of CLIL teachers for fifteen years now, I can say that anticipating the language demands of  CLIL units and helping teachers by preparing the worksheets on language support students would need has always been very useful to enhance both  understanding and students' output.

(For example, in our seminar session I will provide you with language support on the language for predictions and the language for comparison based on a plan on climate change. 

2) Interactive talk: give your discourse a clear structure (now today we are going to learn three things; we’re going to learn firstly this, secondly this and thirdly this). Interact with students throughout your delivery. Use students' names and help them by letting them enough time to respond and also by allowing linguistically simple answers - at least at the beginning of the process. In CLIL lessons you have to help your learners in a way that is different from the help you would give then if you implemented your subject in L1. This extra-comprehensible aid kit will include being aware of students' difficulties when they speak in the target language and finishing their sentences by providing them with the words they lack, for instance. 

3) Visual support :  charts, diagrams, posters that support learners when they listen to you but also when they have to speak about the contents of the lesson.

4) Make the language for learning explicit: students know the language to classify, compare, contrast, summarize, define, hypothesize... in L1 but not in L2 or L3. Therefore, make it explicit for them. 

Using English for Academic Purposes platform can be very helpful to support students' output across the curriculum. By clicking on "functions" on the left menu, you will acess examples of texts and language for the most common functions used in academic writing. 

5) Use different mechanisms for repetition of basic concepts, be redundant: this does not mean that you have to be boring. What you should do is rephrase, say things in different ways to facilitate comprehension. 

6) Allow silence to be part of your class: students need time to think and this time increases if they are asked to give an answer in a foreign language.  Therefore, allow them to be in silence before they respond. 

To sum up, try to reduce  your talking time and make it more effective by following the clues above. 

For those of you who are working on climate change, may I ask you to listen to what this wonderful girl said in such a convincing way a couple of months ago. You can also carry out the tasks  Tedtalks.com offers or create your own lesson plan. 

Monday, 28 January 2019

QUILLIONZ: an AI-powered question generator that creates reading activites

Educators are hearing more and more about Artificial Intelligence and its benefits to help us save time and effort. Today, I would like to present an AI-powered question generator that allows you to choose a text from any content area in English and create a set of comprehension questions around it. Its name is Quillionz, created by Harbinger AI, a part of Harbinger Group. Harbinger Group is a global leader in eLearning and software product engineering.

What do you have to do to  stop spending long hours on creating questions on the texts your students need to understand? All you have to do is register and find the text you want to use. I would like to point out that Quillionz works best with content that is structured and factual. At the moment, it does not generate higher-order implicit questions but they state it is part of their roadmap so we should keep an eye on the development of this tool. 

Quillionz is perfect if you are looking for questions that ask your learners to identify and recall specific entities, key words, and phrases, define key terms, and describe key ideas encountered in the content. Quillionz also creates questions that evaluate your learners’ ability to explain causal relationships based on explicitly stated reasoning and cite examples of general ideas expressed in the content.

 Would you like to see how  Quillionz  works? Just follow the tutorial below:

I reckon we need tools like this and I am sure that you will find how to make a personalized use of it that suits your classroom purposes. For instance, why not let students choose texts they are interested in and prepare questions they can ask their peers? 

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Science, Technology and Math coming alive through Engineering Design

TeachEngineering is a  digital collection of  hands-on activities for teaching Science, Engineering Design and Maths  at both Primary and Secondary levels.

The TeachEngineering collection provides educators with free access to a  wide range of  videos  which include a thorough description of the activities you can carry out as well as the materials list and the cost of it.

Sprinkles (shortened versions of the most popular activities)  are described both in English and Spanish, which will be very helpful for  some students  in our school contexts. This is a good example of it.

How do you  get access? From any page, enter your search terms into the top right search box or use the Find Curriculum search on the home page to find what you want for your classroom. You can also use the monthly  editor's pickmost popular and recently added features to examine the lessons and activities - all available from the home page.

Membership is not required.  An optional MyTE workspace allows you to keep track of your favorite lessons and activities, or to share your experiences. 

No doubt, our heartfelt  thanks should be given to the University of Colorado  for their great contribution to our STEM classrooms. 

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Two key elements to writing across the curriculum: language support and peer feedback

Writing is an essential skill  which  equips you with the communication and thinking skils you need in society. You are judged by the way you speak but also by  your ability to express your ideas in writing. Therefore, teachers at all levels are very concerned about this skill and ask students to write different pieces of writing across the curriculum. 

How can we engage students into writing in different content areas? In my view, there are two key ingredients to successful writing practice:

1) Language support has to be provided if we want our students to write about specific topics which require specific vocabulary and language patterns. 

Let me give you an example: a Biology teacher wants his/her students to write an essay on "Genetics influence on our personality". This is the final outcome of a unit which he/she has developed on Genetics. The specific vocabulary has been presented throughout the unit but students should  be told about the need to include it in their essay. They will also need some help with specific sentence starters/collocations/ linking devices ... You can find an example I have written for this topic here. The final essay could be similar to this model (taken from https://www.ukessays.com)

2) Peer editing  in the classroom: I think it is worthwhile trying it. By no means does this involve  replacing  teacher's feedback. I suggest carrying out peer revision once in a while and combining it with self-assessment and teacher's assessment.  Through  peer feedback,  students will be more engaged because they will know they are writing for a larger audience, not only for their teacher. Besides, it is easier for them to accept comments from someone who is similar in age. 

 If you wish, you can start with a very simple template like this one I have included content-related items and form-related items on purpose so that both content and language are taken into account by students. I would not include all items the first time you start with peer editing. Just choose two or three items and always  ask students  to emphasize positive comments. The peer editing checklist will gradually include more items , which  will obviously depend on  the language  level, text type and topic you are developing with your students. 

After asking students to give feedback on their peers' pieces of writing,  I recommend you to give your own feedback on each student's essay. I reckon it is very positive to tell the student that you also share one or more of the positive comments the student made about his/her peer's written task - whenever possible. 

I hope the suggestions above will be useful for you. I also hope your students will develop a fondness for  writing. It would be wonderful if they felt  the same way as Anne Frank did:  "I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn"

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A great platform with over 12,000 resources on STEM subjects

This is a brief post which I hope will be very useful for all of you who teach STEM subjects both at Primary and Secondary levels. I developed a seminar session on STEM resources last academic year and I recommended you to register  on the National STEM Centre website. If you have not registered yet, this is a great moment to do so because there have been very powerful developments on the website. Among them, right now I would like to suggest that you should enter the resources section  and start having a look at the collections that best suit your teaching objectives.

If you enter this link, you will be able to filter the resources you need by subject, age, key stage, type and publication year. All pdf files are downloadable for free but there are other resources which may be interesting for you too: videos, simulations, lectures, games, and many others.

This website also gives you the chance to share your work and find helpful teacher-made resources to use in your teaching. You can see these resources made by other teachers here

Needless to say that this powerful platform I am writing about needs a deep analysis and that is one of the topics I will develop in our next seminar session on January 8th 2019.

Therefore, I would like to finish this post   by  telling you that it was a pleasure to work with you in 2018 and I promise to continue helping you to develop your content areas through English in 2019. 

Friday, 30 November 2018

Developing creativity across the content areas

This  post is a follow-up of the previous one, which I wrote to highlight our obligation to ensure that our students will be ready for the challenges they will have to face when they leave our classrooms and enter the professional world. 

Today I would like to reflect on one of these "21st century skills", which has been described as creativity. We have to  try hard to help students to develop this skill and we have to assess it too.

Let me start by  sharing this short video that made me draw some  interesting conclusions: 

After seeing it, I reckon you will agree with me that we sometimes forget that our students need time to be creative. Maybe we  do not forget it but we  do not allow them to spend longer on creative projects because we tend to think about the number of projects /lesson plans that we still have to carry out and we are worried we will not manage to cover them all. Therefore, let us never forget that we should always choose quality over quantity. 

In my view,  special attention should be drawn to the fact that students also  need time to share their  creative outcomes  with their peers. If they do this,  they will learn a lot together and  others' acknowledgement will help to build on their  self confidence. 

As I pointed out above, we have to find ways to assess creativity because assessment has a clear  impact on students' motivation so you can start by explaining that you will consider creativity as part of your assessment and you can start with a simple tool they can easily understand. For example, if students have carried out a PowerPoint Presentation on a topic, you can use this assessment template.  

I  will continue developing this challenging topic in future seminar sessions but now I would like to share a very recent publication by University of Navarre: "Towards Creativity in CLIL", which offers very good examples of creative projects for different content areas.

My most sincere congratulations to participants in these projects:  Ruth Breeze,  Melinda Dooly, Alessandra Agati, Fernando Echarri, Amaia Alvarez, Maika Goya, Laura Medina, Izaskun Tomasena, Henri Eric Castleberry, Laura Giamattei, Abel Miguel-Marqués, Angela Ruotolo, Immacolata Ercolino and Daniela Amendola. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Developing 21st century skills in our classrooms

Nowadays, teachers are faced with the challenge of equipping students with a long list of skills: creative and critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, collaborative skills, leadership, communicative skills and digital literacies. How can we face  this challenge? I would like to suggest a couple of simple activities that will provide learners with the opportunity to develop their creativity and critical abilities by making new connections to the acquired knowledge after a virtual visit to a museum.
ACTIVITY 1: we become artists
Students visit a virtual exhibition of Art objects, choose their favourite one and create a video in which they describe the object to their peers and suggest new ways of using the object nowadays. This video project will enable students to  increase their competences as effective communicators with digital technologies and these skills are and will be essential in their lives.
Language level:
From B1 to C1
Links to virtual exhibitions:
Handouts for the students:
Group work. Students work in groups of 4/5.
Number of sessions:

4 sessions :

1 session to visit the virtual exhibition, choose their favourite Art object and write the description of the object

1 session to  prepare the video script and create the video clip (There is a wide variety of tools for creating videos. Among them, I would like to suggest Screencastify,  which  is a very good tool to create and share videos easily. It is an extension of Google Chrome which will be very appropriate for your Google Classroom contexts)

1  session to rehearse  because they need to talk in English during the videoclip. 

1 session to share their videos with their peers. (The teacher can use "Rubrics to assess students' videos during this session or watch the recorded videos later for assessment)

After this final session, I suggest sharing the videos  with the rest of the students and the families through the school blog or website. 
Integrated skills (reading, listening, speaking and spoken interaction and writing)
ACTIVITY 2: our Art auction
Students create their own Art object/artifact , bring it to the classroom and prepare a short description of it for and Art Auction which will be held in the classroom.
Language level:
From B1 to C1
Handouts for the whole process:
The same handouts for descriptions used in Activity 1 plus:
Several choices are possible: students can create their Art object individually or in pairs. When the Art auction takes place, you will need a student who conducts it and the rest of the students will take turns to sell their objects and bid for others’ objects.
Number of sessions:
This will depend on the number of students and the number of objects but you will need at least 3 sessions (one for the creation process, another one to let students prepare their roles for the auction and the last one for the real auction).

During the auction you can assess students' oral performance by using the handout "Rubrics for oral assessment". If you choose to do this, students should take turns so that all of them act as either the auctioneer or the person who wants to sell his/her object.
Listening, speaking and spoken interaction, writing
I hope these activities will be useful for you. I reckon we have a true challenge ahead and our students will be better equipped for their future if we foster creativity, collaboration and critical thinking in our classrooms.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Teaching the Periodic table of elements through Poetry and Music

Can you think of a better way to  focus  on the Periodic table of elements than through Poetry and Music?  Let me explain what I mean:

- Make your students go to this link  where they will find Mary Soon Lee's original Periodic Table, which will enable them to review the elements  by enjoying Kaiku poems. How? Just by clicking over an element to read the Haiku.

I suggest that you should exploit Lee's idea as follows: 

You can  start by explaining that a Haiku is a Japanese poem consisting of three lines that do not rhyme. You should add that traditional Haikus follow this structure: the first line is 5 syllables. The second line is 7 syllables. The third line is 5 syllables. That's why they are called the 5-7-5 structure.

Then, you can proceed to ask students to work in pairs, choose one  element, read and understand the meaning of the Haiku and create a new Haiku of their own for the chosen element. Encourage the use of on-line dictionaries while students are reading the Haikus and creating their own ones. 

Finally, students would share their elements and the Haikus they have created with their peers. 

- Students will probably have difficulties to pronounce the names of the elements properly . How can you help them? Make them  listen to the Periodic Table song AsapScience offers us on its YouTube channel.

You can find the lyrics here. (No fill in the gaps this time because students will have to make a huge effort  to follow the lines, so just ask them to sing along after they have listened to it twice.)

Please, share your views on the activities above with me. I will be eager to know if they are  useful for you. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Making input comprehensible in CLIL classrooms

As I wrote in previous entries on this blog, there is no doubt that explicit vocabulary instruction is a must in order to succeed at making our students acquire subject-specific vocabulary. The best  results regarding the use of classroom  strategies that facilitate vocabulary acquisition will undoubtedly occur when language teachers and  content area teachers work together. In our next seminar session, which will take place on November 6th, we will talk about your specific schools and the possibility of working as a team .

Right now, I would like to mention four  of  the strategies that any teacher can put into practice and be sure that, if done repeatedly, will have a positive impact on the amount of vocabulary our students acquire:

1)  Keep vocabulary notebooks made up of word maps organized by units.  We will see several examples. This is one from www.readwritethink.org.

2) Visualize the key  words and concepts which are essential in the unit you are teaching.  Do you know about wordsift? It is a very useful tool both for teachers and students. We will analyze its features together. 

2)  Use charts and tables when students are learning new terms and concepts in your content areas. This simple strategy requires very little preparation and works in all content areas. You can find an example for a Science class here

3)  Teach  students how  to pay utmost attention so as to  find context clues that help them to guess the meaning of new terms and concepts. Needless to say that context clues are not always effective to determine word meanings when we are talking about content-specific  academic vocabulary but we need to train students for the occasions when context clues do help. These context clues can be provided by the author in 8 different ways! Would you like to know which ones?

4) Use "Word attack" strategies. Do you like the name?  It sounds promising, doesn't it? Would you like to know a bit more about this strategy? 

I hope you answered "yes" to the questions above and I promise to provide you with the answers in our seminar session on November 6th. 

Happy All Saints' Day to all of you.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

STEM is everywhere

Back to work and back to our CLIL Seminar! I am really happy to see so many of you have registered for the seminar and I am eager to start working with all of you on October 9th. Our first seminar will focus on basic resources for the subject areas you are implementing at school and I will try to facilitate your work by providing you with the academic language which  you will need to include in your CLIL suitcase for the whole school year. I will place special emphasis on the language for Science and the language for Geography and History. Besides, you will also get a planning template for your CLIL lessons. 

As many of the participants in the seminar belong to the STEM field, I would like to let you know about "STEM is everywhere" MOOC course. I believe that it  will be a very useful  course  for all teachers who wish to motivate students towards STEM careers because it  offers guidance and practical examples for you to bring real-world problems to your STEM teaching in an entertaining way. The course also aims to connect you with other STEM teachers so that you can share experiences and best practices.

"STEM is everywhere"    is the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that is fully designed and carried out as part of the Scientix project, the community for Science education in Europe. It is now possible to register for this course that starts on 29 October 2018 and is completely free of charge.

The main objective of this new course is to connect Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) classes with real life and to help teachers to integrate everyday problems into their STEM lessons and practices. For more information about the course and to register, click here.

As I mentioned above, we will meet on October 9th for our first seminar session and I must say I am looking forward to it on its 15th anniversary. 

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Working on grammar through extensive reading

Our students are often asked to read for understanding and for pleasure. We encourage them to read in order to enrich their vocabulary but we can also ask them to read a text not only  for the   reasons mentioned above  but also to improve their grammar. 

I would like to share an example based on a Science text. My classroom proposal  is aimed at B1-B2 students depending on your teaching context. You can put  it into practice if you are teaching English or if you are an English teacher  working in coordination with a Science teacher who is developing the CLIL approach. In this case, the activity that focuses on language  would be carried out by the language teacher and the Science teacher would focus on Science concepts. 

The main purpose of this type of activity is to foster students' reflection on the features of Science texts so as to foster understanding. 

You can click here to download the text and you can find the classroom activity below the following  image: 

 A heatwave can fry the brain. Photograph: aryos/Getty Images

Classroom activity:

Today we are going to read a text to learn about a new research carried out by scientists but we are also going to read the same text to discover the grammar of it. Therefore, the first time you read the text, check that you understand the ideas in it by looking up the new words. The second time you read the text, work with your partner and pay attention to language use by answering the questions below:

1)  Find at least two comparative sentences.   Would you say their use is important for the type of text? Why?

2)   The text is written in the present tense and in the past tense but you can find at least   an example of the present perfect tense. Can you underline it and say why the writer uses it?

3)   Can you find any words or phrases that express probability?   Underline them and pay attention to the way they are used in this text. Do you think they are common in scientific texts?

4)  Lines 13-14: what do you notice about the use of the words “increase” and “decrease”? Have you learnt anything about the way they can be used?

5)   Lines 10-12: “not only … accurate”.  Do you understand this sentence? Is it the first time you see a sentence starting with “not only”? How could you paraphrase it and make it more simple for a friend of yours who does not understand it?

6)   A feature of scientific texts is the use of long sentences. Can you find one and divide it into two sentences to increase  understanding ?  

7)   The use of the passive voice is very common in scientific texts. Can you find at least three examples? Why do you think the passive voice is so common in Science?

8) Lines 24-33: look at the way “while” and “meanwhile” are used. Is it a different use from the one you knew?  Do you understand  their meaning in this context?  

 9) Lines 31-33: notice the use of "face" in "buyers are faced with far fewer decisions". Can you make a sentence of your own using "be faced with"?

10) The text says that "women are sick of AC standards being tailored around men". What are you sick of? 

I hope this proposal is useful to make your students improve their grammar and better understand Science texts by reflecting on language features of this type of text. Please, let me know what you think about it. 

Science text taken from : 


Thursday, 28 June 2018

Literature circles to foster reading for understanding and enjoyment

We know that making students read and talk about what they read is not easy. However, it is not impossible. Have you ever tried Literature circles? 

What are literature circles? 

    Literature Circles are small, temporary discussion groups of students who are reading the same piece  of literature.

Would you like to try? I should start by describing the  main features: 

  Students prepare the reading assignment independently before joining their group.  Then, they will  participate in group discussions when they join their classmates. 

  Each group member will have a specific responsibility (role) during discussion sessions

   The circles will meet on a regular basis to discuss their reading

   The teacher is a facilitator, not a group member or instructor

    Each student reads the story from a given perspective so each member is responsible for one aspect of what a mature reader does naturally

    A spirit of playfulness, sharing and collaboration pervades the classroom

  It reaches the broad spectrum of students in a natural way (multiple intelligences and diverse learning styles)

  Assessment includes teacher’s observation and students' self-assessment

  When books/stories are finished, groups may prepare a final project / booktrailer/digital poster, etc.  (Depending on the amount of time you have, this final product is not a must since students have already been working on the reading assignment and assessment has taken place too). 

How do you organize students into groups? (Ideally, 5 students in each group)

    There  are different roles that you can choose  for each of the  students in the same  group but I would suggest, at least,  the following: 

      Group discussion leader
      Passage performer
      Vocabulary builder

I will try to lay out each of the roles briefly:

Group discussion leader:

    This student must have a solid grasp of the posible themes and the basic plot of the story
   He /she opens the discussion with a few open-ended questions concerning the story
  He/she keeps the conversation moving but is not “the boss”. All students are responsible to speak and to ask follow-up questions

Passage performer:

   This student is asked to make a very close reading of the text and to look for well-written or key passages in the story
   He/she will read the passages he /she has chosen to the group members

The connector:

•       He/she tries to find connections between the text and the real world in which he/she lives. For example, the Connector may make connections between the thoughts, feelings or actions of the characters and his/her family, friends or  classmates.

The word wizard:

    This student chooses some words that he/she believes are very important in the story.
  The Word Master is not confined to defining new words, but should be encouraged to look for special uses of common words or analyze why the writer repeats some words.

The illustrator:

       This student  responds to the events and themes in the story in a creative way by drawing a picture (diagram, sketch, cartoon…) about it.  He/she will have to ask others what they think it means and after hearing them he  will tell them what it represents to him/her.

If you wish, you can use the templates I have prepared for each of these roles above by clicking here.
(I have added a template for another role: the summarizer. You can find it useful if stories/books  are long and students need to meet on different dates to discuss the whole reading assignment.)

Have you ever used Literature Circles to foster reading?  I would love to know your opinion.