Resources from the year that was

The school year of 2020-2021 is now over so I thought it might be useful to create a post of resources that were used throughout the year, just in case they might come in useful for some teachers looking new ideas or stuff to use in class. Some of these may seem common as muck, others maybe not so much.

Getting Online

2020 was the year of Zoom, it’s even turned into a verb almost overnight, how it came out of top seems to be that it just did what everyone wanted almost instantly, then updated to suit teachers and other groups. There are other means of going online mind you and below I’ve provided two that I’ve been keen on for years.

Whereby, for me has always been a favourite, although these days it’s more of a paid service, but the free version still allows for crystal clear 1-to-1 connections as long as there’s only two connections. What was particularly nice was that they allowed large groups in rooms for free at Christmas which was a nice touch for those of us, myself included, who were in isolation over the Xmas period. They’ve expanded with breakout rooms as well now, but free is fine if it’s just one other person. Nothing to install, only browser needed.

Jitsi is another one I’ve used for a few years, and they’ve remained completely free. Just like Whereby, you set up your own room/domain for free, don’t need to install anything, can have a large number of people in the one room, have control over muting/cameras for all and can present presentations and even stream things live elsewhere – it’s all open source and well worth using if you don’t want to be paying anything.

Of course there are others out there as it’s suddenly become big business. Google have Meet and Chat, there is still Facebook Live, Whatsapp group calls and plenty others. Long gone are the days of Skype dominating the market for calls online, although let’s be honest here, does anyone voluntarily use Microsoft Teams and consider it …you know, good?

How many Matrix jokes did you make this year online? …just me? Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

Interaction in the Class

Since the school year went from online, to offline, to hybrids, to a mix of both, some of the most useful resources this year was material that worked both for online and offline classes.

I’ve been using The Game Gal website for years, it’s a mix of games you can play either on screen or in person with some printable material as well. My personal favourite is the graded levels of Pictionary you can play with a class.

But if you are online, how do you play pictionary with students if your class application doesn’t have built in white boards? Use an online one. Freely available here and they auto-delete after 24 hours, I use Web Whiteboard, which you can share with others, export and get others involved too. Since its web browser based, it’s quite easy to use on phones too.

Now you’ve got your students in the Zoom room, but alas, you’ve a load of black squares looking at you and you aren’t too sure everyone’s paying attention, how do we counter that? I got a free account (as of July 2021 this is still working, but they’ve been bought over by Discovery so this may be different in the near future) at Spiral.ac where you can ask the whole class questions, and they have to answer with their phones – with the answers appearing on screen, either anonymously or named. It’s good craic and ensures people are still taking part. What I like is that at the end of a session, it saves results (with names) so you can see how everyone did over time. Another one quite similar to this is Mentimeter which gets used more in meetings and conferences, although my preference is still Spiral, even when delivering webinars.

What about interactive quiz games for the craic? Either at the start or end of a lesson. Quizziz and Kahoot exploded this year – normally I’d only do a few but with online classes and hybrids happening all the time, these became much more common in class, as each product offered more and more features, although Kahoot’s popups got quite aggressive over time. Kahoot works better in person, while I find Quizziz works better when it’s an online class as there is better usability with multiple types of technology students may have. Both are pretty good for pre-made games, helping save time.

Face to Face Class Stress Relief

Is there anyone out there that doesn’t know someone who has had Covid? Probably not by now, and if there is, they are very lucky. It’s safe to say people tended to be a little stressed this year… If I had a screen or projector in the room I was teaching in, while we were working or just not using the screen, I tended to have something on in the background. I found live streams of animal life very useful to help relax and chill students while they worked, even for a little brain break or something to glance at while thinking. Sometimes it was entertaining, other times just something nice to have on in the background.

An elephant grazing helps when you’re doing a grammar exercise.

Head to Explore website and there is webcams the world over which helps students relax while they work.

Creating Material

If you are looking to create some of your own material or get students to do it, Book Creator is pretty good place to get started. Each free account can create up to 40 books and the output is pretty professional looking. Some of our students created some pretty cool books this year on topics of their interest as homework.

Somehow during the year I came across a cloze generator that is pretty useful for inputting your own text. It can automatically detect articles, prepositions, link words, auxiliaries, wh- words, quantifiers and modals to remove or use, or you can remove every Nth word, or pick your own, pretty simple but useful, especially if you want to make the text unique to that class.

Related to the previous link, you should probably make use of a Readability test with text you are using. This one grades your text to ensure you are aiming it at the right level. Pretty useful set of options on it too depending on how you want to grade your texts.

A great tool I found this year to help students visualise words and make use of an interactive dictionary/thesaurus was Visuwords which is fantastic for introducing new vocabulary, or higher level vocabulary when you want to push students. It’s also just great fun to play around with.

My input here was toaster. You can very easily go down rabbit holes.

Once you’ve the craic with Visuwords, you can then turn to some lexical chunks using film and media. PlayPhrase offers a database of film and tv where a set phrase can be searched for, and then it shows the students the phrases in context. The free version offers students to search for a phrase and watch 5 clips of that phrase being used across different films or shows, hearing it in context, checking pronunciation and different ways of saying it.

five clips asking for a cup of tea…

Reading

Since we’re teachers and we only get a few hours a week with our students, it’s our job to be facilitators of the language learning process, and encourage students to find ways to use, study and enjoy the language in their own time. That’s why I always find reading to be the most powerful tool to learn the language.

Breaking News English is a graded website for news (although I try to stay away from news for obvious reasons) where students can read news articles in varying degrees of complexity. Some of the articles come with exercises as well. What I suggest is also copying and pasting the news article into Google Translate, so they can listen to the text as well when there isn’t already an audio version available.

There is also this blogpost from On the Same Page ELT that documents 10 extensive reading websites which is definitely worth a read.

A great website from the Extensive Reading Foundation is for Free Graded Readers. Here, students can pick their level of book they would like to read, download them or read them in their browser till their heart is content. Not a massive selection but definitely increasing in size recently.

My personal favourite for higher level students (and teachers) that really want to push themselves is The Standard Ebooks website. This is an organisation that puts online legally and copyright free material which are freely downloadable for any kind of device, similar to Project Gutenberg. The quality of these books easily surpasses that of ebooks I’ve bought off Amazon or any other store, and although I’m not a fan of their ‘classical’ type book covers, the quality of the books and selection (which is updated almost daily) is utterly superb.

Storytelling

Well I wasn’t going to do a resources post without talking about storytelling.

Author of Storytelling with our Students, David Heathfield reguarly runs courses on Creative and Engaging Storytelling for Teachers courses which I’ve done two of now (there’s a level two, Beyond the CrEST course as well) and would highly recommend. They are great craic, you meet teachers and storytellers the world over and there is a plethora of great ideas for teaching involved too. Check out his EventBrite page for when the next course is run.

Another great spot for your students to get listening to stories on an almost daily basis is the World Storytelling Cafe – or even teachers if you are feeling brave enough! There is even an event every Tuesday for those under 18 who wish to tell a story online. Great interactivity and fantastic community.

Another great one for students for homework or for use in class is The Moth. These are storytellers the world over, although mainly in America telling true stories and have regular online events. Superb for homework when you get students to pick a different story each to discuss the next day in class. Always engaging, always interesting.

Having the Craic

Teaching is great fun, but it’s even more fun when you bring in folklore from all around the world. Even though I generally focus on Irish folklore, Christmas is one of my favourite times to bring out the stories and tales of the Jólasveinar, the Icelandic Yule Lads! From the Spoon Licker to the Candle Stealer, the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads, Jólasveinar, get the pronunciation right on these boyos, never fails to get a laugh each year, for all levels and ages.

Some more innocent than others of course

There is a pretty good write up available here on them, but it is definitely worth researching and telling stories of this lot in the run up to Christmas each year, as most students have never heard of them, but it’s great fun telling stories from each of their perspectives, and plus, it’s a little different from what they are used to.

Accessibility and Usability

One thing to watch out for with all the resources, especially interactive games online these days with students is accessibility and usability. One of the first things I ditched this year due to some students only able to connect through mobile phones was Jamboard from Google. It’s a great tool when everyone is using a desktop or something with a large screen and keyboard, but on mobile it’s a disaster. I wasn’t for taking the chances again with some students having both limited data and screen capabilities. I also found that if you are using Kahoot, it is best used in class with questions dictated by the teacher as well as the answers, whereas Quizziz is best used online or with hybrid classes as all mobile devices work easier on it.

So hopefully something in there is of use to anyone reading this, it’s been a strange year, but we’ve tried our best and made do with what’s out there.

Here is to the 2021/22 school year and the craic that brings!

Slán go fóill

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