Category Archives: Activities

Encouraging Learner Autonomy

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One of the best things teachers can do for their students is to help them learn to help themselves.  To promote learner autonomy, we need to build students’ self-confidence and give them strategies for teaching themselves.  Some of the ways we can do this include the following.

  1. Self-reflection
    1. Provide worksheets or questionnaires asking students to consider their past learning, their current skill levels, their weak points and their strengths.
    2. Discuss different learning styles and help students determine how they learn best.
  2. Goal setting (works well in conjunction with self-reflection!)
    1. Encourage students to write down specific goals and specific tactics to achieve these goals, for example, adding 15 new words to a word bank every week, reading three articles in the newspaper every day or writing a short journal entry every night.
    2. Revisit these goals periodically throughout the term to allow students to assess their progress and adjust or add to their goals.
  3. Student-led activities
    1. Give students structured opportunities to create activities for each other. For example, they could write small quizzes or cloze activities, prepare conversation questions, or come up with educational games.
    2. Ask students, in small groups or pairs, to present information to the class. They might summarize articles, take up homework on the board, make posters, or give short presentations reviewing information studied in class.
  4. Self and peer editing
    1. Create checklists for students to follow when editing their own or others’ work (specific and well thought out checklists or worksheets are useful here – given free reign, my experience has been that students will find many mistakes that don’t exist and confuse each other).
    2. Provide the rubrics you use for assessments and encourage students to assess their own work using this, prior to your assessment.
    3. Provide an error-log for students’ use that will help them discover the patterns in their writing, such as their common grammar or structural mistakes
  5. Providing choice
    1. Give students some control over how time is used. For example, “We have a half hour at the end of the class on Friday, would you like to review this or this?”
    2. Allow students to tell you what kind of activities they prefer; for example, the class could decide through a vote whether they would like to practice a concept through a discussion or a written activity, or perhaps space for both ways of learning could be provided in the classroom and each student could choose.
    3. Provide some choice in assessment activities. This could range from a choice in topics to a choice in type of assessment.

All of these methods require thought and organizing on the part of the teacher, and, as with most everything, work best when scaffolded.  Over time and with encouragement, students could learn to be more independent and to take more ownership over the learning process, providing greater opportunity to be successful in the future.

Do you have other tactics for helping students increase their independence? What has been your experience implementing strategies like these in the classroom? Please share with us in the comments!


QR Code Treasure Hunt anyone?

Recently, I tried a campus familiarization activity with my students.  In the past terms, students sat at their desks and looked at a map to identify services and their associated locations on a worksheet.  Throughout the term students asked me, or each other, where different campus resources were located. It was obvious that they did not take in the campus resources information.

My challenge was to improve this learning activity.  Reaching into my technology bag of tricks, I was looking for a technology that would improve this learning task.  Continue reading


“Be the Star” – Making Videos for Your Classroom

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“I’m just going to find a video quickly online!” I’ve said to myself many times, clearly delusional.  A “quick” online hunt for material to use in class often becomes a lengthy goose chase.  It’s hard to find just the right thing, at the right level, on the right subject when searching the vast reaches of the World Wide Web.  The better option?  To make it myself. Sometimes this can seem intimidating though, especially if videography is a medium one is not used to working in.

Considering that fact, below is my summary of a video presentation my business partner, Larissa Conley, and I made for this year’s TESL Ontario Conference explaining how to make your own videos for classroom use.  Continue reading


Teach verbs with animated GIFs and Quizlet


Teaching verbs can be accomplished through a combination of miming, games, worksheets, video clips, discussion, lecture, translation, and perhaps a host of other strategies.  Reinforcing the meaning of many verbs by providing a video clip can help with retention. Flashcards can also assist with vocabulary acquisition.  Quizlet’s flashcards deliver still images or animated clips online. Animated clips can accelerate acquisition through motion in context. Quizlet’s ability to include animated GIFs makes it a useful tool for language students learning base verbs.

Continue reading


The Art of Group Work

Team work conept. Hard-working university students sitting at table pointing at some information in book with pencils trying to understand what is written there. Students working with books studying
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Group work – just the mere mention of this makes some students cringe.  In fact, I have heard from students who actively choose courses that don’t involve group work even if at first the course sounds really interesting, but in reality, that limits the choices tremendously!  In other cases, I’ve stood at the front of the class and announced, “ok, let’s get into groups and…” and all of a sudden, I hear this cacophony of sighs transcend the room – no holding back, no filters. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of group work in education, and Continue reading


Round-up of Classic Classroom Activities

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Do you have some go-to activities that you use for multiple teaching points?  I have a few.  I think it’s reassuring for students to see activities they recognize.  They feel confident when they know what to do, and they can focus on the point being taught instead of learning the rules of a new game (ahem, I mean “learning activity”).  It also doesn’t hurt that reusing ideas and materials reduces teacher prep time.  For these reasons, here are three of my favourite flexible activities.  Continue reading


Data-driven learning with WordSift

image source: John Allan

I recently came across a web resource that reminded me of using Data-driven learning (DDL) with students.  I have not tried using DDL for a few years but I think that WordSift will allow instructors to use basic DDL techniques with their students.

What is DDL?

Data-driven learning is a learning approach in which learning is driven by research-like access to linguistic data (Johns, 1991). DDL examines a corpora or body of text. WordSift can generate useful usage data Continue reading


Celebrating National Dictionary Day

Fake Dictionary Dictionary definition of the word encourage.
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This weekend has been filled with social gatherings and sharing our thanks with friends and family – and our students, but in the world of teaching, before one major theme is complete, our thoughts are filled with what’s next.  October is filled with major themes – Fall harvest, Thanksgiving, and Halloween, but did you know it’s also the month of National Dictionary Day?  As Shakespeare said, what’s in a name? Well for many language learners, the answer is Continue reading


Let us be thankful

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Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers!

This blog isn’t really about being thankful… unless you are thankful for a few ideas that you can use this week to teach about Thanksgiving. Are you tired of the same old worksheets that you use year after year? Are you looking for something different?  Here I want to offer some (hopefully) fresh ideas that you can consider using in your classroom. Also, please share any ideas that you love to use in the comment section below.  So, let’s freshen up our Thanksgiving activity repertoire. Continue reading


Notes From a Registered Dietitian: Helping Newcomers Make Healthier Choices at the Grocery Store

Image says "Join the movement. Bike. Walk. Play. activeto.caIn my practice as a Registered Dietitian at Toronto Public Health, I have heard many newcomers tell me that they get overwhelmed by the huge number of choices at the grocery store. Think about the last time you went down the cereal aisle. How many different cereals were there? What are the factors you considered in making your choice? Did you read the fine print? Was it just based on the price tag? Or did the cartoon characters or other pictures convince you (or your child) to pick them?

Helping your learners interpret the fine print on nutrition labels can make Continue reading