mercoledì 7 agosto 2019

A Bag full of... - Saying Bye on Friday 19th

Sadly to say, but the Galway Girl is going back home.

Yesterday evening we met up for our farewell party and eventually stopped at the pub Ed Sheeran had his video "Galway Girl" filmed, quite odd, isn't it? We started talking about our stay and were sad we were going to leave as we had been getting on quite well together. We ended up speaking about the bag full of game.

On our first lesson @ALMM 2019 in Galway, we pictured a bag full of expectations and competences: how we would contribute to the course and what we were hoping we might get from the course. Frankly I hadn't included it all!!! My bag now is full of wonderful memories and fantastic journeys, discoveries of European cultures and how easy it is to get together and be truly European, understanding of different cultures by struggling to go over stereotyping (the average Italian is quite a difficult-to-get-rid-of stereotype), good ideas for lesson planning and several techniques to improve the materials I use and the ones I will create, plenty of strategies to make them more flexible and inclusive, (if it is possible) more apps to make learning more interactive and to stimulate learners further. But most of all I am stuffing my bag with the people I met: Margit and her love for music, Artur and Magda who caught up really fast with our group and brought very good laughs, Stephan and his different and original perspective, Marieta and her perfect knowledge of English (the walks and the music we shared), the Austrian teachers Ute and Isabella who were always a step ahead, Maria who dared swimming in the ocean, Maria who was a pleasure to work with, Jana - the one who sparked up our lessons and my journeys, who shared laughs and performances, lessons and future projects.

My bag is fully ready to leave Galway and to be opened once in Italy when I need new enthusiasm and memories, when I am in my classes again to try to make my teaching more effective.

Just thank you!

giovedì 18 luglio 2019

Upsum - it's high time we did it! - Thurs 18th July

Today we have been speaking about resources for ICT material and digital literacy.
I have thought it best to produce a couple of padlets to give ready-made access to those resources, some of which I still have to try but that will be perfect for my classes:
Insert Learning
Those are resources which fully exploit texts (webpages and videos, actually) and make full comprehension and analysis possible. Why not take a quick look?

martedì 16 luglio 2019

Comprehension and beyond - how to fully exploit texts beyond questions - Tuesday 16th July

After dealing with the paramount importance of questions, Johanna today puts forward the idea of going beyond questions to enhance comprehension and work on the higher-order thinking skills.

When it comes down to texts, I usually carry out a series of activities which are meant
  • ... to prepare learners before they meet the text: personal response questions to introduce topic, brainstorm topic or vocabulary and fill a table; start from a visual prompt (a pic, a painting, etc), elicit description and prediction;
  • ... to check learners have understood the global meaning of the text: elicit key words from students and make a word cloud to check understanding, but also to reconstruct the text or summarise a text. I sometimes ask them to write comprehension questions to share;
  • ... to really teach reading strategies (process-oriented task): gap filling exercise (to be completed while reading) and list of words that could possibly fill (ask student to guess the gap fill before reading to encourage predictive skills); tasks which combine Listening and note taking (dictogloss), reconstruct the text and compare in pairs or groups;
  • ... to encourage learners to give personal reactions to a text: personal response questions; turn texts into a different text type (interview, diary entry, whatsapp message, a video, ads, a haiku, a radio commercial); to enact talk shows on the topic;
  • ... to stimulate work on other skills (speaking, writing, or the other receptive skill): turn texts into a different text type (interview, diary entry, whatsapp message, a video, an ad, a haiku, a radio commercial); plan and carry out a survey on the text topic (if possible) by asking students to devise questions and go round the class surveying.
We have seen a few approaches for exploiting texts, check comprehension and intervene in the text and shape up follow up activities, activities to stimulate personal response to a text and creative tasks. This set of activities is based on the procedures for working with Written Texts Alan Maley was speaking about in his book “Short and Sweet” (1993): expand and reduce, transfer the media and reformulate, reconstruct and create, analyses and interpret.

There are a few I particularly liked.

1 - KWL

This is a type of alternative approach to comprehension questions that allows students not only to write questions for others and before they read, but to cope with the text individually or in group by filling in this table

What I KNOW already
What I WANT to know

Before reading a text the student fills in the first column and most importantly the second one. The questions the student writes will make him connect the text to himself and make it more relevant as he wants to know these details. Making the student write the questions and share them with his partner before reading is a type of activity which engages him to read the article and raises his expectations.


Johanna says the best way to check comprehension is to ask students to summarise a text. If we leave behind the traditional approach, some interesting and original activities to sum a text up involve a word count or a time limit, a diagram and an infographic. Infographics produced with Canva stimulate the students’ creativity and allow him to really focus on the essential and most important information as well as on organizing it logically. These infographic are ready-made revision papers too.


An activity I find really useful to include critical thinking into reading consists simply in reading with a pen and marking the text with different symbols to identify parts you feel strongly/mildly about, you find surprising or just needs further discussion and consideration.



☹ ☹



After reading the text individually and marking it, students are asked to work in pairs and discuss the texts starting with the ! and ? parts. After allowing them some time for this co-operative activity, feedback is carried out and a new activity/set of activities are carried out.

Texts RECONSTRUCTION and REWRITING tasks involve dictogloss, gapped texts, and reconstructing a text where some parts have been hidden (a nice activity with the poem Television was introduced to us) or rewriting it from a different perspective or in a different genre or messing it up with it!

I think, therefore I am.

I think, therefore I am smart.

I overthink, therefore I am anxious.

I think, therefore I am confused.

To be, or not to be 

Two beers, or not two beers

To bee, or not to bee

(Brexit) Plan B, or no plan B


 Alan Maley's Extract about the 12 procedures for exploiting written texts

To ask, or not to ask, that is the question - Mon 14th July

A question of questions

We teachers ask a lot of questions. Sometimes too many, sometimes not the right ones, sometimes we do it thoughtlessly, sometimes they are just lifted, sometimes they are referential, sometimes they are divergent…Stop stop stop!!!

Why ask questions?

We teachers ask them to check learners have understood (Which path did Snow white take?), to guide them notice, to stimulate language use for example in discussion and writing, to stimulate learners to remember (What did Snow white do when she entered the house?) and to think more deeply (How would the story have been different if Snow white hadn’t eaten the apple?). We ask questions to assess prior knowledge and to engage learners in the topic, or to encourage personalisation and personal response (Which dwarf mirrors your attitude?) and to guide them to form hypotheses. We ask questions to get feedback (what did you think if the story?), simply.

When it comes to language and to life, it’s the question that matters. When it comes to teaching and learning, it’s paramount to clearly understand if the question we are asking will guide the learners to develop strategies and skills or will simply assess their comprehension, if the question we are asking is meant to elicit personal response and a deeper analysis or it’s just meant to assess that they have understood.

There are different types of questions:
  • Display questions – the person who asks the question already knows the answer, those are used to elicit prior knowledge and to check comprehension;
  • Referential questions – they are used to encourage the sharing of opinions, the questioner may not know the answer: “What do you think…?”;
  • Closed questions (aka Convergent) – they have one correct answer or a couple of correct options, the answers here is predictable and often calls just on memory;
  • Open-ended questions (aka Divergent) – they are used to fully encourage opinions, to make inferences and predictions, to summarise.

When it comes to questions, as teachers we should always refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy and try to stimulate the higher-order thinking skills rather than the lower-order ones (Remember).

We should also follow what Mike Gershon summarises in his blog about questions: we should differentiate through questioning.
According to Gershon, this is possible when we ask the learner to show and convince us about why their answer is right and dig deeper by trying to get to the bottom of what our learners think, by exploring the foundations underpinning their thinking (what do you mean by that? How does that relate to the question? What evidence do you have for that?...); we should differentiate when we make their knowledge provisional to make learning a constant building-up of meaning and sense. If we want our learners to develop critical thinking, one way of doing it is by presenting knowledge as provisional using “might” for example. Gershon states that “What might democracy be?” instead of “What is democracy?” encourages the learners to assess, examine, reason and analyse, as in the former case the students are able to arrive individually or as a group at answers based on critical thinking. With this approach, the teacher is able to elicit information about what their learners think and can use it to improve and develop learning thanks to a spiralling process. Moreover, the students are pushed to examine a topic critically and obliged to make assumptions and justify their ideas, as a result they are subjecting any idea or topic to analysis and evaluation to build up meaning and knowledge.

In the end, the most important questions are the questions we ask ourselves before and while preparing an activity, though. I feel I ought to become more aware of those too. Some examples of these questions are
  • Why am I asking this question?
  • Is this question clear and effective?
  • Is it answerable? Can it be misinterpreted?
  • Does it improve strategies and skills?
  • Does this question lead to learning?
  • Is the amount of learning worth the effort?


Johanna Stirling, A question of questions, article

Mike Gershon’s blog