Sunday, 14 May 2017

BBC Learning English and Google for Education in a mixed skills language class

Have I already mentioned that I love BBC Learning English? I had a somewhat long break from using this fantastic site and now that I’m back to it, I clearly remember why it is such a great resource for teaching and learning English. I have many favourites on the site, The English We Speak and 6-minute-English to name but a few (in fact, I'm a big fan of all their courses).

Presently, I teach a group of immigrants with a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Their levels of EFL vary significantly from absolute beginners to intermediate level, which is why I ended up dividing the learners in two groups. However, the lessons happen at the same time and in the same classroom, so this requires a bit of planning so that each student would benefit from the course and improve their language skills.

What to do?
Picture by Papunet
I planned a programme for both levels and this is where BBC Learning English came into picture for the intermediate level students. Together with the students we chose two items from the site: an older series called The Teacher for learning idioms and Lingohack Words in the News for learning vocabulary. Both programmes consist of videos, which ensures that the students will get plenty of listening practice. In addition to informative (and funny, in the case of The Teacher) visual and audible resources, the material also includes a script for each video. This is particularly helpful for those students who need written material to support their learning.

Solution found!
Picture by Papunet
How a regular lesson could go when the students are practising vocabulary (they also study grammar during this course but that’s another story): I normally start with the beginners’ level students while the intermediate group already know the drill. They choose a set of idioms or news item to study, watch the video, listen and study the vocabulary. They do this alone, in pairs or in small groups. They then sign in on their Google Document (shared with the teacher) and report their learning process there: What were the idioms or vocabulary they studied? What do the idioms mean? In what kind of sentences the idioms or vocabulary could be used?

When we’ve had enough time with the beginner’s group, and they are engaged in their exercises, we then go through the findings together with the intermediate students. At this point the students also get practice in speaking. 

Google Docs is a great tool for documenting and sharing learning. Perhaps now that the students are familiar with the BBC site and the more self-directed way to find information online, we could try using Google Slides to increase collaboration and information sharing between the students. 

The idioms of the day

Do your students use BBC Learning English? Or, if you’re a student, do you use the site? What is your favourite course on the site? 

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Glimpses of our school year in pictures!

Here's a link to a recent posting in our school blog, you don't need to know Finnish to check it out, since it's all about photos.

Click here to take a look at some moments from our school year 2015-2016!

Vanhankaupunginkoski in Helsinki (now that is a long word!). It's such a beautiful place to walk around!

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Skating and skiing

A big part of our study programme covers learning about Finnish society, culture and the way of life. For this reason we have had several field trips, and there are still quite a few more to come before the term finishes at the beginning of June.

What we Finns are passionate about is winter sports. Everybody skis, skates and enjoys wintery sports of some sorts. The students were excited to have a go at skates and skis. Helsinki City offers excellent, I mean really excellent sport facilities to young people aged 17-29. The programme offers 49 different sports for free! My colleague and I were happy to take our students skating within this programme.  Off we went to an indoor ice rink! The city even provides two instructors to instruct the skaters, how great is that!

Another great field trip took place in the skiing tracks of Paloheinä in Helsinki. Unfortunately, it was the only cloudy day of that week, but nevertheless, it was simply fantastic! The students had their first experiences on cross country skiing and they loved it. Many local skiers approached them and wanted to learn more about them. What a great way to interact with the locals!

Good old learning stations!

I’m a big fan of learning stations. They are great for letting students choose what to do, in which order and they are also a very natural way to differentiate teaching. I also very much like that students work in small groups and help each other. Learning stations naturally also allow the teacher to go around and be of help when needed. 

Since September my students have been learning Finnish at an overwhelming pace. This week they started to study vocabulary on Finnish nature. Here are a few glimpses of our Friday’s stations.
  • Increase your vocabulary with Quizlet. Choose the themes you wish to practise: nature, trees, birds, animals in the forest, insects
  • Study the vocabulary and play a game of domino.
  • Start studying the text (challenging).
  • Go out and find the following trees. Photograph them and show your findings to the rest of the group. Test if they know which trees you captured.
My favourite station this time was the one that took the students outside the classroom to explore surrounding nature. It was a sunny day, too! 

Speaking about nature, can you believe that Finland has 187 888 lakes!

A game of domino

Learning vocabulary with Quizlet. A picture of one of the 187 888 lakes in Finland.
Do you know what this tree is in Finnish? Check it out here.
Photo taken by a student in my group.

Tools and ideas

Voice typing with Google Docs

It really is great that Google has this feature. How to use it in language learning? The first thing that came to my mind was to help students check their pronunciation and get immediate feedback on it with the help of voice typing. What we did was pretty simple. The students had a text in the target language, which in our case is Finnish. They read the text and observed if it was similar to the original one. They often wanted to try several times to make the pronunciation match with the text. The feedback is instant, which is great. It's also really easy for them to practise pronunciation this way at home. 

Do you have any other ideas? 

For those readers who are not familiar with voice typing, check this posting by Alice Keeler.


When I heard about Quizizz, I was curious to see what it has to offer in comparison with, for example, Kahoot and Socrative which my students really like. Turns out Quizizz also offers a homework option. The gaming factor is also there, but instead of time pressure, the students can now do the quiz in peace and quiet with the help of any material they can think of. Highly recommended!

Google Slides

Better late than never! I have only recently discovered the wonderland of Google Slides for language learning classes. What a great way to collaborate, differentiate, learn together and so much more!
Presently my students are practising the use of past tense both in affirmative and negative sentences in Finnish. For revision I created a presentation with each slide containing only two sentences: the first one being affirmative and the second one negative, which appears with a click. The students worked in pairs and took turns in reading the affirmative sentences and then trying to form the negative ones and then checking with a click if they got it right. It worked really well and the students got a lot of practise! Simple and useful! 

I was pleased to find a lot of information both in Finnish and English on how to use Google Slides in the classroom. I very much like the idea of creating a presentation and giving each group a slide number to work, and there are so many other cool ways to use this tool. To read about them, here's a link to a crowd sourced presentation initiated by Alice Keeler and Hans Tullmann.

Quizizz in the classroom

Quizizz in the classroom

Practice makes perfect