Sunday, May 21, 2017

Letting your students take the lead: an lesson via Instagram

I like to experiment. A lot. And my guinea pigs are my students. During one of my experiments this year (using WhatsApp to teach) a few of my students said: "We want to use Instagram!"

"OK," I said. "Not this time, but I promise you, we will."

When it came around to Independence Day, I asked if any of them had an idea how to utilize Instagram to do a lesson using Instagram. 

Jennifer popped up: "I do! Leave it up to me!"

And I did!

The morning of the lesson, she sent me 4 groups of photographs that she had curated from the Internet; one for each group of students in the class:

Her plan was for me to send it out to our class in our WhatsApp broadcast group, and for us to do an Instagram Live while they were working. 

At this point I realized that HER idea of an English lesson using Instagram, and MY idea, were not exactly the same. 

So I added to her idea: I asked each member of each group to write a reaction to one of the four pictures they would be receiving, and then to write a Birthday Wish for Israel for her 69th birthday. Then they were asked to tag it with the hashtag: #Israel2017NHS

What I did NOT take into account was that since they actually USE Instagram, some of them felt it would not look "cool" if they posted a school assignment on their accounts. So I compromised: those who did not feel comfortable posting it could send it to me via Whatsapp and I would post with the hashtag. 

During the activity, we were live on Instagram Live, as they had wanted (warning: unedited, uncensored, unflipped footage of part of the lesson filmed by one of my students). 


Here are some pics that I took of the kids in action: 

This is what was posted on Instagram from a group that DID feel ok with it:

The others can be seen (if you wish) by doing a hashtag search on Instagram! :-)

And here are the responses of one of the other groups:

So what did I learn from this experiment?

1) When your students offer to take the helm, let them! (And if they don't offer, YOU suggest it!)
2) Keep in mind that THEIR idea of an acceptable EFL activity may not be the same as YOURS (so you might have to "improvise" and "embellish"). 
3) Even though (2) .... it's ok! Because the motivation and the fun they have doing, together with the feeling of pride and empowerment that the students, themselves, feel when they take the lead, is worth it! 

My creative Jennifer: the student who enabled all of us to have an interesting learning experience!

Thanks sweetie!

Have YOU every done an activity with your students on Instagram or any other Social Media? Please share in the comments, below!

Digitally yours, 


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Quizlet Live - Putting More Fun in Learning

Quizlet Live is my new favorite education toy and defo BEST application for this school year! I couldn't BELIEVE my eyes when I saw that I hadn't written about it yet! So here goes:

The old tried and true Quizlet has been around for years. It is a website where you prepare digital flashcards for the vocabulary YOU decide that you want your students to learn (albeit- there are TONS of ready made sets which you could use, as well) . You can build a class with them and assign the sets or just share a URL or barcode with them to get them in (but then you don't save the statistics). They can play as flashcards for learning and practicing, test themselves, and play cool games that have them racing against time, then reviewing their mistakes and repeating the ones they got wrong. They can play on any of their devices, anywhere!  For a more detailed explanation, check out Irit Merchav's blogpost on the subject. And here is an explanation of how one teacher uses Quizlet to flip her classroom. 

But that's PEANUTS next to the magic of Quizlet Live! The only prerequisites for using it are:

  • A device for each student (this could be their phones, tablets or laptops)
  • At least 6 participants (they will be working in teams)
  • Wifi or Internet connection
  • A main board on which you project the site for signing in, dividing the teams and keeping track of the score.
I was going to write a whole description of how it works, but Thompson says it SO  much better ;-)

Quizlet Live uses ANY of the material you or anyone else have uploaded already to Quizlet! You can also have your students make their own, using words that THEY feel they need to learn!

Quizlet Live is a fantastic way to engage your students as they learn new terms, enrich vocabulary, even writing conventions and grammar! It is based on collaboration, which is why mine love it SO MUCH! NOBODY hears the bell when they are in the middle of a game! Try it!

Any questions? Ask me! Can you think of another way to use it? Do you use games like Quizlet, Quizlet Live and Kahoot? If so, please share in the comments, below, so we can all learn about them!

Digitally yours,

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Messages to the Past: A Lesson for Teaching about the Holocaust

I believe the first time I was made aware of the book "I Never Saw Another Butterfly", when I was a teenager learning about the Holocaust. I loved the idea of preserving and perpetuating the artwork and writings of children who lived - and many who died - in the Holocaust. Specifically, at Terezin, where a very brave art teacher by the name of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis  dedicated and endangered her life to using art and literature to help the children with whom she worked, deal with the traumas they were living.

After becoming a teacher, myself, I bought a copy and use it from time to time, when appropriate, with my classes. This year, I wanted to do something a little different.  I wanted to build a virtual bridge between children of the past, and children of the present. A bridge that could link, even for a few minutes, children from "there" and "then" with kids from "here" and "now". I wanted to do it in a way that would enable creativity and messages of hope - spanning the decades, the cultures and the circumstances - to be able to touch my students of today, students who become desensitized to so much of life when viewed through screens.

Yesterday's lesson in my 11th grade class opened with a YouTube with music, photographs from the Holocaust, and drawings from the book - together with the words of the title poem:

I then asked the students if they had ever seen or heard of the book. (None of them had.) 

I read a short explanation of where the artists were from, and how their teacher scrimped, saved, schemed and hid materials and their work, in order to provide not only the art lessons she was supposed to, but also a form of therapy for the children in her charge in the ghetto Terezin.

I had made 9 colored photocopies of pages from the book, including artwork, poems and prose. I pasted the snippets of biographical information known about the creators on the back of each page,  laminated them and spread them around the classroom. 

For the next stage of work, I told my students that we were going to choose at least two drawings and two texts, and write: 

  • Who drew / wrote them.
  • What the text/ drawing was about - or in other words - what message did they get from looking at the drawing or text. 

I gave them about 30 minutes. As they were working, I walked around the room and talked with them. I pointed out the details in the bios, when they were known (some were simply listed as "anonymous") . I made them figure out how old the child was when she was sent to Terezin; and how old she was when she was killed. How old he was when he was released, or how old he would be today. I wanted to help them focus on one or two young souls from the past. 

Because focusing on 6 million is inconceivable.  

Then I added Step Two:

After learning about 4 pieces, (or as many as they had had time to get to) choose one that speaks to you the most.
If you could send the writer/artist a message, what would it be?

(Anything you wish: a message of empathy, sympathy, encouragement… could take a picture and add it…..)

We discussed the difference between the different suggestions, and they wrote. Then I shared a collaborative Google Slides Presentation with them. There were numerous ways they could get to it with their phones:

1. As a Google Classroom assignment*. 
2. Type the shortened URL into their phone's browser.
3. Scan a barcode with their phone.
4. For worst case scenario, some of them could fill in the slides on the class computer, or my laptop, which I had also brought as back up.
*Since some of them have difficulties getting into Google Classroom through their phones, I always have back up options

I prepared as many slides as I have students. The slides looked like this:


Each student went into an empty slide, and filled out her or his "Message to the Past".

Here are some excerpts:

Message #1:

"Hello,I'm alive, read your poem.
It's good,it's impressing [sic]. Wish you could survive that, and be here, today and see how you are full of inspir 
[sic], that you are strong, very strong.
To me the most important thing in life to yourself is to be proud of what you are, who you are, where are you from and what you believe in.
You are impressing me to be that woman that is proud she is a woman, that she is a Jew, and so love and proud to be that one!. If I could I would send you love and strong words that will make you feel good, and make you believe in yourself. You are special, wish that we have more like you."

Message #2:

"Look on the bright side, even if is hard. Find the bright spot, even if it looks impossible. Look and find the similarity to your home. As you will be happier and as you remain strong mentally and physically, it is another step to road a win against the Natzi [sic] scum.

From a free Jewish boy in the future"

Message #3:
"To the anonymous (child) who wrote 'Homesick',Hope you will someday feel what home feels like,Hope you will feel warmHope you will feel loveHope you won’t feel death, cold and struggles anymore."

Message #4:
"Hello Ruth, I was reading your poem and I became sad. But I want to tell you that the suffering that people express had end [sic], and now all the Jewish people are safe in one Jewish country. I hope you are in a good place in Heaven."

At the end of the lesson, I asked my students for feedback on the activity. For the most part, they said that it was interesting. A few of them said that it made them think about the Holocaust in a way that they never had before. One said he it caused him to think about it through the eyes of a child. One student found it very difficult (but this is the type of student, who, while very intelligent, his comfort zone lies in numbers, hard facts and "one right answer". When called upon to rev up his imagination, I find him simmering at his desk in obvious discomfort.) But he did pretty well in the end. This is what that kid wrote:
"Dear Joseph, I am sorry that you lived like that and you saw bad things in your life I want to tell that now Jews have a country and a army [sic].
Hope that makes you feel happy "
I could have incorporated more technology in the lesson - but I liked the part where the students had to physically walk around the classroom, choose a laminated page, turn it over to read the bio... the kinesthetic is so important for so many students as part of their learning process.
Can you think of a similar way to incorporate technology into a lesson teaching about the Holocaust? If so, please feel free to share in the comments, below!
Digitally yours,
Post Script:
(Answering my own question ;-) Here is another idea you might consider for using this magical book:
Using Magisto (or any other movie making program) take a poem written by a child from the Holocaust and bring it to life.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

GEG Teachers of Languages - Tough Competition

As one of the Community Leaders for GEG IL, (Google Educator Groups of Israel)I have the inspiring opportunity to make it possible for teachers of languages who have a passion for incorporating teaching and technology, to get together and build amazing activities which they can then take back to their classrooms. Ideas give birth to other ideas, and teachers who come to these unique get-togethers find themselves learning, teaching and inspiring  one another.

We had our third get-together with the GEG IL Teachers of Languages this past Thursday. The southern branch met in a beautiful new Youth Center in the southern city of Ofakim! We had tough competition (with the fast approach of Passover, many of our teachers have been  racing against time to get their preparations and cleaning done). But a few determined souls from the south, with a passion for education and technology, tossed their dust rags aside for a few hours to join my highly competent co-community leader and favorite Google Ninja, Hanan Pearlman and me.  

We began the session with the chairs set up as the seats in an airplane, and the passengers were given boarding cards.  


The virtual travelers were invited to take their assigned seats, to buckle up and were served peanuts and grapejuice.... (as stocks of pink champagne have already been depleted)  and then asked to list on the back of their boarding cards, any overweight baggage that could be left  behind, in order to ease their flight. The "overweight baggage" (personal concerns, things they would rather leave behind from the field such as grading and marking and dealing with bureaucracy and behavior management, etc) was gathered in a suitcase, left behind in Terminal 1 in Ofakim, and we took off! (HT Howie Gordon for this clever ice-breaker!)

In order to become better acquainted with their fellow passengers, they interacted in threes and had questions to answer. We used Random Name Picker, a cool tool I wrote about a few weeks ago, and inserted the content we wanted. The questions were in Hebrew, since as Teachers of Languages in Israel, our common language is Hebrew.  One person spun the wheel and asked the questions, the second passenger answered the question, the third wrote down the answers. Every three questions, they switched roles.

 Random Name Picker

After the passengers had become more acquainted with their flight buddies, we watched a short TED talk about the art of speaking (how to be effective even when you really have nothing to say). We threw around the names and capabilities of some of the tools that WE know and love, and then embarked on our community's Mission for the Day: to devise activities for a language class that will encourage speaking in the target language and would  be enhanced by incorporating technology.

At one point we were joined remotely via Hangout by some VIPs:  the Chief English Inspector of Israel Dr. Tziona Levy,  the Google Education Lead in Israel  Yael Doron Drori, and Karen Eis, the leader of the GEG Tech Community.  It was an exciting way to break the distance barrier and introduce into our session people of interest (and influence!) who could otherwise not have been there.   

We wound up the gathering by watching a sample movie made by the one and only Rania Essa who motivates her students to speak in the target language by choosing topics that will be of interest to them and getting them to speak on camera! Finally, the teams shared the activities they devised! Each of the participants will be  receiving a copy of the activity for implementation in their classrooms,  if and when they wish, as well as all of the materials used during our day.

The object of our GEG communities is to break down the barriers between the different language teaching methodologies and SHARE! They present  a unique opportunity to meet up with similarly passionate language teachers who would not normally collaborate together and share across the languages! We have communities in different parts of the country (so far - in addition to the Western Negev, we have had sessions in Haifa, Kfar Kassem and Jerusalem) and are looking for more potential leaders to open more branches of this community in other regions! If you are interested please contact me! The GEG IL Teachers of Languages community leaders collaborate to build our community together, and yet each community is free to fly in the direction that their members feel relevant.

Take a look at the plan for the coming sessions! I invite all teachers of languages to join us! Feel free to invite your colleagues from other languages, as well! Imagine the trickle-down effect this can have on your school - how  bonding between teachers of Hebrew, Arabic, English and any other language being taught in your school, will pave the way to collaboration in order to  speak the same "language of digital pedagogy" for teaching languages!

This is the plan for the remainder of the sessions this year. Please join us!

What would YOU like to do in YOUR community? If ideas are popping into your mind, please write suggestions in the comments, below, and we will incorporate them into our plans! The GEG IL for Teachers of Languages is YOUR COMMUNITY!

Wishing everyone a Happy Passover and great Spring Break!

Digitally yours,


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Encouraging your Students to Write Creatively

I used to spend hours cutting pictures out of magazines to do this activity, but with the Internet, it's gotten so much easier to find funny, thought-provoking pictures to get your students' creative juices running!  Great for teaching/ practicing writing descriptive essays. 

The following two activities can be done either on Google Classroom (in which case, create a new "Assignment" with the instructions, and set it to  "Make a copy for each student"):

..... or, if you do not have Google Classroom, make a Googledoc that you share with each student on the sharing level of "Can view". Each of them make their own copy, give their Googledoc their name, save it in their Googledocs file and share it with you:

Activity One: Story Sparker for Creative Writing

Stage One:

Teach students the Hamburger Method of organizing a paragraph. There are lots of sites that show this. Here is one as an example. 

Stage Two:
Share the following instructions on Google Classroom (or Googledocs, as explained above):

Choose ONE of these pictures to describe a scene. Copy it to your Googledoc


Find your own picture! Paste it in your Googledoc!

YOU are here! Who are you with? Why are you all here? What are you all doing? Describe the scene, write your story from YOUR point of view.

Use adjectives prolifically.

Use adverbs wisely.

Include as many senses as you can (sight/sound/smell/feel/taste)

Stage Three: 

Students have to paste their chosen picture (either from a batch I share with them, being careful to only use pictures that are not limited by copyrights, or they can choose their own and get my approval), and start writing!  (80-100 words  ...or whatever you decide.)

Make it a process-based writing activity, where you add comments, students make corrections and submit again. This is a great opportunity for one-on-one  help, to each student according to their need. 

Activity Two: Collaborative Creative Writing

To be done in a computer room or in a classroom where all students have their own device.

Another use for these pictures is to have each student start their composition, and then after a few minutes ring a bell (you can use and online time app). Each time the bell rings, students all need to stand up and move one computer to their right. They look at the picture on their new computer, read what had been written before, and continue the story. (You can have them add a comment with their name on the section they wrote, if you wish.) 

Continue until each student gets back to their original station. 

If there is time (or for homework) each student corrects mistakes, and tries to make the final product as cohesive as possible.  Take this opportunity to teach students how to use an online thesaurus  to make their writing more interesting! (Sharing this lesson idea for teaching thesaurus use.)

Do you have any ideas for doing creative writing with your students, using digital pedagogy? Share it here in the comments! 

Digitally yours,


Monday, March 6, 2017

Get Your Class Talking

We're all busy getting our classes ready for the oral bagrut, and if you're like me, you are looking for different, fun ways to get your students to practice. I can't remember where I found it, but the Classtools Random Name Picker is a fun way to get a few different things done. It looks like it's been around a while. There are no fancy sleek graphics, but it does the job.   

It was originally designed to choose students (for any reason you want - to choose who answers a question, choose teams, whatever). 

You edit your wheel with the names of your students and spin away! 

But it can also be a fun way to practice answering different types of questions that can come up in the interview for the Oral Bagrut, or the project. Or just when you want to get them talking.  Click on the picture, below, to get to this wheel. 

Share the link with your students in WhatsApp or via a barcode, so they can work in pairs on their phones, practicing in pairs ....

OR .....

....project it on the board and have the students stand in two concentric circles. 

Instructions for Concentric Circles:

  1. Divide the class into two groups. Have the class arrange their chairs so that they are facing each other in two concentric circles: one inside the other.  Tell half of them sit on the inner circle of chairs facing out, and the other half on the chairs in the outer circle, facing in.  (They could also do the whole activity standing.) 
  2. Once the circles have been created, tell the group that they will be having a series of short conversations with a series of partners. The will be given a topic and have to talk about it for 30 seconds (or however much time you decide is appropriate for that topic. You decide which of the pair does the talking, and the other has to ask questions for more information. 
  3. Spin the wheel to set the discussion topic.
  4. When the time is up, tell the inside circle to move one seat to the left so that everyone is facing a new partner.
  5. Spin the wheel again to provide the next question for the new pairs to discuss. (Even if it lands on the same topic twice, it doesn't really matter, since they will be in different constellations.)
 In my class, it looked like this (most of them did it standing):

You could use it for playing other games as well! Any suggestions? Share them here!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

WhatsApp as a Platform for Instruction

Every country has states of emergency when schools get closed.  There are snowdays, and floods and all sorts of mishaps - short term and long - that bring learning to a screeching halt. In Israel, especially where I live - we also have security situations that keep kids out of school.

Just for such purposes, the Israeli MoE has run a special pilot for the past two years, training teachers and students how to be able to stay on the same page of their coursework, if they wish to, in times of emergency. Last year it was via online instruction. This year it was through learning how to teach using WhatsApp: the app that 99% of Israelis use to stay in touch.

The first stage for me, as a teacher, was experiencing a lesson run solely through a WhatsApp group. As usual, I was sufficiently inspired by the experience with Aviv Tzemach, to invest a ton of time in learning different techniques,and try it for myself.

Stage two was working with another talented and inspiring mentor from the Center for Educational Technology, Gilad. I "cooked" my idea for hours, and had two online simulations together with him and another "WhatsApp-teacher-in-training".  Through him I learned different techniques of a WhatsApp lesson: making eye-catching signs, using bold letters, replying to a specific message, preparing prerecorded messages, as well as sharing a location in WhatsApp became an integral part of today's arsenal of tools.

Stage three was to open a WhatsApp group. I have a "broadcast group" with my students, in which I send them messages but their responses come only to me. But for the purposes of this drill, I needed a regular WhatsApp group. 
The final stage -"showtime"- happened this evening at 6 p.m.

I was skeptical - even pessimistic - regarding turnout. I have a small class (19 kids) and Thursday evening is NOT a good time for something like this. I even tried to up the stakes and entice participation by getting permission from my vice principal to excuse them from one of my two lessons with them today, as compensation, but was denied that. Surprisingly, the bribery worked and 14 out of my 19 students participated, earning for themselves 5 extra points for their final report cards (aside from 2 who lost a point each for misbehaving). Students behave badly in class, as well, but on WhatsApp there was no need to raise a voice or pause to wait for quiet. The great majority of the entire lesson was in utter silence. The disciplining was either done in a comment in the group, or, for a more severe issue, I sent a reprimanding message to the student privately.

The students seemed to enjoy it (judging from the sample of emoji's I got from them when I asked for their emoji-feedback:

The topic I chose was Israel Advocacy. As an Israeli who lives on the border with the Gaza Strip, and has become very involved, herself, in advocating for Israel (even though I do not always agree with our policies) I feel very strongly about the need to give our youth the basic tools needed for periods of heightened tension and danger, to tell the world about what it is like to live here. It is an authentic use of English as a tool for an authentic need for communication. Teaching is best done when we are teaching something about which we are passionate. Hopefully, we will never need to use language, or the WhatsApp as a tool of communication for situations such as these, but hopefully, if we DO, my pupils will be a little more ready for it after tonight's lesson. 

Digitally yours,


You can view the entire lesson here. Warning: it is uncensored.