Information gap activities in a flipped classroom context

Information gap activities have always fascinated learners as they stimulate creative and critical thinking, they encourage engagement and give them the opportunity to express themselves and collaborate with their mates. 

Photo by Dimitris Primalis

Yet, this kind of activity is often a headache for educators in terms of time and class management. Learning technology however, can offer solutions to make the most of such activities without major disruptions in the syllabus. Below you can read a short definition of these activities and some activities that I have tried with my students using OneNote, a digital notebook that can be accessed anytime, anywhere. 

According to the British Council webpage "An information gap activity is an activity where learners are missing the information they need to complete a task and need to talk to each other to find it."

Activity 1: video/audio

Choose a video that you think will spark discussion and stimulate the imagination of learners. For lower level students, I prefer videos that have little or no language so that students can interpret and draw upon paralinguistic features such as gestures and facial expressions. 

Create two digital notebooks and divide the class into two groups. In Group A’s notebook, share an audio file (MP3)while in Group B’s a video file of the same video (MP4) but without sound. In a flipped classroom context, ask students to listen and watch the files respectively, at home and take notes. You can invite them via email. 

In class, ask them to work in pairs or groups and reconstruct the story by sharing notes. The end product is the first paragraph of a story. Ask them  to  share with the rest of the class, using OneNote again. 

This allows them to develop their creative thinking skills and benefit from being exposed to different writing styles. Even though learners have all shared the same information, no written paragraph is the same. Students add their personal element in each one.   For homework, ask students to finish the story. You can share the best ones on the school blog. 

Why do it in a flipped classroom context?
  • You save precious class time. What is more, weaker students can always listen as many times as they need to comprehend.
  • In a traditional classroom, split viewing/listening can be a challenge because you would have to use two classrooms or have each group outside the classroom for at least a few minutes. This usually distracts other classes and there are usually complaints from other colleagues.
  • You can devote more time to promote communication and collaboration in class. 

Activity 2: reading texts

Alternatively, you can choose two texts referring to the same topic but expressing different opinions. You can divide the class again into two different groups and ask them to summarize the main points of each text and present them in class (this could be in the form of a powerpoint presentation or a paragraph). In class ask the students to synthesize arguments and views and create their own text on the issue reflecting their views. 

Video, audio and text can be combined to provide sources of information to learners. What will make the activity successful is the gap that learners have to bridge by exchanging information and collaborating with their classmates.

Have fun!

Dimitris Primalis



Peer Assessment using school Learning Management Systems

Peer Assessment using school Learning Management Systems

Many educational organizations invest considerable amounts of money into “building” Learning Management Systems (L.M.S.) or similar platforms to facilitate learning and engage learners. Yet, their full potential is often unexplored or underexploited by teachers. The following post suggests two ways in which such systems can be used to support peer feedback; engage learners in process writing; help strengthen bonds in class and share common goals.

Students often present their projects in the form of powerpoint presentations. However, due to time constraints, they receive feedback only by the teacher while the audience has no say in that. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that quite a few students pay no attention or find the whole process boring. This year, I thought I had to do something about it so I created a discussion forum and asked students to provide feedback at the end of each presentation. I explained that the basic idea behind this activity is to make the presenters aware of their strengths and weaknesses so that they can improve their presentation skills before they have to do it in front of professionals at their work. I stressed the fact that this is a classroom and we all share a common goal: to ensure that the level of English of all the students meets the standards and criteria of local and international companies in Greece and abroad.

Even though, the learners are primary school pupils (4th and 5th graders), they seemed to grasp the rationale and one of them told me that her sister who is an adult has to do presentations in English very often at her job. I made clear that I will not tolerate any foul language and that we can all become better as a class if we use peer feedback.

At the end of the first presentation, I gave the audience a few minutes to post their comments which needed to cover strong areas and areas to work on. I saw a marked difference in the learner engagement. They all paid attention and enjoyed the fact that their opinion was deemed useful and appreciated by the presenter. The only point I had not predicted was that most of them responded with emoticons.

At the end of the session, I was happy that all the students had participated but was a bit puzzled about how to make their feedback more constructive. It occurred to me that it is only natural for young people to react with emojis because this is what they do in their -outside the classroom – life. So the next day, I thanked them for their participation but in a discreet way I expressed my concern about emoticons: “Smiles and thumbs up are a nice way to show the presenters that you liked their work but, unfortunately, they can’t know what it was exactly that you  liked. For instance, was it the photos, the text, or the way they organized it?”

Contrary to my worries, my comment went down well and the next time, they tried to be more specific despite the linguistic limitations they have at this level (A1-A2 C.E.F.R.). What struck me most, was a student who would otherwise scarcely engage in classroom activities. She had read carefully all the comments on her presentation and asked me: “Why does X student say that he loved the font I used while Y students says that I need to change it?” The explanation was easy. The specific font looks great if you sit near at the front but at the back of the room it is hard to read. The fact that she had read carefully the comments which were written in English and she was actively involved in the whole process was an unexpected reward for me.

Then I felt that I could try the same with paragraph writing. After teaching the basic structure of a paragraph, I asked my pupils to write a paragraph giving their opinion on a topic we had discussed in class, on the L.M.S. I created a discussion forum and asked them to write it there. Early the next day I read them and gave them feedback on the same discussion forum which is visible only by the class members.

The majority of my students were thrilled. We read some of the paragraphs in class and analyzed briefly why some were very good and how others could be improved.

Some pupils asked me if they could read the paragraphs written by their peers and write comments. The answer was positive on condition that they would not use emoticons and that the comments would help writers.

Closing thoughts
Some students continued using emoticons but they did it to emphasize the comments they had made using lexical items. The whole process was received with enthusiasm both from pupils and parents who saw their children engaging into learning.
I felt that the feedback pupils had from their peers acted as acknowledgement and motivated them to be actively involved in the process.

Some students whose paragraphs were not up to standard,  gradually improved their writing thanks to the discussions in class which raised their awareness and to the exposure to different forms of writing styles.

A positive atmosphere that created a secure environment – only constructive feedback was welcome – and the shared vision of achieving the learning goal as a class contributed to learner motivation and engagement and helped peers to build stronger bonds as a group.

Hope you enjoy these activities with your students!

Dimitris Primalis


Creative EFL activities for demotivated learners

Creative language activities 
for demotivated learners

Ever found yourself in a classroom full of bored teenagers who are sick and tired of lists of adjectives and allergic to passive voice? Learning technology and creativity might save the day…

This blogpost features two activities that you can use with B1-C2 level classes to help them use productively adjectives, passive voice and summarize texts with a touch of creativity.

Amber or Silver alert

Aim: Recycle adjectives and descriptive vocabulary.

Teaching adjectives related to personality traits can often be boring. This is an activity aiming at helping learners to use these adjectives in a less conventional manner. All students are familiar with announcements on the media about missing people in which there is a description of the people who went missing. I showed the class the following digital poster:

Apparently, the tone is humorous but the students appreciated it as it was a welcome change to the class routine. I asked them to create a similar poster for a celebrity or for themselves. As a follow-up activity, you can ask them to present their poster in class and explain why they believe the missing person has the traits in the description part. Alternatively, learners can focus on physical description, depending on what vocabulary has been taught in class.

I used PosterWall.com for this poster but it can be created easily with a powerpoint slide saved in jpg form. 

Create breaking fake news

Personal and impersonal structure in passive voice is often treated as the most boring task by the students. Grammar books often focus on form without context and students often come across examples like the following:
They believe that Mary is a student.
It is believed that Mary is a student.
Mary is believed to be a student.
  https://www.fodey.com/generators/newspaper/snippet.asp  or   http://breakyourownnews.com/
These are web 2.0 tools that allow you to create an electronic newspaper clip  or  a photo , 
respectively,  which resembles the breaking news format of TV news bulletins. Try writing about 
something that is related to current affairs or has to do with the school’s context. I created fake news
 about a celebrity who was appointed Education secretary.  

 After having taught the structure and done some controlled practice activities, present the story and 
ask learners whether they believe it or not.  Talk in class  about fake news , whether they are negative 
or positive and what effects they have on people. Then ask them if they can create positive fake news.
 For example:
Georgia is believed to have been nominated for this year’s Oscar academy awards.

Ask them to work in pairs for a couple of  minutes, write positive fake news about their partner and 
share it with them. They have to use passive voice and check with their partner for any corrections 
that need to be made. The most important rule of the activity is that students should not write 
offensive or negative stories about their peers. The headlines have to be positive. Once pairwork is 
over, ask the pairs to share their headlines with the rest of the class. 

As follow-up activity, ask learners to produce a news podcast or video or a newspaper article based
 on the assumption they made on their peers’ success.

Students enjoy it  and are curious to listen to their peer’s positive projection about them.

Hope you enjoy the activities!
Dimitris Primalis


Reimagining famous paintings : Stimulating creative and critical thinking in the EFL class through an art project

Reimagining famous paintings

Stimulating creative and critical thinking in the EFL class through an art project

Special thanks to Maria Karantzi and Annette Morley for their contribution to the project! 

Can art in the EFL class, trigger thought-provoking discussions and provide useful language content for primary school learners? The following post is based on a project I did with my 5th graders and displays some of the work done by the students.

Until I heard Maria Karanzti, an arts and crafts teacher presenting, the only thing I could could think of was to ask my learners do a tedious project on art. Something like:

“Find information about your favourite painting and present it in class”

But I knew that two things were guaranteed: utter boredom in class and powerpoint slides with copied and pasted information that my learners wouldn’t even have read before “presenting” them in class.

When Maria talked about the trend of “reimagining” famous paintings, I thought I saw the challenge arising for my learners.  So the project was rephrased as following:

“Find information about your favourite painting and reimagine it. You can draw or use technology to make your version of the painting. Write a short text and describe why you have made changes and how you feel.”

I showed in class Vermeer’s girl and the humorous “Star Wars” version and explained the notion. We even searched on ® Bing other “reimagined” paintings and the students found it intriguing. To my surprise, none chose to draw it and they all chose to use technology. Some used photoshop, others used apps that sounded alien to me. 

 The problem that arises at this stage is that you need to collect the students’ work and give them feedback. The most practical tool for that is  ®OneNote. You can create a virtual notebook and invite students to share there, photos of their drawings, information about the paintings and their reflective accounts on the changes they made. If the school does not support Windows, you can use any other collaborative web 2.0 tool like padlet or you can even have them in a USB flash drive. Once you have collected all the material, you can put everything together in a video like this one:

The original idea to create a virtual museum using ® Minecraft came unstuck as the 5th graders who promised to do it, failed to meet the deadline. However, all the students created their reimagined paintings. Beyond the artistic value, I was happy as an EFL teacher because all the students produced texts in L2 – some short, others longer and more elaborate. The  structure which was Reimagining famous paintingsmainly used was the 2nd conditional but there were also chunks of language which were closer to freer practice and using the language more creatively.

But that was not all… As we were talking about the project, issues arose like:

Is it a good idea to reimagine paintings and create our own version?

Does it make us more creative or does it show disrespect for the artist and the work of art?

These sparked heated discussions in class and on the school's Learning Management System, which were a source of inspiration for the next part of the project: An opinion poll.

I used ®Office Mix to create the poll but there are also a number of Web 2.0 tools that can be used in class. 

An English teacher openly opposed the idea while the art and crafts teacher was in favour which gave me the opportunity to do a follow-up on the topic.  I divided the class into two groups. Group A interviewed the teacher who was against and Group B the one who was a supporter of the idea. Then, the class listened to both recording and wrote down the arguments of each side. 

This was a great opportunity for me to introduce small argumentative paragraphs with a topic sentence, the argument and example. For instance:

I believe that reimagining famous paintings is not a good idea. First of all, we do not know exactly what the artist wanted to show and how he or she felt. For example, I can not feel the same like Munch when he painted the Scream.

This may not seem much of an accomplishment but for 10-11 year old pupils, supporting their views with reasons and examples is not an easy task.

Finally, after doing a unit in the coursebook on art, I asked my students if they knew about any special stories behind a painting or work of art. Even though I had originally feared that my students had mechanistically copied and pasted information about their favourite work of art, it turned out that some of them had paid attention. A few days later, A. K. came to class with this video: 

So far, my students had read, listened, spoken and written in English about a different subject (CLIL) and above all were motivated and felt creative, taking initiatives like the video produced by A.K.

Yet, there seemed to be one more element missing. Their own personal creations. So I asked them to create their own work of art and write a paragraph or shoot a video to talk about it. Here is a sample of their work:

Video created by M.M.

My pupils had fun and learned so many things that I intend to try it again this September. Would you like to give it a go with your students?

Dimitris Primalis


7+1 tips to make CLIL work with your class

CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) has been adopted by a growing number of schools and language schools for a number of reasons, including more opportunities for language practice, motivation for learners who are interested in subjects other than English and developing 21st century skills.

Yet, many educators often feel that the syllabus and previously followed practices, hinder CLIL and their students are deprived of the opportunity to reap benefits from its implementation. 
Indeed, habits from the past may jeopardize the efforts of the leadership and the teaching staff to facilitate learning and raise the standards.  The following tips may help towards creating an environment that will allow CLIL to be fruitful and boost language production and reception :

1.      Balance testing with language production time
Tests are tangible, measurable and go down well with parents who feel that their kids are closely monitored. In fact, many teachers saw their popularity rise among ever concerned parents because they tested on a daily basis their children . Yet, quite often there is so much testing that there is not enough room left for students to be exposed to language, let alone produce it. 

Ensure there is a balance and move towards other forms of assessment such as evaluating projects with the aid of rubrics and giving more feedback to learners. These are often friendlier to the learners and they may even motivate them more as they will be actively involved through peer correction or negotiate the criteria to assess projects or presentations.

2.      Make the most of technology
Learning more about a natural phenomenon by searching it on the internet, carrying out a poll or creating their own video or animation on the topic you are teaching this week? These may be skills and activities that your students may be doing in their free time in real life. Isn’t it about time the school integrated them into the syllabus? By exploiting technology, students can reap numerous benefits ranging from exposure to L2, having their schemata activated with diagrams and flowcharts, to developing learner autonomy.

3.      Avoid lectures, involve learners
Νο! Pairwork, groupwork and communication among students will neither ruin your class management nor challenge your authority. On the contrary, this can be achieved easily if you
Source:ELT pics
lecture throughout the lesson till the student switch off. This can get  even worse by asking them if they have understood and ]then you receive the usual “yes, Miss!”. From my experience, the answer is always yes to such a question irrespective of whether they have understood or not. Learning can be facilitated with student engagement and different forms of interaction. Through these, students have an opportunity to express themselves, have a personal stake in their learning and assume responsibility to carry out a task rather than being passive recipients.

4.      Stop spoon feeding your learners
It is often thought that being a good teacher means giving lengthy explanations about everything even before your students ask you. But there are two points to consider: a) you will not be on their side for ever so they need  start forming hypotheses and b) CLIL is about discovering knowledge. Providing all the answers before your students try to figure them out, defeats the purpose. Devoting some time to help them develop their critical thinking skills is a mid/long run investment that will compensate you and the learners. 

5.      Grammar without context? Exploiting available resources
A large number of teachers feel that they are not teaching enough grammar – compared to a grammar based syllabus – and tend to teach grammar without context, often with piles of photocopied exercises. In extreme cases, they teach the structure and all its aspects all the way down to the last exception that even a grammarian may not be aware of.  This can impose a huge strain on the syllabus.

Surely, there is a video,a reading or listening text to exploit so that students can use the context to grasp it more easily. It is also worth bearing in mind that in some forms of CLIL, grammatical structures are treated as “chunks” of language and I personally feel  that sometimes they are easier to be treated as such.  In any case, assessing the priorities of the class and selecting what needs to be taught explicitly and what implicitly can act as a compass that will save you time and effort.

6.      Make the most of projects
Inquiry based learning may not bring the desired results in terms of language accuracy and surely it cannot be controlled by you. Plus, you may find some parents complaining that project  work is time consuming. But it is through these projects that you can give your learners freedom to choose topics that are of interest to them, and give them the opportunity to immerse into new language and develop more autonomy as learners. Projects can be easily integrated into any syllabus and can be done by learners over a period of time without requiring any time in class. Learning technology enables teachers to provide personalized feedback while blogs, Learning Management Systems and school websites offer a splendid room for display and sharing with the community.

7.       Don’t encourage learners to translate texts word for word
Many parents  ask students to read the text aloud at home and translate it word for word. Some teachers, either because they are aware of the above practice or they are used to more traditional approaches and methods (grammar translation) may be tempted to do so in class or assign it as homework. Considering though that CLIL texts are usually longer and more challenging than the usual EFL ones, it will not really help the students. On the contrary, they are likely to be demotivated by the number of new words and length of text. Developing word and text attack skills in class, doing pre-reading tasks that can activate learners' schemata and breaking the text into manageable chunks in the while-reading stage are not a waste of time. They will help your learners deal confidently with texts and later on, approach academic texts and books more efficiently.

Be prepared to explain to parents and learners at the very beginning of the year that not all words in a text are important and that you aim at helping learners develop reading skills . This is likely to prevent many reactions and complains expressed by the above mentioned stakeholders.

+1 Be consistent and patient
This applies to any new approach that is being implemented. No matter how many difficulties you may face, repeating the same steps on a regular basis, builds a creative routine that allows students to feel secure, knowing what they are expected to do.  Despite the initial shock, students tend to adapt easily and as time passes by they tend to respond more enthusiastically. No new approach has ever seen measurable positive  results overnight and it would be unfair to condemn your and your students efforts without allowing for enough time to apply it.

Some more thoughts instead of conclusion
An educator’s constant concern is to ensure that their learners will be able to cope with the challenges that are yet to arise. Implementing change may take you out of your comfort zone and require longer hours of work, observation, feedback and adaptation. However, it can be motivating and rewarding in terms of exploring and exploiting potential you never thought that you as a teacher, or your students have.

Enjoy the journey!
Dimitris Primalis


Sway your class into creativity and imagination

Sway your class into creativity and imagination

3 ways to use ®Sway creatively with an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) class

Many presentation tools can be used to spark creativity and imagination in class but in this post I have chosen Sway – an internet based tool – because it is easy to use, versatile, allows the user to find photos without wasting time and incorporate sounds and videos . Thus, learners can focus more on the content rather than the aesthetic part.

1.    Create a mystery story…
Open a new presentation and choose 5 photos that can stimulate learners’ imagination. 
Click on the link to see example:

An unforgettable night

 Add creepy sounds like the sound of a door slumming, thunder, the scream of a woman.  You can  find free sond effects on  http://www.orangefreesounds.com/. Write on the board: Who, where, when. Then invite learners to work in pairs or in groups and decide who is involved in the story, where and it takes place. Elicit vocabulary relevant to the story (i.e. sounds, descriptive adjectives, feelings).

You can elicit the first paragraph in class and write it on the Sway slides. Then invite learners to continue the story. Allow them to use photos to illustrate the story and present it in class or share it on the school blog.

2.     Narrate holiday experiences
 Create a ® Sway presentation with 5 of your favourite holiday photos and explain why they are special to you. Present in class. Click on the link below to see a sample:

My holidays

3.   Digitalize your hand made book
Students often create handmade paperback books with stories with their drawings.  Given that most of the times they are tiny, sharing them with the rest of the class is not easy because learners want to see the illustrations. Scan the content of the books or take a photo you’re your mobile and uploaded them on a Sway presentation. Project the presentation on the board while the pupil is reading his/her story to the rest of the class. It makes narration more interesting and learners tend to appreciate more the effort and time spent on the creation of the book. You can also share the Sway presentation on the school blog. Click on the link  below to look at one of the stories:

Mouse to the rescue

     My students loved all the above activities, were actively involved in creating content and  were particularly keen on sharing it with the rest of their classmates.
Have fun!

Dimitris Primalis