Sunday, February 24, 2013

5 Ways You Can Use the Web for Professional Development in 2013


It`s the end of a long day. After 2 plenary talks and 4 carefully chosen workshops, you are geared up with a set of incredible activities and ideas that will give a boost to your lessons and keep your students motivated and engaged throughout the next couple of  months. Then , after a while you inevitably start wondering when the next event will take place and whether you will be able to attend it or not. Well... does that ring you a bell? It certainly does if you have been a teacher for a while! Events such as one-day seminars, national and international conferences have ,for ages, been considered heaven for those who seek professional development. For the future generation of teachers, though, local workshops and international conferences will no longer be seen as the ultimate source of inspiration . A massive  movement towards the web is changing how people acquire knowledge and share it.
Well, let`s face it, it is undeniable how much technology has gained space in our lives and how virtually impossible it is to ignore it, specially in the professional scene. As a matter of fact, the academic year has just started in Brazil and we are still living that classic period  in the beginning of the term in which everyone  feels inspired to make a list of professional resolutions.  These lists are no secret to anyone, we actually enjoy sharing our aspirations and aims and sometimes even add a few more resolutions to our own lists based on what we hear from other colleagues. The lists are as colorful and diverse as the number of teachers, there is a myriad of goals, but from I have recently noticed, most resolutions, in a way or another, go around a common denominator: technology. Sometimes their resolutions are explicit as wanting to learn how to use a tablet in class effectively, which new web tools to be used for upcoming class activities, or as elementary as how to make and upload a slide presentation to the school`s wiki or  make a profile in a social network to interact with workmates and students. Some teaches have resolutions that apparently have no connection to technology itself, but sometimes they don`t realize that the answers to their worries might be found through technolgy.
As it has been aforementioned, there is a massive movement towards the web for both sharing and learning. Little by little teachers realize that the web has more to offer than just diversion. I have learned that the web has an unequaled power to re-design one`s academic and professional perspectives and it is my intention, here, to offer you a few suggestions I have tried  myself. This post is dedicated to those who want to learn more about educational technology, those who want to learn how to take more advantage of the web for academic and professional purposes and to those who apparently believe this post does not relate to any of their personal list of resolutions and are waiting for the next seminar in  town in the hope of attending a session that will  address their favorite issues.

Here are a few suggestions how you can revamp your carreer in 2013:

1.  Join a Facebook group
Did you know that besides keeping you connected to your friends and updated with what is going on in their  lives , Facebook also offers great opportunities to interact with  other professionals who share similar interests? Just go to the search area at the center top of your profile page and type in an area or topic of interest. Facebook will instantly show you many options of groups, pages and profiles that relate to your search. Visit a few and join in the one you like best. In these groups, teachers share interesting links, articles, news about upcoming events, great Youtube vídeos, etc. Here are five great suggestions to get started:

Mobile Learning
Online Teaching and Learning

2. Use Twitter to follow well-known successful professional and institutions

Nowadays top notch professional and institutions have a profile on Twitter. There, they share articles and blog posts, give tips,  advertise courses and inform  us on upcoming relevant events. So, go to the search space and check if those professionals you`ve always admired have a Twitter account and start following them. Tip: don`t forget to take a look at the list of users who follow and are followed by that profile. You might  even discover profiles that are more interesting than the ones you were originally looking for!
Here are 10 profiles worth following:


3. Attend webinars

Also known as virtual conferences or online workshops, webinars are a fantastic way to invest in your professional recycling. They are usually free, last between 30 and 60 minutes and are delivered by the same incredible speakers you usually meet in important events. Webinars are highly interactive: you can write messages and questions in a chat box and some even allow you to speak using your microphone. Many sessions are recorded, allowing you to view them later as many times as you wish and presenters usually make their slides available for downloading. Isn`t it awesome? Give webinars a try , you shall be positively surprised!
For EdTech lovers:

Upcoming webinars delivered by Shelly Terrell every Friday (6:00 p.m Brasilia time):
(Don`t forget  to check the recordings of past webinars. Fantastic material!)

2013 TESOL virtual seminars (paid for non-members). Check out the schedule:

Serendipity and Fine Focus Webinars
 There is no list of upcoming session topics once many of them are decided by the users the moment the webinar starts. I tried it once and I was very surprised that the whole session was on the topic I had suggested. It was a very nice experience and learning took place through the interaction among participants and moderators.

4. Take an online course

If you are looking for a more in-depth professional development experience on the web, consider taking an online course. You don`t need to be a tech expert to take these courses but they require a good deal of self-discipline and dedication, specially when you do it for the first time.  So, my tip is to start with a free course that lasts for a few weeks only and then, after you get the hang of it, go for the ones that are paid or require commitment for longer periods.

You may have heard of MOOCs before: Massive Open Online Courses. In a partnership with top universities around the globe, Coursera offers many courses for anyone to take for free. Unique experience for those willing to take courses offered by prestigious institutions , such as University of Michigan, Columbia, Princeton, Stanford, just to name a few. Check out the link for courses in the area of education:

SEETA stands for Southeastern Europe Teachers Association and gathers several professional from around the globe interested in professional development. It is a very active association that, from time to time, starts forums and discussions on relevant themes and offers webinars and online courses, all for free!  In order to have access to everything, SEETA requires that you sign up as a member ,which, by the way, can be done at no cost. 

TESOL is one of the largest and widely known associations for English teachers with ramifications all over the world. This means that what they offer to the teaching community is definitely reliable and of good quality. Their courses are not very cheap but are delivered by the top professionals in the field.

For those who are not willing to spend cash but still want to take courses supported by TESOL, the Electronic Village Online (EVO) is a great alternative. The free courses are offered every January and last for 5 weeks. Take a look at what was offered this year! Don`t forget to join their mailing list so that you can get a reminder for next year`s sessions!

The Consultants-E
Nickly Hockly, Shelly Terrell, Gavin Dudeney and Lindsay Clandfield  are some of the names that you will find in this stellar team of professionals. The Consultants-E probably offers the best online courses in the field of educational technology. If that is your area of interest, then you must know about these guys and take one of the courses they offer. They are definitely worth the investment! 
Here is a nice tip: for some courses, you can apply for a full-tuition scholarship!

5. Browse through the web

In the past , if you wanted to read articles or learn content in your areas of interest, you had to buy books or subscribe to journals and magazines. Now, you can go to a search engine, type in a few words and discover  a whole new world. There are excellent  blogs, pages and online journals with fantastic reading material. If you can`t find any blogs in your area of interest, how about starting one? Here are a few of my favorite picks for your appreciation:

As you can see, you don`t need to wait days, weeks or months to attend the next seminar or  spend lots of money to invest in the next move towards your carreer development. The web offers countless opportunities for continuing learning and sharing experiences like never seen before.  These five suggestions cater to  different professionals with different interests. If technology itself is not your goal, you can still use it to find people, groups, communities, blogs, pages and  networks of professional with similar quests. As a matter of fact, most of my own PLN (Personal Learning Network) comes from the sources mentioned in this blog post. How did I learn about their existence?  By chance while networking with different professionals in Twitter and Facebook.If you are thinking about ways of revamping your professional life in 2013, consider taking advantage of all the web can offer! 

Vinicius Lemos

Monday, February 04, 2013

Icebreakers - Ideas for the New School Year

We asked our teachers about their favorite icebreakers for the first class. Everybody agreed that icebreakers are an essential element to bond, to establish an inviting learning environment, to start connecting and getting to know our students. Here´s what CTJ teachers revealed: 

 I really believe in the importance of bonding with the students, so I prefer ice-breakers that involve the exchange of personal information. Two "oldies" that my students always enjoy are: 
The best lie: Write four sentences on the board about you. It can be general information or specific, such as what you did on your last vacation. Among the four sentences, one has to be wrong. Lie as best as you can! Students have to talk in pairs and identify the wrong sentence. Then it's their turn: they write their own sentences, one of them being wrong, and their classmate has to spot the lie. Finally, debrief the activity, asking students who the best liar in each pair was and perhaps to tell you and the group something they learned about their peer.
Numbers in my life: Write a set of numbers on the board: your apartment number, your shoe size, the age you had your first date, the age you lost your first tooth... Be creative! The less obvious the better! Students then have to try to guess what the numbers mean by asking questions (Making this also a nice opportunity to do some needs assessment!) . Then students do the same in pairs. Again, debriefing is always beneficial, for it shows your interest in the students' personal information and students get to know a little about their other classmates, too.

Lately, I have been using wordle a lot on the first day. 
I show students many key words and ask them to make guesses about how they relate to my life . Depending on the level, I ask students to ask me questions to confirm their guesses. I have them do a word cloud like mine on sheets of paper and interact in pairs. I save their work and use what they wrote to understand who they are, and what they like. I use these sheets as name cards throughout the semester.

I found an interesting pdf with some suggestions that might be worth a try.

I also came across a blog post by one of the teachers in the Electronic Village Online session Neuroscience in Education -

The link takes you to Dan Pink's tip to discovering and nurturing our inner motivation. A simple answer to 2 questions: What's my sentence? (the thing I want to be known for) and...Was I better today than yesterday?

Simple, sweet and fun.

I like the one we pass sweets around (jelly beans, M & M's) and tell students to help themselves and take some but not eat them yet. Then we tell students that for each piece of candy they have, they are supposed to give a piece of information about them (like favorite color, movie...).

This icebreaker can be adapted to different levels and can be used even if the students know each other (you ask for pieces of information the colleagues don't know yet).

This one is listed on Dani's pdf above, among many nice others!

During the new teachers' workshop, one of my colleagues did something that I found really intersting: we drew our hands on a piece of paper and wrote five informations about ourselves inside the drawing. Then, the papers were mixed on the floor, and we had to get a hand that wasn't ours and find the owner, by asking him about the informations written. It was really dynamic and it doesn't put the student in the spotlight, which makes them more comfortable to speak.

I like to play true or false using slides on the first day of class. 
Each slide has a sentence such as "The teacher is an excellent cook". 
They have to discuss in pairs and come up with a conclusion. Then, when I change the slide, there is a picture of me cooking at home or something like that. The slides begin with simple information (age, favorite soccer team, how long I have been teaching) and get tricky towards the end (what's my opinion about something). This gets them to know a bit about me and usually generates nice conversation topics about movies, books, videogames, music and so on. As soon as we finish this part of the game, we swap roles. I give them some slips and they have to write - and present! - five true/false sentences about themselves. Of course, if you have larger groups, you can cut back on the number of slides/sentences.

I believe students feel safer and bond better with their teacher when they get to know who we are and a little about our lives, so I usually show a slide with words and numbers that relate to my life and have them guess in groups how they are related to me. Next, I show them a slide only with one of the words or numbers and have them tell the class how they think it is related to my life, ex: "Colombia", then I show a picture related to the word or number, talk a little about it ex:" I was born in Colombia" and tell them to ask me about that topic specifically. Students usually love it and end up asking lots of personal questions, sometimes I ask them questions as well. Be careful though not to overdo it or they may get bothered, choose 6 pieces of information that you would like to share. When they have finished talking about you, ask them to share 6 things about themselves with their groups, then open to the whole class. This activity is not only good to bond with them, but also to get an idea of their speaking skills.

One of my favorite ice breakers is this one: I hand each student a piece of paper the size of a badge. On the board, I draw a square and in the center, I write my name. On each corner of the square, I write: "my favorite song/band", "my favorite food", "something nice that happened to me last year" and my favorite movie". Students should write their answers to these topics on the corners of their piece of paper and their names in the center. Next, they stick it to themselves (like a badge) and stand up. I play some music and when it stops they start talking to the nearest person about the information in the cards. It's very dynamic and fun. Finally, they sit down and share something interesting or surprising they found out about their peers. Of course the topics can be adapted.

Could you suggest other interesting ones?

Here are two that I do every semester:
1) Tell students they can ask you anything they want about you. As they ask you the questions, don’t answer them at this point, but write the questions on the board. When you have a good number of questions, tell students that first they have to answer those questions about themselves in pairs. While students work in pairs, write your answers to the questions on the board, but making some of them true and some of them false. When they are done, ask students to report one thing they learned about their partner. Finally, tell students your answers are on the board, but that they have to guess which ones are true and which ones are false.

2) I divide the board into two big columns: YES | NO and I divide the classroom floor into two sides as well with scotch tape. Then I say a few sentences and, for each one, ss have to walk to the "yes" or "no" side of the classroom. For example, if I say "I practice a sport regularly", ss who do that have to move to the "yes" side, and ss who don't do that have to move to the "no" side. Then they have to ask a follow-up question to someone standing next to them. I usually say sentences like "I love to study English", "I was born in Brasilia", "I can play a musical instrument", "I traveled on my last vacation", etc. At the end, each st has to tell the whole class something they learned about a classmate and I take this opportunity to ask more follow-up questions.

I cannot say I have a favorite one, I usually have a few I like to use depending on the level I am teaching, but one that never fails is the word cloud icebreaker, where I write some words on the board. Some are true and some are false information about me and have the students discuss in pairs or groups to find out which are true and which are false.

A great icebreaker that I love to do and helps me remember everybody's name is throw the ball and say your name. It only goes in a crescendo of difficulty. Remember, the teacher always starts.
1. Ss stand in circle and throw the ball to anyone in the circle and say their own names. Until everybody in the circle has said his.
2. They throw the ball and say the name of one person whose name they have just learned. They have to memorize who they have thrown it to because they will do it several time around and throw the ball to the same person.
3. As they are throwing the ball around, you introduce a second and a third ball, it becomes a little hectic, they need to shout people's names because they have to be heard over the other two names, which are being shouted out as well. We all have a great laugh, and then you can check how many names they can remember (the ice has been broken).

I´ve used many of those activities my friends above mentioned. No matter the activity is, it will all depend how open and willing to connect you are. Our students, just like us, have mixed feelings when they come to the first class, a blend of anticipation, excitement and anxiety. So, if you show you care for them, you are ready to be there with them, it is a crucial first connection with your learners. You are connecting emotionally to them, and this is tremendously beneficial to their learning process. 

Well, I´m always willing to give a try to a new icebreaker, a new beginning, so I just came across this wonderful Going to the Moon first-day activity that seems perfect for the group I´m going to teach: . In the same post, there are other interesting ideas to start the school year. 

Throughout the years, CTJ´s Ed Tech Team has been compiling a comprehensive directory of Icebreakers that might suit you and your students. Check them out at: (Visual collection of ideas for EFL teachers)

Any other suggestions that we might have missed?