Friday Fun with Apps 2

Posted August 14, 2014 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Tech Tips

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I’m sure that many of you have also seen the possibilities of repurposing entertainment apps for language learning. This is my second “Friday Fun with Apps” post. Let me share two apps with free versions for you to check out.

Recently rap has crept its way into my household. I admit that it’s not my favorite genre of music, but using AutoRap by Smule on my iPhone or iPad has been very entertaining. My children and I have used the Talk Mode to create solo and group raps. There’s no need for the rhyme-and-rhythm challenged to event attempt a legitimate rap. The app does it all for you. You simply record a sentence or two, and the app morphs your voice and puts it to a rap tune. In seconds you sound like you should have your hit playing on a radio station!

There is a Rap Mode for those who really need only a beat and an audience, but most learners are going to be shy about performing, so I’d stick with the Talk Mode in a group setting. Give a demo to show how easy it is. Possible topics and formats:

  • How was your weekend? Have students pair up and ask each other about how they spent their weekends. They can decide on 1-2 lines per person and record their statements one after the other. (Finding a quiet corner or stepping out in the hall for a few seconds would be a good idea to reduce background noise.) The raps can be played for the class — not necessarily in their entirety since there is much repetition. Follow-up questions can be given after each listening.
  • Hello my name is… Demo your self-intro in class. Ask students to do their own 2-3 line introduction and email it to you.
  • The Bottom Line. If students engage in discussion, they can summarize their personal viewpoint, make a recommendation, or ask a rhetorical question. Next step: Email it to a partner and then email a response to the partner’s rap.
  • Vocabulary Lists. As a warm-up you can name a category and ask students to call out words. The resulting list is your rap. Alternatively, you can use a set of words you’re studying that given week. Each student can email you a pre-assigned definition via a rap. Taking turns, students will be asked to identify the key word as they listen to the rap. As soon as the word is correctly guessed, move on to the next rap.

Looking for a fun warm-up just to get students talking? Consider Optical Illusions by Tick Tock Apps. There are images of people, animals, rooms, places, and activities. Filter by either “Illustrative Art” or “Photographic.” Just asking students to describe what they see will get them talking. With a little forethought, you can choose an image that ties into the theme of your lesson plan. If you don’t have a projector, you could email the selected image for students to view on their own phones.



Nothing but the Truth: Using “but” as a Preposition

Posted August 6, 2014 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Grammar

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A learner recently asked me to confirm that we use the base form of the verb after “nothing but” and only infinitives after a phrase like “no choice but.” Hmm.  I could have created greater complexity by throwing out the fact that gerunds could also appear after nothing but. After all, if but functions as a preposition, then we know that gerunds could also be indirect objects. Consider this example: “There is nothing but whining and arguing at those committee meetings.” (See comment below about dummy subjects.)

However, I felt it best to limit discussion to the two constructions [nothing but + base verb] and [no choice but + infinitive]. The latter phrase has a noun, and nouns can have infinitive complements: the right to remain silent, the need to express oneself, the choice to be free. The infinitives help us define those nouns, those ideas. It doesn’t matter if the phrase is affirmative or negative: no rights to exercise, no needs to speak of, no choice but to fight. Agreed?

As for nothing but, dictionaries prefer to use examples with noun and pronoun objects. We could start with such examples to help students discover the meaning of this phrase: They serve nothing but healthy food. = They serve only healthy food. We can then start offering more examples to show the range of objects: They serve nothing but the best. = They only serve the best. / The food critic did nothing but complain.= The food critic only complained. (He did nothing else.)

I think it’s easier to see nothing but as an equivalent of only, as noted in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. Comparing it to except creates confusion for learners because we also have except for and constructions like except do something and except to do something. I also think it’s helpful to show the patterns that are most frequent. We usually see [nothing but + base verb] after a form of do: He did nothing but complain. She plans to do nothing but sleep. We‘ve done nothing but work, work, work. Sometimes the most helpful explanation to a question is not about targeting the why aspect, but rather targeting what the standard is.

If you’d like to help your students learn some standard patterns with but as a preposition, please check out my Nothing but the Truth_handout.

If you’d like to help me gain greater clarity on this topic, please post a comment. Thank you!

Facing the Topic of Aging and Making It Fun

Posted July 30, 2014 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Vocabulary

Tags: , , , ,

In my Language Notes series, I like to highlight sets of vocabulary that facilitate understanding and communication on a given topic. In my newest video, I’ve decided to face one particular topic head on — before someone else with observant eyes brings it up: aging. The truth is that we’re all aging, but for those of us who make instructional videos, we’re aging on camera. So why not admit I’m no spring chicken? (That’s one of the expressions I teach in the video!)

The experience of aging and the inevitable signs of growing older can be a topic discussed with sensitivity and respect for all, and if done this way the lesson will be a meaningful and memorable one for adult learners. Shared laughter can be a great way to kick off such a lesson. I found a two-minute video by comedian John Fraser on YouTube. His speech is fast, but students can focus on two tasks in order to take away key points. (1) First, ask students to complete this statement with any adverb: I want to age ___. Then as they listen ( around :20), they can catch some of the adverbs John Fraser uses, like gracefully and joyously. (2) Second, ask students to pay attention to the final joke about hearing loss. See who is able to explain the punch line. (Hint: It’s about not pointing fingers and having more self-awareness about growing older.)

I’ve put together a small set of classroom slides to further engage students and find out what vocabulary they already have to talk about growing older. Please see my Language Notes_12_classroom slides. You may choose to present the vocabulary I teach in my video, from laugh lines to elderly vs. old, and then have students watch the entire video after class to reinforce your own presentation. I also offer an interactive exercise on my website for review and practice. In class, you may invite students to put some of the vocabulary into use with my  Getting Up There_handout.

To generate more conversation and writing on this topic you may use my suggestions from the previous post, in which I linked to video on living longer. Also, you could turn to online quotes on aging. (I like BrainyQuote.)

  • Have students choose a quote that most closely reflects their own viewpoint. They can explain their understanding of the quote and then provide at least one illustration through a personal example — a relative, a friend, or even themselves.
  • Assign quotes to students and have them prepare a short talk for the class. How do they interpret the words and do they agree or disagree with the main idea?

Listen, Laugh, and Learn: 6 Ideas for Video-based Activities (Part 2)

Posted July 23, 2014 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Methodology

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Are you interested in exploring more video-based activities? Here are the other three I promised.

4. Catching a liar. Honesty is a great topic to discuss with students because it can be placed within so many different contexts depending on the kind of learners you are working with. You can discuss the need for honesty at home, at school, in personal relationships, or in the workplace. BuzzFeedVideo has a two-minute clip on How to Tell If Someone Is Lying to You. Because the clip is short, you might require at least two viewings. First, you could ask students to come to class having watched the clip once and written the basic signs that tell you a person is lying (forgiving the lack of parallel structure since it’s not used in the video!): eye movement, hiding body parts, grooming, head movement, and audible cues. Then in class you can assign small groups of students a particular sign and have them be responsible for noting as many details or examples possible during a group viewing of the clip.  Just as volunteers spoke in the video, one student from each small group can speak for 15 seconds on an assigned topic. The class must use the information learned from the video to explain why they think the speaker is telling the truth or lying. If you wish to combine this listening activity with grammar, consider my Bluffing game that requires use of the present perfect and simple past.

5. Trying to live longer. BuzzFeedYellow has a two-minute clip on How to Live to 100. As a pre-listening task, ask students to make their own lists. Require 3-5 items. Students may share their ideas with the class or with a partner.  As a second pre-listening task, invite them to make predictions as a class. You can prepare them by telling them the main topics: diet, exercise, and positive attitude. Can they guess the specific ideas and advice that will be presented in the video? As they watch the video, they can confirm their predictions and also compare their lists to what is presented. Do they agree or disagree? Perhaps additions or changes to their lists will occur after watching the video. In small groups, students can be challenged to compile their lists and submit only one. Each student can argue the necessity of including a particular item. This language topic works nicely with modal verbs (You should exercise every day.) or expressions of reason and result (Because of/ thanks to/ due to her vegetarian diet, the woman feels much healthier.) An optional activity can be to watch a second related video by List25 and compare ideas.  Check out 25 Ways You Can Live A Longer Life. Are there any items that appear on both lists?

6. Talking about strange foods. “Strange” is a subjective word, as is “delicious.” You’d need to be sensitive if you work with BuzzFeedYellow’s Americans Taste Exotic Asian Foods. However, touching upon cultural differences and differences in perception can be a very positive experience in an international classroom. The point isn’t to mock or insult, but rather to laugh at our natural reactions to things that are very different. This very human tendency is what can unite a mixed group as they come to a shared understanding. I once had a group of students write about the strangest thing they ever ate. One student had the insight to write about a favorite snack that was familiar to her but likely strange to her peers in the ESL classroom. The dish? – Fried grasshoppers. The goal was to create a descriptive writing that appealed to the senses, and students also learned about one another’s preferences. The video could be used to set the context for a discussion about strange foods and foods common in one’s culture. This in turn could lead to a short writing assignment: (1) Write one paragraph about the strangest food you ever tasted. OR (2) Write one paragraph describing a food you like, but which is not likely found in other countries. Alternatively, students could be assigned a Web search for a recipe for one of the foods mentioned by a classmate. For example, can they find and then explain how exactly to prepare fried grasshoppers?

Listen, Laugh, and Learn: 6 Ideas for Video-based Activities (Part 1)

Posted July 17, 2014 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Methodology

Tags: , , , , , , ,

While poking around on YouTube, I came across a number of interesting videos that could easily be incorporated into a language lesson to engage learners and prompt production. I began looking at top ten lists, which I’ve explored in a previous post, but quickly moved into other video formats. Here are six that caught my attention and inspired a few ideas for upper level students.

1. Debunking myths. There are a number of videos with titles like “Facts You Believed But Aren’t Really True.”  List25 and BuzzFeedVideo offer a few interesting ones, but I couldn’t readily see their sources to verify their information. The one I liked the most was produced by HouseholdHacker. See Myth Hacking – 5 things you thought were true but aren’t. What’s great about this list is that it’s short, making the video convenient for classroom use. Also, the information is practical. With any of these lists, I suggest making a pre-listening quiz with true-false items for each myth debunked in the video. (With the longer lists, you might choose to focus only on the top ten facts.) Have students take the quiz with a partner. Then the class can watch to correct their answers. With the HouseholdHacker video, students could then be invited to share their own know-how and state a practical tip using target language, such as the real conditional or modals of necessity (e.g., you should try lemon juice to remove freckles).

2. Doing self-reflection. BuzzFeedVideo has a video called Are You Right-Brained of Left-Brained? Who doesn’t like to laugh and reflect on their tendencies? This short video is under two minutes and is already in quiz format. See if your students are aware of their dominant side before watching the video. Can anyone explain what it means to be right-brained or left-brained? Students can take the quiz as they watch. A couple viewings may be necessary, and pausing will likely be needed as they note their answers on a piece of paper. Have students discuss their findings in small groups. Pull out key vocabulary from the video (pause at 1:12 for visual, outspoken, etc. and pause again at 1:21 for verbal, analytical, etc.), so they can try to incorporate the words in their conversation.

3. Describing others. BuzzFeedVideo has another video just under three minutes called What Your Handwriting Says About You. Start by asking students what they think about their own handwriting. Did they take penmanship classes in school as children? Have students copy a sentence from the board or try a short dictation. Suggestion: Many people don’t think much about their handwriting because we do so much typing these days. Have students exchange papers and then watch the video. Afterwards, they may sit with their partner and try to analyze their partner’s writing sample. You can facilitate this part by first having them complete a cloze exercise that summarizes the insights. Example: “If you have rounded letters you are _____ and creative.” (Answer: artistic) They can refer to the text as they look at their partner’s writing. As an independent writing assignment, students may write one paragraph stating whether they agree or disagree with the information in the video.

There are many other videos to base activities on. I tend to favor the ones from BuzzFeedVideo. I’ll share three more of my top picks in the next post!

Interesting Ways to Commence Language Studies: Using commencement speeches

Posted July 9, 2014 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Methodology

Tags: , , , ,

graduation capI have briefly mentioned the possibility of using commencement speeches in the past, but coming across some good ones recently inspired me to consider additional ideas in detail.

Do you have a favorite speaker? I really enjoyed Steve’s Job 2005 speech at Standford and J. K. Rowling’s 2008 speech at Harvard. is one of a number of sites that offer a list of all-time best commencement addresses, and both Jobs and Rowling made their list. Marlo Thomas of the Huffington Post put together her list of the best addresses from 2014.

No matter which speech you or your students choose to use, there is sure to be inspirational content along with useful expressions and a good listening sample of authentic language. Some considerations:

  • Length. The addresses are long by nature, so you may consider using an address in parts or simply choose to focus on an excerpt that students can work with to target different skills. They can always be encouraged to listen to or read the full address independently.
  • Difficult content. I don’t really mean the complexity of the language, for all the addresses will use formal language and higher level vocabulary. I’m referring to the anecdotes speakers tend to use to refer to adversity and realities of the world. You’ll have to decide what is appropriate for your students. For example, if you choose an excerpt from J. K. Rowling’s address, you would not want to focus heavily on the accounts of  torture victims.  You’d be wise to focus more on her description of failure.
  • Format. There are some interesting high school commencement speeches that have potential for classroom use, but unless there are accurate captions or a transcript, you may want to make another selection. The high profile speeches, like Rowling’s, are sure to have both the video (with clear audio) and the transcript. Having the speech in both formats allows you more possibilities and gives the students richer resources.

What are the classroom possibilities?

  1. Reading skills. Other than the the traditional approach of listening to the speech, posing comprehension questions, and then discussing the content, you might choose to focus on the structure. Can students look at the speech as a whole and make an outline? Can they identify the main theme, subtopics, and supporting details? Once this is done, then you can move into discussion and reflection.
  2. Listening/reading skills. You could provide the basic outline and students could be asked to complete it.  If no title is shown at first, invite them to provide a title. You can write in the supporting details and ask them to identify the main points.
  3. Writing skills. Can students look at the speech as a whole and critique the structure? Is there a consistent theme, development, and enough support? Evaluate the strength of the conclusion.
  4. Listening skills. You can create a true-false quiz that students can answer as they listen to the speech. I’d suggest focusing on the personal anecdotes and the facts of what happened.  A second quiz can be created for post-listening. At that stage, students can handle reflection and answer true-false questions about what is implied.
  5. Speaking/writing skills. Most commencement addresses include quotes. Ask students to scan the transcript for quotes and then paraphrase or summarize each one. After they share their work, they could be invited to comment on the meaning and state agreement or disagreement. They may also share their own personal stories that illustrate the quote.
  6. Vocabulary. As a class, students can create a vocabulary notebook. Invite each student to read an assigned segment and highlight 2-3 new vocabulary items. Have them use dictionaries (offline or online) to find the meanings. Each student is responsible for teaching their words or expressions to the class. All information can be compiled and shared as a reference tool.

Do you have ideas of your own? I’d love to hear them.

Holiday Hopes

Posted July 1, 2014 by englishwithjennifer
Categories: Announcements

Tags: , ,

East Point Carnival and Fourth of July CelebrationI will be celebrating the Fourth of July with my family this week. For those observing Independence Day, I hope you have a safe and happy holiday weekend.  And to everyone everywhere, peace and good wishes!

I will return next week with a new post.



Photo credit: “East Point Carnival and Fourth of July Celebration” by Jason Riedy. Retrieved from Creative Commons on Flickr.


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