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Using e-books to enhance the learning experience for your students

webinarpicAhead of our webinar on using e-books in class, Stacey Hughes, an Oxford teacher trainer with 20 years teaching experience, looks at how using e-books can enhance the learning experience for your students.

As e-books become more popular, you may find yourself asking what all the hype is about. After all, an e-book is just a book on a screen, right?

Not anymore. While early e-books just replicated the print book, today’s e-books have enhanced features.  Video and audio plays straight from the page, and some e-books let students slow down the audio, record their own version, and compare to the original.  Students can answer questions, and then check if they’ve got the answers right straight away with automatic marking.  They can create written or voice recorded notes, draw on the page, and highlight words they might be struggling to pronounce so they can go back later to practice them. And if you set your students a page to complete for homework, once they’ve finished the student can email the page to you for marking.

All these interactive features are great, but pose a challenge for teachers who are new to e-books. How do you teach with an e-book?  How do you manage the class?  How do you balance the activities in class to include pair and group work alongside the e-book?

In my upcoming webinar I will talk about different types of e-book and how you can start using them. I will highlight common interactive features and tools and give practical ideas on how to exploit these for learning. I’ll also give tips for how to effectively manage the use of e-books in a class.

e-Books have been shown to increase student motivation and their popularity is on the rise, so now is a great time to see what they’re all about and whether they’re right for you and your classes. Join me for my webinar entitled ‘Using e-books in class: practical tips and ideas’ on 9th or 10th September 2015.



Teaching with Web 2.0 Tools (Part 1)

Educational-Computer-Games-For-KidsMagali Trapero Turrent is an ELT Editor at Oxford University Press, Mexico. She is the author of several series published by OUP as well as a teacher and former OUP Educational Services teacher trainer. In her post, she shares her ideas for using Web 2.0 tools to develop learner’s language skills.

Having the opportunity to expand the horizon of my traditional EFL classroom has been just as exciting for me as for my students. However, I must admit that, as a digital immigrant, it was not simple at the beginning. It took many hours of focused as well as playful hours of dedicated inquiry to find the link between the learning goals of a CLIL lesson and the potentiality of different Web 2.0 tools to support them. I also had to determine how much scaffolding learners would need before engaging in web-based activities and how to integrate elements of the outside world that could enrich our lessons.

In preparing a science lesson, for example, the integration of international celebrations, such as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Health Day or the United Nations Observances, can bring the real world into the classroom. This, along with Web 2.0 tools, becomes a way of integrating the world of our learners with the real world—right there in our classrooms or as a home-school link.

Using Voice Thread for speaking activities

tools1tools2The typical classroom has learners that gladly engage in communicative activities and those that, given the chance, will avoid the task altogether. Creating speaking activities in Voice Thread, besides adding novelty and variety to lessons, can provide a formative assessment record. Voice Thread is a user-friendly tool that can integrate audio, video, images, text, documents and presentations—providing a multisensory, non-threatening environment where collaborative learning can flourish, even for learners that would otherwise not take part in communicative activities. Voice thread can be accessed using tablets, computers and mobile devices.

Once you have made a decision about the speaking function to focus on (performance, transaction or interaction) and given the language support needed by your learners, you can upload models for the speaking activity directly into your Voice Thread page for your students to view prior to doing the task.

In setting up activities, give learners an opportunity to personalize their experience. After all, that is what students do in the real world through social media, such as Facebook.

The following example presents materials for a science lesson. In the exploration stage of the lesson, learners can talk about what they think a healthy meal is. In a Voice Thread activity, learners can do the following using computers, tablets or their smart phones:

  • Take pictures and create a healthy food poster to present in the recording.
  • Make a video of healthy foods found in vending machines while they narrate.
  • Take selfies next to healthy food street stands and describe why it is healthy.
  • Make a video of their favorite home-made healthy meal and talk about it.
  • Take a picture of their refrigerator and describe its contents.

Additionally, students can ask questions based on classmates presentations or add information to a previously posted presentation before they move into the next stage of the lesson.

As learners get more knowledge on the topic—healthy food, in this example—they can then work with information from international organizations, such as the World health Organization, to learn more about healthy or unhealthy food and its impact on other communities throughout the world.

Using again the science example, and to celebrate International Health Day 2015, a question is added to the activity to activate students’ previous knowledge on food safety—the focus of the celebration. Students proceed to record their current knowledge. Examples of activities that can be created in Voice Thread to activate previous knowledge are the following:

  • Create a cloud with the words you associate with food safety and explain to your classmates the ones you think are the most important.
  • Record an acrostic poem using food safety.
  • In pairs, create a video for a community announcement on what you think food safety is.

tools4tools3 These activities, of course, can be adapted for other core subjects. The advantage of creating speaking activities in Voice Thread is that you can choose the type of speaking function to focus on (performance, transaction or interaction) and monitor each learners’ skill development as well accuracy issues that may arise. It also provides you and your learners with a form of digital portfolio or formative assessment record. Furthermore, it gives learners a reason to communicate in English in a way that it is used in the real world—as much of today’s communication happens through the use of digital tools.

In the next article in this series, we will explore the use of Web 2.0 tools for listening activities.

Please note that not all titles are available in every market. Please check with your local office about local title availability.


Getting English language students to practice outside of class

College student using computerFor many teachers the extension of language learning outside the classroom can really benefit their students, but how can you be sure they’re using the right materials to further their practice? Freelance teacher trainer, Zarina Subhan-Brewer, looks at how Oxford Online Practice can complement their classroom activities.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”   

        – Aristotle

How do we get students to continue practicing the things we want them to learn outside of the classroom? Normally, we give them homework and hope they do it. We no longer only have workbooks to depend upon for further practice, we have online material nowadays too. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to learn a language online, but there’s a lot out there.

Parents, understandably, will assume that if their child is on an educational website that they don’t need to be monitoring their child and will feel happy that their child is learning. However, much of what is out there seems very ad hoc, with materials jumping about from grammar point to grammar point and sometimes with a very strange focus on some obscure vocabulary. The quality and suitability of some visual imagery out there being used for educational purposes, may not be ideal. So why and how can students use online learning safely and effectively?

Firstly, Oxford Online Practice is not random – it is designed to complement, but not duplicate, what is being studied in the book. It looks like the book, with similar or identical images, but the activities are additional to those in the textbook and workbook. The units cover the same topics and language content, with an opportunity to extend language and interact with it on the screen, for example clicking for further information, or dragging to match a response to a question / vocabulary / grammar item.


Grammar practice in the Engage edition of Oxford Online practice.


When it comes to differentiated learning, online textbooks are very powerful tools. I’ve always found that it requires a lot of preparation and organisation to constantly have something up my sleeve for the students who are picking up language quicker. While helping those requiring more time to grasp things, you have to keep the others occupied, right? All this with the dilemma that you don’t want the quicker ones getting too ahead in the book/workbook, while at the same time you don’t want your slower students to feel they’re having less fun and are ‘behind’. The beauty of online textbook material is that not only is it relevant and related to the topic of the book, your students can also do additional activities without the knowledge of whether their peers are ‘better’ than them or not. Because of the nature of the technology, a simple click of the mouse in a computer lab, or a tap on the tablet in the classroom gives them access to further practice of any sort.

Previously, reading and writing were the only skills that could be practically improved outside class, which meant students rarely heard any English outside the four walls of the classroom. Nowadays it is possible to assign an additional listening activity, without controlling a CD player or standing at the computer at the front of the class. So if you feel some students could do with going over a listening activity again in more detail, you can assign it to them.

Did you know students can even record themselves if they’re working on a computer / tablet? This means that students get the chance to really listen to their own pronunciation and compare it to the native speaker recordings on the Online Practice platform, so they learn much more in terms of both listening and speaking.

Online Practice takes homework to a whole new level, with students assuming more responsibility for their learning – autonomous learning at its best. But this isn’t to say that the students are simply left to their own devices – teachers can allocate particular activities, tailoring each class or student’s progress to suit their needs.

You can also organize your students into particular online groups. You can then monitor which exercises have been completed by which students and also what scores they achieved on each activity they try. Without collecting in physical work and marking it (because it is marked as soon as the student clicks on the ‘Submit’ button), you have a record of names, activities completed and grades for each student. This will save you from hours of administrative tasks, leaving you more energy for the actual teaching.

So your students will find varied and engaging activities that allow them to practice exactly the same language areas that you have been working on in class, with the added bonus of it being visually familiar. By allocating activities to students, they feel their individual needs are being met. Parents can breathe easy knowing that their children are on carefully designed websites that are entirely appropriate learning tools. And you as a teacher have more time to assess, monitor and actually teach. I’d say that was a win-win-win situation, wouldn’t you?!

These features are all available on the Online Practice components for the courses pictured below. Features and/or capabilities may differ for other Oxford courses.




5 Apps Every Teacher Should Have in 2014

Mobile apps

Image courtesy of Jason Howie via Flickr

Sarah Fudin, Community Outreach Coordinator for USC Rossier Online, shares 5 mobile apps that every teacher should be using in 2014.

2014 brings a new year and many changes in education nationwide. As innovative technology is developed, new and updated apps are making it easier for teachers and students to integrate technology in the classroom.

Here’s a list of the five apps every teacher should have in 2014:

1. Evernote

Evernote app iconPlatform: Android, iOS

Evernote is a great platform for organizing notes, pictures, and voice memos. For teachers, it can be a great tool for collecting media. Evernote allows a person to take a photo and add a note. All information is stored in easy-to-organize tabs for simple retrieval. How can this app be used? A math teacher might catch sight of some great buildings downtown to use as examples in his geometry class, and he can quickly capture and remember it for use later in the classroom. Equally, students can use this app to collect and store data for projects or homework.

2. Socrative

Socrative app iconPlatform: Android, iOS

Socrative brings a spark to class assessment. It takes three minutes for teachers to set up and 30 seconds for students to download on their phones. With this app, teachers have a variety of assessment tools they can use to gauge student process. Questions are shown on a screen, and students use their phones to answer the questions. Results are automatically tallied and stored for the teacher to review. One feature, Space Race, allows students to work in teams to answer questions. For each correct answer, their team’s rocket moves up on the screen; the first team to get their rocket to the top wins.

3. Shakespeare in Bits: Hamlet

Shakespeare in Bits: Hamlet app iconPlatform: iOS

Shakespeare in Bits is great for English teachers. With narration and animation that accompanies the text, this app allows students to read books with greater comprehension. The app also contains an analysis section complete with a summary, discussion of themes used and descriptions of various images.

4. School Fuel

School Fuel app iconPlatform: Requires iOS 4.3 or later and Android 3.0 and up.

School Fuel puts students, teachers and administrators within a school on the same page. This app serves as an interface that organizes all the apps that teachers are using while allowing students to access them at any time. Instead of teachers having students download apps from a variety of sources, students can simply use this app to view and access all the apps the school is using. Teachers can also look to see what other teachers are using and add apps to the database.

5. Springpad

Springpad app iconPlatform: Requires iOS 4.3 or later and Android 2.2 and up.

Springpad takes organization a step further; this app not only gives you access to everything you save on all your devices, but it also recommends different places and tasks to you based on what you already have. For example, if you have a list of school supplies you are working on, Springpad will give you local options of where you can buy those supplies. Every note, list or project can also be shared with other teachers and classmates to make collaboration easier.

For many teachers, downloading and learning how to use new apps can be a daunting task. This list can help you discover new tools to enhance your classroom in a more efficient way to jumpstart a productive new year!

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9 Questions for iPad Party Poopers

Potato Pals tablet in schoolPatrick Jackson, author of the popular Potato Pals series, questions the assumption that there’s an app for everything – especially where young learners are concerned.

My son Kai went for a sleepover with his best friend Aedan last night. As we were packing his bag, he asked if he could take his iPad with him. We said he couldn’t. “You’re going to play with Aedan. You don’t need an iPad”. Shock! Horror! As far as Kai is concerned, we are totally wrong about this and have done him a great injustice. He reckons that it’s just another toy and playing with an iPad with Aedan is just like playing with Lego or running around in the garden. I think not. I even rang Aedan’s mum and asked if Aedan was going to be using his iPad. I was delighted to hear that he had already been banned for a week for some unspeakable and unnamed crime earlier in the day. I didn’t ask what. I tell you – digital parenting in suburban Dublin is a mine field!

Thank goodness technology has not yet managed to replace most of what happens in old-style play. Where it replicates it we have a poor cousin to the real thing. There are apps that you ‘run’ on and apps that you ‘paint’ on but unless you are stuck on a long car journey, neither will be as fun or valuable as the real thing.

There are well-understood reasons why kids need to play ‘naturally’. They need to socialise. They need to move. They need to be creative. They need fresh air. They need to communicate in the wonderful way that kids do when they are playing and they need to get dirty. They need to be dancing to their own wild inner drums and until the unlikely day that technology catches up with the ‘real’ world, Kai’s iPad is staying on my desk (where I can play with it) for most of the day and particularly when his friends are around.

Apps are all around though and aren’t going anywhere soon. Parents, teachers and educational administrators are dealing with these issues all over the world. In our home, we deal with it with a sophisticated and continually negotiated system of time limits, rewards, checks and balances. We hardly even understand the system ourselves.

To make it more confusing, we distinguish between educational apps and those that we consider to be a pretty good waste of time or ‘just fun’. There are many that are virtually impossible to distinguish. We are totally aware that we could be wrong about many of the calls we make. We may indeed be denying our son a future in a world where a key skill will be catapulting different types of birds at distant pigs. Anyway, our current rules allow Kai a 30-minute iPad session in the morning before school during which he is allowed to do creative or educational things. Then he gets 30 minutes of free iPad time after his homework when he can do whatever he wants. The only things we forbid completely are games that show graphic violence. Incredibly, that is not the case for all of his classmates.

For language educators, apps are a hugely valuable resource. They will increasingly become part of how languages are learned. We are now just at the beginning of the mobile age in ELT and, for better or worse, it’s only going to become a larger part of what we do. Being able to sort out the digital chaff from the grain is going to be a key skill for the language educator. Knowing when to say “No. We can do this activity better in the real world” will be important.

The danger is that educational systems will err by replacing real world activities with cheaper, cleaner, more addictive tech alternatives. The irony is that in many cases in the ‘developed’ world, giving a classroom of children more time on tablets will save the system the time, money and the trouble of organising and cleaning up after real play while creating the illusion that this is preparing them better for the 21st Century.

We need to be able to recognise when an app can do the job better and in a more compelling way, and when it can’t. Some apps definitely enrich and support learning in a valid way. Some are really just addictive eye-candy or one-offs without any real lasting depth.

So what questions should we be asking when we look at an app? What should app authors and developers be aiming for as they work on the latest educational apps? What should teachers and administrators be asking as they make these important decisions?

I’ve found myself asking a few questions while working on an app for young learners that’s just arrived at the big party going on over on the App Store.

Does this app allow students to interact with the target language in a way that would be difficult or impossible to replicate in traditional ways?

Does the app offer students opportunities to communicate with friends and family beyond the classroom using the target language; opportunities that would not exist otherwise?

Can the app deliver authentic language in a more efficient way than by traditional methods?

Can students use this app to create personalised learning that puts them at the centre of the target language and helps them to tell the story of their own lives?

Is the app going to support home study and take-home sharing, building a bridge between the classroom and the home?

Will this app develop student autonomy; helping them to take responsibility for their own learning?

Does this app deliver existing materials in a more efficient or more compelling way and does it supplement and enrich those materials?

Is the target language delivered through the app in an integrated and linked way?

Does the app use a good variety of skills and engage those skills meaningfully?

It’s great fun at the app party now but it’s wrong to believe there’s an app for everything. As parents and educators we need to be able to think clearly; know when to be party poopers and know when to jump in and join the fun.

Patrick Jackson is an ELT author and teacher. He is author of the popular Potato Pals series, which has just been released as an app for iPad. You can download one story for free from the Apple App Store, with the option to purchase 6 more stories from within the app.


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