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Eight Ways to Use Comic Strips in the Classroom

Comic strips provide a unique and exciting way to engage learners in the world of English. Check out these eight tips for making and using them in your classroom.

1) Making comic strips as a group activity

Creating a comic strip is a great group activity. Some learners can write the story, some can draw, and some can colour. Learners should speak in English and work together. Start by teaching them functional phrases like “Can I do the drawings?” and “I’d like to write the story”.

2) Using comic strips to teach vocabulary

If you’ve just given a lesson about shopping, learners can write a comic strip about ‘going to the shops’. If you’ve just taught them to use the future tense, they can write a comic strip about ‘making plans’. Encourage learners to describe what happens in each frame of their comic strip in English. They should make story notes before they start drawing.

3) Creating fun characters

Keep your students engaged by helping them to create interesting characters for their comic strips. Try asking questions about their characters like “Has he got a long or a short nose?”, “Is she wearing a shirt or a jumper?”, and “Is he happy or grumpy?”

Why not ask them to create a ‘character guide’ before drawing their comic strips? This could be a notebook where they design and describe every character using key vocabulary.

4) Drawing and colouring a comic strip

Your learners should begin by drawing the comic strip frames, speech balloons, and characters in pencil. They should then draw over these lines in ink. Afterwards, they should write words in pencil in the speech balloons. You can check these for spelling and grammar before they draw over them in ink. When the ink is dry, learners can erase the pencil lines and colour in the comic strip.

Are your students good with technology? They could also create a comic strip digitally by taking photos and adding speech bubbles with Photoshop!

5) Using comic strips to practice speaking skills

Once your learners have finished creating their comic strips, there are many follow-up activities you can use them for in the classroom. For example, you could ask each group of learners to act out their comic strips in front of the class. Each learner should choose a character and practice saying their lines before performing them with their group. This will help learners practice their speaking skills.

You could also get students to perform this activity with comic strips from a coursebook. If each group changes three words in the strip before they act it out, listening students can play ‘spot the difference’ between the text in the comic strip and the words they hear.

6) Using comic strips as reading tasks

You can use your learners’ comic strips to create a set of unique reading tasks. Ask each group to create a set of true or false questions and comprehension activities to go with their comic strips. Now you can share these out amongst the class, or save them to use later.

7) Creating more activities with comic strips

Your learners can prepare even more skills work and language tasks to go with their comic strips. For example, they can design tasks like ‘Match these six words with their synonyms in the comic strip’ or ‘Find the opposite of these seven words in the comic strip’ or ‘Look at these eight words and find places in the comic to add them’. Groups can then exchange their finished comic strips and tasks.

Why not try using coursebook comic strips to create even more fun activities. Try creating a comprehension task by photocopying a comic strip and cutting out the text from the speech balloons. Now you can give your learners the pictures from the comic strip in the correct order, and the text in a jumbled order. Ask them to match the correct text with the correct pictures and put the story together!

8) Entering the Project Explore Competition

If you like these ideas and want another way to enjoy comic strips in your classroom, try entering The Project Explore Competition!

Engage your learners and win great prizes by asking them to complete the story of The Ancient Statue with their very own comic strip!

Enter now!


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Should A Coordinator Be A Leader?

Business woman in a meetingKaren Capel, an Academic Coordinator and teacher trainer, returns with another guest post for Coordinators and Directors of Study, sharing her thoughts on leadership in schools.

Do you think a good coordinator should motivate and inspire? Then we would agree that an effective coordinator should also be a successful leader.

These two roles are deeply interwoven, complementing and enhancing one another to result in a complete professional who is able to carry out managerial duties outstandingly.

Whether you are a natural leader or you have learned to be one, it is your responsibility as a coordinator to innovate and develop, to focus on people (both staff and students), to inspire trust, and to focus on both short-term and the long-term goals. You must also challenge the status quo in view of achieving your institution’s objectives and providing a better service to students. Therefore, a leader not only does things right but also does the right things. According to the leadership guru Warren Bennis, all of these are characteristics of a leader.

So what type of leader should you be? Hopefully a transformational one, achieving objectives by inspiring your staff and fostering the sense of belonging that will result in the formation of a real team. It is proactivity and the drive for continuous improvement that characterise both transformational leaders and successful coordinators.

The leadership style one follows is, needless to say, highly dependent on personality, though an effort must be made to ensure our staff is given the opportunity to express their ideas and put forward their suggestions, for this is the only way a team can work to its maximum potential and enhance each individual’s unique skills and capabilities. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that even when listening to every member’s opinions and allowing discussion of the different issues on the table, it is the coordinator who should make the final decision in all matters and who will always maintain responsibility for the courses of action decided upon. Only then would you embody a democratic leader who enables teachers to feel trusted and heard while supported and guided toward common goals and objectives. It is our teachers who are in direct contact with students and may therefore be in possession of invaluable information upon which all-important decisions may be taken. It is key to trust our own judgement when taking on employees and pay attention to the professionals in our staff and what they have to contribute, as it is they who should follow the procedures enforced and may come up with alternative and improved ways of dealing with certain issues.

On becoming a coordinator, it is highly plausible that you will encounter members of staff who are supportive and always willing to lend a helping hand, work as a team and back your decisions with a goal of improving the services provided to students, as well as internal procedures and practices; but it is just as plausible that you will encounter teachers who are resistant to change and who will antagonise every decision. It is you as a leader who must find the way to put them on your side by tactfully showing them that you are part of the same team and that each and every decision made has been thoroughly examined, all alternatives considered and every opinion carefully listened to. Once again, democracy is the key. Give these members of the team even more chances to participate and express their opinions and make them feel valued and trusted as professionals. Truly listen to what they have to say, for their ideas and suggestions may be altogether valuable and useful for decision-making, and then make your own decision based on the big picture and all relevant elements, which they might not be aware of. Just make sure you carefully choose your battles and let them win sometimes, as this is the only way they will actually feel you are paying attention to what they have to say.

It is also worth noting that a leader is not someone who is always telling people what they have to do, but someone who subtly makes it clear to everyone what his/her role is and what is expected from him/her. Leaders provide guidelines on how to proceed and accomplish the goals set while fostering teamwork and making employees feel trusted, and are therefore a paramount element for the organisation to achieve efficiency and growth.


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Class observation: beyond the obvious

Observing a class in actionKaren Capel, an Academic Coordinator and teacher trainer, returns with another post for Coordinators and Directors of Study, sharing her tips for observing teachers in class.

Observing teachers on your staff on a regular basis is one of the essential tools to ensure the quality of the service you offer to students. As a result, it is of paramount importance to utilise class observation in a sensible yet effective way in order to achieve not only the expected results, but also the professional and personal growth of the members of your team. It helps them feel valued and creates athe sense of belonging necessary for each individual to work to the utmost of their abilities.

When one starts observing lessons, the focus tends to be on the technicalities that we believe are the key elements of a good lesson: having a clear objective; giving instructions and checking understanding; eliciting responses from students; classroom management strategies; use of materials; TTT and STT (Teacher Talking Time and Student Talking Time) to mention just a few. However, my experience proves that there are some other underlying elements which can mean the difference between a lesson being a success or a complete failure. For example, the rapport the teacher establishes with the students, which can result in better engagement with the planned activities, with students participating actively and therefore acquiring the target language easily.

Other aspects of equal importance include whether the contexts and activities chosen are appropriate for both the level and age of the students, and the balance of activities and interaction patterns used. These will enable the teacher to deliver a lesson which caters for all learning styles, gives all students the opportunity to express their ideas and clarify any issues which may arise, as well as practise and reflect on the target language.

What tends to be overlooked is being flexible enough to recognise opportunities to share knowledge with students. Often students come up with questions, raise doubts or even point out mistakes – which gives rise to opportunities to explain things more clearly, to share your knowledge – but often these opportunities are ignored by teachers due to a desire to focus on set objectives for the lesson. In these situations, taking the time to explain things further leads to further learning and students leave the classroom with the feeling of having had an enjoyable time while learning about the language in a memorable way.

The pace of the lesson is also crucial. Too fast and some students may not be able to follow. Too slow and the stronger students quickly get bored. Striking a balance between allowing enough time for students to understand and actually incorporate new language items and keeping a dynamic pace which prevents dullness is the key to a successful lesson. Furthermore, activities should be linked with one another so that students see them as meaningful – we as teachers set objectives according to what we want students to learn, but we need to create contexts and link tasks in such a way that students feel there is a purpose to them and they provide a natural progression of learning.

Time management is vital as well. I have seen lessons where teachers had clear objectives and were just about able to meet them through the use of appropriate teaching techniques – eliciting when necessary, giving precise instructions, etc. – but by the end of the lesson students had learnt very little. Why? Because the teacher did not make the most of the time available. And this is imperative, since most EFL students are in contact with the target language only during their lessons, this being their only chance to listen to and practise it.

The same happens with the balance of activities and skills dealt with, as every student needs to have the chance to practise their speaking skills in every single class, considering this may be the only time they do so during the week. How can one learn a language if not given possibilities to use it? That is why STT should also be maximised.

Needless to say, all of the aforementioned points are intertwined and, one way or another, related to the role of the teacher. The teacher must be the facilitator of the lesson, always showing interest in the students’ learning and therefore closely monitoring and following what each student is doing and the difficulties they may be facing . Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that this should not be taken as spoon-feeding them, but as providing them with the necessary tools so as to gain autonomy and control over their own learning process.

It is achieving this seemless integration of facilitation and organisation which leads to a successful lesson, rather than merely applying solid teaching techniques.


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All for one and one for all? Fostering teamwork among your teaching staff

Group of teachers working togetherKaren Capel, an Academic Coordinator and teacher trainer, returns with another post for Coordinators and Directors of Study, sharing her tips for encouraging teamwork among teaching staff.

Teamwork must be at the core of any organisation’s corporate culture. Needless to say, it plays a crucial role in educational institutions, since it is teachers who represent their values and principles before students, in addition to building trust and respect.

In order for this relationship to be successful, we need to ensure teachers are acquainted with the philosophy behind our school, as well as any news or decisions that have been taken and may affect either them or their students. It is essential to bear in mind that even if students know us as coordinators and resort to us sometimes, this happens only in certain circumstances. Otherwise, it is their teacher who acts as the main source of confidence and information, and who consequently needs to be well-informed at all times.

It goes without saying that teaching can be lonely at times. We are always surrounded by students but the actual work is done solo: planning, doing research, creating materials, evaluating our performance after a lesson and even the delivery of the lesson itself. It is therefore the coordinator’s responsibility to make sure all teachers receive the necessary support and guidance so as to feel part of a team and supported.

Below you will find some tips which may help you achieve this not-so-easy task:

  1. Set common objectives and make sure everybody is fully aware of what these are and what they entail for each member of the team. It is vital for you to believe in these goals in order for the rest of your staff to believe in them as well.
  2. Roles need to be clear for everyone to do their job right, so let people know what their responsibilities are and how they fit into the organisation. This will help avoid misunderstandings, tasks which do not get done and overlapping of roles.
  3. Show your team a confident attitude. You need to show staff that if you pool your efforts, you will be able to achieve your goals.
  4. Share your knowledge and expertise when appropriate, especially with new or less experienced teachers who may need more guidance. Remember to always be careful that your suggestions are expressed in a non-patronising way. Staff should be encouraged to pop in whenever they feel they would benefit from some support.
  5. Leave your office doors open for teachers to share any concerns and/or suggestions they may have. Remember they are the ones in direct contact with students and therefore have access to first-hand information, which may prove of paramount importance to making the right decisions regarding courses, coursebooks, methodology used, etc.; all key elements to successful coodination. Being fully informed and keeping a close relationship with your staff paves the way to proactivity and, as a result, success.
  6. Be accessible and dependable. Leaving the door open should be an attitude rather than just an action. You ought to be a good listener and really pay attention to teachers’ ideas, suggestions or preoccupations. Follow-up on the different issues that may arise and make sure you answer their queries and provide them with the information they require. Adopt a democratic leadership style, asking for their feedback on any decisions taken and letting them have a say – even if the final decision will always be yours. Praise contributions and ideas and listen to constructive criticism. It takes courage to let the coordinator know you don’t agree with something, so value this as proof of motivation and a desire to work towards common goals.
  7. Communicate with staff on a regular basis, be it by email or face-to-face, before or after lessons, or at formal meetings. Make sure communication is two-way and that the necessary channels exist for staff to not only receive information but also share it, both with you and with other teachers. This can be done, for example, by having Google Drive groups where you can share links and materials found online or created by the members of the group. You can also organise events where teachers can share and present their ideas and materials to one another. Although this could be seen as time-consuming and difficult to organise, it has proven to be extremely useful for my teachers, due to the fact that it provides them with the chance to see ‘materials in action’ and get acquainted with their rationale.

What do you do to promote teamwork within your institution?


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Got a minute? Learn how to manage your time effectively

Man checking his watchDo you find yourself running out of time during your working day? Karen Capel, an Academic Coordinator and teacher trainer, shares her tips for managing your time effectively.

I have never met a Coordinator or Director of Studies who had time to spare. Our duties seem to multiply every minute, but of course the time we have to tackle them does not. So how can we do so much in so little time? Here are some ideas you may find useful:

1. Prioritise

How many times have you found yourself immersed in tasks which are, of course, important but which could have waited for other more urgent matters to be resolved first? I have to admit that happens to me many times. Why? Sometimes because unconsciously I choose to deal with issues or tasks I enjoy before undertaking activities I find tedious or which require more time to be done. Some other times because of lack of proper planning or because urgent matters like solving an emergent problem or answering a phone call prevent me from getting the ‘actual work’ done. It’s therefore necessary for us to take a minute and consciously analyse our ‘to do lists’ to rank activities in order of importance and urgency so that we work on those which are both important and urgent first, then on those which are urgent and maybe not that important – just because of their unwanted consequences – and finally on those which are important but not that pressing – the ones actually linked to professional growth and personal objectives. If not dealt with in time, these can become urgent as well and can also lead us to become reactive instead of proactive, as we’ll only be focusing on what’s already imperative and not on creating new projects or coming up with new ideas.

More tips can also be found at: http://www.wikihow.com/Manage-Your-Time.

2. Delegate

I know how hard this is and sometimes we all get the feeling that nobody will do things the way we would, but let’s face it, we have an endless list of tasks waiting to be carried out and very scarce time, so it’s only logical to delegate those activities that someone else can do, be it administrative duties or paperwork, searching for information on a given topic, or correcting tests or mock exams. Keep only those tasks which require your knowledge and expertise for yourself – which are surely enough to keep you busy!

3. Plan as much as possible

Whenever possible, plan ahead in order to make the most of your time. Needless to say, there will be unexpected meetings, phone calls and so on and so forth, but the more organised your routine activities are the better you’ll be able to cope with these eventualities.

4. Don’t multitask

We tend to fall into this trap too often and reckon that if we do many things at once we’ll be more efficient and finish more in less time. Actually, it’s the total opposite. The amount of time required is exactly the same but we also run the risk of making far more mistakes due to not being properly focused on each task. Research has shown that multitasking can actually lead to our wasting 20-40% of our time, depending on what we’re trying to achieve. Multitasking prevents us from being ‘in flow’, i.e. fully focused on a particular thing. Being ‘in flow’ actually results in higher satisfaction levels and a higher chance of achieving goals faster.

5. Be organised

Disorganisation can only lead to wasting time. Think of how much time you spend looking for papers or files you cannot find or how you can forget about an important matter just because you forgot to write it down or you fail to find the piece of paper where you did! Organisation is key to management and can prevent disasters from happening.

6. Minimise distractions

It’s worth pointing out that by this I don’t mean breaks, as these are necessary from time to time in order to recharge our batteries and focus once again on what we are doing. Nobody can be focused for eight hours non-stop – and it’s not healthy either. What I mean by this is that, for example, if you leave your email programme open and visible all day, it’s highly plausible that you interrupt whatever you’re doing in order to answer emails – important or not – every time you receive one. It goes without saying that this can impact on the quality of the work being undertaken.

7. Set realistic goals for your day

If you have endless to-do lists that you’ll never tick off, you’ll always feel frustrated. It’s alright to have a long list of pending tasks, but it’s also a good idea to use daily lists which reflect what you can really tackle in a day. This will allow you to make the most of the time you have and tackle as much as possible since you can choose to work on different tasks depending on the periods of time available. Let me illustrate this with an example: say you start work at 8 and have a meeting at 9. Think of which tasks from your list you would be able to start and finish in an hour and deal with one of those. Do the same with every period you have and by the end of the day you will have taken care of many issues that otherwise would still be waiting on your list. Doing this will help you to set realistic goals for each day and therefore leave the office with the sense of achievement you deserve!

Do you have any tips to add?