How to turn your powerpoint presentation into a video and boost your learners' creativity!

Turn your powerpoint presentation into a video in 
3 easy steps and boost your learners' creativity!

Powerpoint is the best known tool for presentations. Now you can use it to promote your and your students'  work and attract your audience's attention by  creating short videos like the one below:

Step 1: Create your presentation and save it as ODP. You may want to add transitions between the slides which make it more impressive or add sound.

Step 2: Click the presentation button at the top bar menu (see green arrow) and rehearse as if you were presenting the powerpoint. If you are not happy with the outcome, you can try as many times as you want. 

Step 3:  Save the presentation either as MP4 file or as wmv file. It may take a while for the video to "brew"  but the end product is worth the time. 

Ideas for the classroom

Students can create:
1. a trailer for their favourite film or book
2. their own commercial promoting their inventions or a good cause i.e. recycling
3. their own animated stories by using the new "synth" transition which creates animation effects 
4. a vlog by inserting photos or videos from their holidays or daily routine .

For the mini video and screen shots in the step-by-step tutorials I used Office Mix which is an add-on easily downloadable and can be an invaluable tool for every educator. You can read more on my next blogpost in a few days.  

Have fun with your class and boost their creativity with their own powerpoint videos!

Dimitris Primalis


Discrediting the fine art of copy-paste

Discrediting the fine art of copy-paste

How teachers can help their  learners to develop academic skills for their studies rather than adopt “copy-paste” practices

In a digital era when information is abundant, easily accessible, stored, reproduced and retrieved without effort, there is a thin line between breaching copyright rules – plagiarism in academic language- and synthesizing information to produce one’s own intellectual work.

Copying and pasting text indiscriminately is reaching epidemic levels and even respectable members of the academic community are often found guilty of succumbing to the temptation. What  exactly do we mean by  plagiarism though?

Plagiarism (noun): the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person: the act of plagiarizing something
Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

How is this relevant to  English language classes and teaching young learners and teenagers?
I still remember the day when my 4th graders in primary school  walked triumphantly  into the  classroom to share their projects with their classmates. It was the very first year that the school had introduced the 1:1 approach (1 tablet to 1 student) and the learners had just mastered –or so they claimed – the basics of powerpoint in order to present their projects digitally with the aid of a data projector. Classmates and teacher, we all waited impatiently to see the first outcome.
Impressive graphics and slide transitions captured our attention until the slides with text appeared. Long texts infested with scientific terms, completely incomprehensible  to the class and even to the presenters who attempted to read them aloud to a bunch of students who were bored to tears as there was nothing they could relate to. It is easy to predict the chaos that followed with disillusioned presenters and an audience that felt the presenter had wasted their time by just copying and pasting text instead of sharing knowledge with them.

Can I deal with it?
A multi-faceted approach seems to work better. The earlier a teacher starts raising awareness in class, the better it is. Then one should help learners to develop text attack skills, show them how to do some basic research and paraphrase and finally, give them the  opportunity to practise what they have learned through projects.

Show them the path
Before assigning a project, spend time in class to show them the steps they should follow to collect information and synthesize what they have found in a coherent and concise presentation that is suitable for their target audience.
 Here is what I tried with a CEFR A1 level class who had to create a fact file for their favourite wild animal:
1.       We browsed in class Wikipedia (you can try any other reference site you consider safe and reliable) and chose a wild animal, a lion.
Source: Wikipedia

2.       They skimmed the text and then asked them what they can understand from the text. The answer was “nothing” or “next to nothing”. Then I elicited “If you copy and paste the text like that (show them the text displayed on Wikipedia) , will anybody in class understand you?” The answer was obvious and the learners realized they had to work in a different way.
Match the words with the same meaning

3.       I elicited key words for the data they need such as food, how long they live, length, weight, place they live, and give them the formal equivalents used in the text. For example, habitat, diet, predators etc.  For other projects, you can ask them to create a brief outline with key words that will enable them to find relevant information.

Source: Wikipedia

4.       I asked them to scan the text and find relevant information for each category i.e. habitat, food.
5.       I elicited the relevant information from the class and clarified that not all the text should be stored. Only the data necessary for their project. Ask them to save the information they have found in a M.S. Word file or any other similar word processor they use.
6.       I also asked them to write down the source.
7.       Students worked in pairs to select the information they needed for the presentation and created the slides.
8.       Then, they checked their presentation for any words they classmates may not know. I urged them to use only a few new words and explain them to their audience during their presentation.
 9. I encouraged them to use short sentences with key words or figures on their slides.
10.    I asked them to present in class and I invited the audience to give the presenters feedback and in    particular how original they thought the presentation is.
11.    Finally, I praised the presenters if they  mentioned the source and used language suitable for the level of the audience.

Tips and hints
ü  Don’t preach against plagiarism. They will only be tempted to try it.
ü  Focus on the main weakness of copy-paste is that it is often irrelevant or too wordy. Students fear their peers’ rejection so they will be open to suggestions on how to improve their presentations.
ü  “Sign” a contract with students, set clear guidelines on how to use technology and elicit copy-paste is simply unacceptable.
ü  Encourage students to mention sources and praise them in class when they do so.
ü  Give bonus points to work that mentions sources and penalty points to material which is clearly copied and pasted.

For a generation brought up with social media and computer games, the visual element tends to be the priority when it comes to presentation. To them it is only natural to focus on eye-catching images, animation or videos and in most cases, it is only the teacher who can guide them on how to  find data, select material and synthesize it to address a specific audience. You need to help them shift from the “surface” to the content of the project or presentation. If the project is marked give two marks: one for the presentation and a separate one for content.
For older students, who hand in projects, there is a large number of free software tools that can help you detect plagiarism and raise awareness. The following article can give you a pretty good idea of some free tools that can detect plagiarism:
Why deal with it?
“Plagiarism annuls any benefits reaped from webquests and the wealth of resources available on the internet since students are highly unlikely to learn anything from the work they have copied. It also breaches the ethics of the academic community that gives credit to the work of colleagues. Therefore, the damage caused by this practice is multiple. It comes as no surprise that when students have to use sources and provide references at a university course are often at a loss. “ (ELT News, 2015)

Some closing thoughts
Some of you may be wondering why you should allocate some precious class time into it. By devoting part of a lesson or a whole lesson  to prevent plagiarism and encourage analysis and synthesis, you are not wasting precious time – as some teachers may claim – but you are laying the foundation stone for autonomous learners who use their critical and creative thinking skills.

Dimitris Primalis

Primalis, D. Discrediting the fine art of c(l)opy-paste, ELT News, August 2015


Passive users or critical thinkers? Developing critical and creative thinking skills with technology

Passive users or critical thinkers?

Developing critical and creative thinking skills with technology

Had enough with your students using their tablets or mobile devices to play games for non-thinking users? Project based learning with the aid of technology can be used creatively to stimulate students interest and develop their critical and creative thinking skills. This post is about activities and tools that can help students use their creative and critical abilities while learning.

A brief intro
Technology has often been accused of creating passive learners, who rely heavily on visuals and are used to a superficial approach to learning, rather than developing their creative and critical thinking skills. However, through project based learning, technology can play an instrumental role in enabling students to develop their creative skills such as expressing  ideas they have generated and depicting reasoning by metaphor and analogy; their critical thinking skills such as reasoning through logic, analysis and interpretation by comparing data through internet sources as well as skills which overlap the two categories mentioned above such as synthesis and integration, abstraction and simplification.

A brief definition
The word critical derives from the Greek word “crisis” (κρίσις) which means ability to judge; ability to reach a choice or decision. In a sense, a crisis is a challenge to deal with by using critical thinking skills.

You may be wondering why I have chosen to develop critical and creative thinking skills instead of the latter. A quick look at the diagram shows that they overlap.

Why these activities?
Students are inundated with messages in English while surfing the internet, playing games or watching TV. They are brainwashed and often led to believe that by purchasing consumer goods or services they can achieve or become anything they dream of with the touch of a magic "wand". As a teacher, following the current teaching trends,  I felt that my teaching should be more personalized (the term used in its EFL meaning) and learner centred; involve students and allow them to use their creativity and critical thinking skills. So I asked my 5th and 6th grade pupils to do the following projects and activities:


Project 1
I gave my students the following instructions:

Part A
Find a commercial or advertisement that you like.
Present it in class and talk about:
What product or service is advertised?
What is the main message?
Is it true or misleading? Why?

Students used their tablets to find ads or comercials and presented them in class in the form of powerpoint presentations. Most of them triggered discussion and to my surprise students easily "read between the lines" and could tell whether they were misleading or not. For example one of them presented the advertisement of a convertible with the following slogan:" Men talk about women, sports and cars. Women talk about men in sports cars" . It was a good opportunity to talk about stereotypes even though their lexical resources are limited. Then I gave them the following instuctions.

Part 2
Work in pairs or groups. Invent a new product or service. Design the logo and think of a motto.
Create your own advertisement or commercial.
Present it in class.
Vote for the best commercial in class.

Some produced videos with their mobiles and using windows movie maker  and others powerpoint presentations. Here is a sample of their work.


Activity 2
I showed my pupils the photo below and asked them the following questions:

Look at the photo
Can you see a famous person?
This photo was taken during WW2
Is the photo authentic or not?

Use your devices to find out

Source:  http://www.chaniapost.eu/2015/03/12/is-brad-pitt-from-crete/

The pupils identified Brad Pitt in the photo. They worked in pairs or groups and they had to decide how to go about it. There were two prevailing trends. One that they should search for the date WW2 broke out and compare it with Brad Pitt's birthday. The other that they should search for any Brad Pitt film to be released soon about WW2. A pupil asked me if they could take a snapshot of the photo with their devices but I refused and asked them to use their mind and key words in their search.  The activity took about 20 mins and the vast majority found out if the photo is authentic or photoshopped. There was a follow-up discussion about whether we should believe that everything we see on the internet is authentic and how we can use our skills to verify it. 

Activity 3
This is an activity I tried with my students a day before Christmas holidays. I asked them to read the instructions and use their devices to plan the holiday. The webquest had to be in English and I also explained a few words like "BB, half-board and full board, transfer" that were beyond my pupils' schematic knowledge. 

Planning hols
Your mom and dad are celebrating their wedding anniversary and would like to spend a weekend abroad.
Organize a weekend for them and present two holiday destinations they may go to. Below there are some points to consider:

      Their budget is about 600 Euros
      They would like a place with many sights to visit
      They can depart on Friday after work and they have to be back by Sunday evening.
      You will need to calculate tickets, accommodation,  food and any other expenses they may have
      Suggest what they can do there e.g. visit museums, do sports, taste local food etc
Prepare a powerpoint presentation and share with the class before presenting it to your parents.

Activity 4
This is taken from the Disabled Access Friendly website and raises awareness. I have not tried it in class yet but I intend to ask my students to build a Disabled access friendly community using Microsoft Minecraft as a follow-up activity.

Show them the slide below and ask them:

Elicit ideas on why the kitchen might be tricky, and then move on to how the kitchen could be improved

 Some closing thoughts 
A few months after I’d presented the projects in Manchester (IATEFL) and Seattle (E2 Microsoft Educators), I realized how useful working on critical and creative thinking skills with young learners is in the midst of the heightening European crisis. 

To my dismay, I saw the traditional media distorting the conditions in Greece during the capitals control period: photos of empty shelves when all the supermarkets were well stocked, an excessive number of pensioners fainting in front of cameras – a good opportunity for some pensioners to get some extra money by the film crews and perform in front of an international audience.


What made me even sadder was the obsession of some colleagues from abroad to regurgitate narratives of “good” and “bad” nations floated by the media without ever having lived in Greece.  No analysis, no comparison, no effort to read further about the issue. Just the reproduction of stereotypes and theories - most of them discredited by statistics of prestigious organizations.

Despite the impressive abundance of data, statistics, arguments and analysis covering a wide spectrum of stances, they adopted a superficial “black and white sheep” approach to the issue, turning a blind eye to the consequences the crisis may have on their  and their students' life- developments in one “neighbourhood” in our global village are almost certain to affect the others. 

It was if I could hear a flock of sheep bursting out in a tremendous  bleating “four legs good, two legs bad” from Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. One cannot help wondering: Are these the educators who will facilitate learning and help learners to develop their critical thinking skills?

Technology (the internet in this case) has risen to the challenge of the occasion by offering unprecedented pluralism and extensive coverage. The question raised though is:

Are we – as teachers and citizens- ready to use our critical thinking skills to make the most of what technology offers or are we unwilling to leave our comfort zone and settle with oversimplified stories and approaches?

It will come as no surprise to me if sooner or later our students turn their back on our shallow teaching no matter how much technology we garnish it with…

Dimitris Primalis


Teaching in times of crisis

Teaching in times of crisis
The impact on teaching, the role of technology and more thoughts…

Time to adopt a different approach to Teaching of English as a Foreign Language? What is the role technology can play in education in the current socioeconomic context?

If you thought that the most controversial issue currently is to what extent technology can help learning, you must feel happy in your ivory teaching tower. The harsh socioeconomic reality of the past 5 years in many parts of the world is leading to a shift in education with many repercussions in the field of EFL that are expected to be felt in the years to come.

Having taught for more than 20 years, I have seen quite a few approaches and theories aiming at optimizing teaching and helping learners to achieve the best possible results. Yet, the lingering economic crisis in conjunction with the developments in learning technology seem to be making the reviewing of an approach to TEFL more appealing

I live in Greece, which in the past five years has seen a dramatic change in terms of priorities, opportunities and resources available. What used to be a heavily exam oriented area with students in need of certification –for example, employment even as an assistant at a super market required a B2 C.E.FR. level certificate- has also shifted into learning English aiming to serve the prospect of migrating abroad or being employed by a multinational company which takes mobility for granted.

The drop of income by as much as 40 percent, soaring

unemployment (roughly 25%) and heavy taxation, has made family budgets reallocate amounts of money which was traditionally invested in education to very basic survival needs such as food and electricity bills. This means less opportunities for education, shorter courses and more pressure on students and teachers to achieve goals.

Finally, schools and in particular schools of foreign languages, saw their budget plunging with the number of registrations decreasing dramatically and fee payments standing in arrears as the average working class family struggles to make the ends meet.

This trend has often been reflected on mottos such as “Achieve more with less” indicating higher productivity and more effectiveness with lower budget and less resources.

What’s ahead?
The following are a few thoughts on the changes that are imminent:

The teacher
The teacher resumes the role of educator. Thanks to technology, he/she relinquishes the role of authority – the main source of knowledge - and becomes a guide, a facilitator, a mentor and a supporter. He/she often absorbs all the aftershocks of acute family problems stemming from poverty, unemployment and unstable financial and social conditions. (For more about the teacher’s role see post on Wiziq blog  
If technology is here to stay, then what?)

Syllabus design
Given that learners will have to develop a wide range of competences in order to be competitive on the market, 21st century skills/competences should  be developed in the EFL classroom. Firstly, because EFL has always been more flexible and open to innovation and secondly, because learning technologies seem to have been adopted to a greater extent by EFL teachers compared to teachers of other subjects.
Functions, fluency, register and other long forgotten parts of the syllabus could be reinstated to help learners achieve better communication. More real life tasks such as teleconferencing and writing texts for leaflets or the social media could be introduced.
The tsunami of mechanistic drills – used extensively by many teachers for exam preparations- will gradually recede. Focus on grammar will give way to activities that cater for learners’ more meaningful use of the language and more opportunities to produce language.

Learning technology
An indispensable part of everyday life for large parts of the global population especially the younger generations, makes technology an ideal gateway to learning since it offers easy access and abundant exposure to L2. Educators though, will have to fight hard to get rid of the concept that tablets and laptops are there for playing games. Instilling the notion that technology is a tool for learning may take time and effort but it is worth it. Given the dwindling prices of electronics and that most teens own a gadget – sometimes far more sophisticated than the teachers have-, technology can give them access to knowledge in ways (video, audio, animation, text) they are familiar with.

Autonomous and life-long learning
Maybe this is the key to combat student dropouts or long pauses of absence due to economic hardship. Technology offers opportunities and abundant educational material (see Resouces below) to help learners maintain a good level of their English while they are away from classrooms. In addition, it facilitates exposure to L2 anywhere, anytime (as long as there is internet access). Developing learners’ analysis and synthesis skills (critical thinking skills) instead of tolerating plagiarism (copy-paste) is one of the first steps to learner autonomy.

A dowry bequeathed from prosperity years, equipment ( IWBs, projectors) and books should be exploited in the best possible way. A rediscovery of the existing libraries supported with free access to online materials and online libraries can help learners to overcome the problem of limited exposure or reliance exclusively on a book – since they cannot afford to buy others.
Free or affordable EFL/ESL material is abundant on the Internet and could help learners to work on certain areas. However, a careful selection should be made by the teachers who can guide learners with focused activities to serve specific learning goals. A prerequisite for this is to develop “digital citizenship”  skills in order to protect learners from “deadly” hazards and wasting their time on the www.

Fighting stereotypes
A generation of young people in Europe has been receiving contradictory messages. In Southern Europe, they have been branded as PIGS (an acronym used to describe the countries in deep financial crisis but clearly indicating a racist mood) and lazy while their families struggle to make a living, often working long hours to make a few Euros. Their Northern European counterparts are often given the impression that the “Southerners” are wasting valuable resources at the expense of the other economies.
The best way to bridge the rift before it becomes too deep is to encourage and further support the existing projects with schools from different countries. Communication, collaboration and cultural exchange can dispel myths created by the gutter press and shortsighted politicians.

A few closing thoughts
Teachers are often ignored, underpaid or treated as second class citizens who do tedious tasks. Yet this crisis has shown that politicians, bankers and businessmen have failed miserably to find a way out of the current situation mainly thanks to dogmas and rigid responses to complex issues.  It is our duty as educators to help our students – especially the underprivileged ones- to keep their minds open to learning and new notions that will help them build a better future for the generations to come.

A second part with more thoughts will be posted soon. In the meantime, you are welcome to share on this blog your experiece from teaching under similar conditions. 

Dimitris Primalis


An inspiring educator: Sylvia Guinan

Interview with Sylvia Guinan

Please welcome my special guest, Sylvia Guinan, in today's teacher interview. Sylvia is an online teacher, teacher-trainer, materials designer, and blogger. She has kindly agreed to share her thoughts and experiences with us today.

1) What inspires you as a teacher?

The freedom to create, experiment, and empower students to do the same on their own learning paths. This is much more practical than it sounds. The establishment would have us believe that creativity wastes classroom time, but the opposite is true. The truth is that lack of motivation wastes time. It's wastes years, in fact, lots of money, and even lives. I say use any course book and achieve its objectives even faster by transforming dead content into lively communication. The book can be a guide, blueprint or roadmap, but the map is not the territory.

2) How is technology  transforming the essence of what we do?

We could say that technology has given us more educational toys to play with. But that would be a shallow interpretation and barely cover the tip of the iceberg. Today's web 2.0/web3.0 technology has really ushered in social and cultural revolutions that we must lead with responsibility, intelligence and integrity. In practical terms, we are now more cognizant of how social and collaborative learning can transform education and how personalisation is much easier to implement than ever before.

3) How do you stay motivated as an online teacher?

I have discovered my own channels of influence. What I mean is that I like to read, blog, and engage the wider world of teachers out there who inspire me to grow as a teacher and a human being.

4) What's the biggest challenge you face as an online professional?

The thing about working online and embracing technology is that a whole new Pandora's box of possibility opens up. Time management and choosing what to focus on have been the greatest challenges I've had to face. When you find yourself loving every aspect of the business from writing, to creating multi-media projects, to leading teacher-training initiatives and social networking, there comes a point where you have to make very tough choices, and say no to things you want to do.

5) How does one make those choices?
We all need principles to guide us and we must be in touch with our teaching values. We must also have long-term plans. I find that the principle of simplicity and having  purpose as a professional helps to keep me focused and make streamlined decisions.

In the past I've had to choose between teaching students or training teachers, blogging for myself or blogging for others, accepting opportunities or turning them down. I've learnt how to prioritise the fundamental aspects of my work. I always carve out community time for myself. In fact I've never worked in isolation. I'm always actively involved in teacher networks, movements and organisations. I do this because I want my work to be meaningful in the larger scheme of things. I feel called and compelled to share skills and ideas, so that others can do the same.

Sometimes when I'm highly inspired I will move mountains to do what I ''think'' is impossible. The recent conferences I attended in Dublin (Click to watch Sylvia's talk in Dublin) and Athens were "impossibilities" for me at the time, but in the end they turned out to be win-win solutions, both for myself and for my children.
There really is magic beyond the comfort zone.

Sylvia's interview at the latest TESOL Greece convention

6) Apart from teaching, do you think that your work is making a difference to others in others in less direct ways?

I think that my work has shown how women all over the world can be empowered to work from home even if they are full-time mothers.
A very popular topic in the blogosphere, on social networks, and in the ranks and files of teacher organisations all over the world has been that of the gender gap and ''where are the women in ELT"?

Actually, I describe this in personal detail in my TESOL Athens Convention review, which, I believe, will be published in the newsletter today.

I began sharpening my axe for the online world when my twins were still babies. I'll never forget how much I learnt from the blogs and insights of other teachers around the world in those early years. I think that my gratitude for that has become an integral part of how I operate to this day.

7) What's your final word of advice to teachers everywhere who wish to keep their inspiration alive or even motivate themselves to keep going?

The reality of giving, sharing and connecting with others creates powerful states of being that can't be weathered by the ups-and-downs of life. Sometimes, when the worst things happen, it can be your work that keeps you going. This is only true if you allow your work to be creative and meaningful, of course. No matter how restricting your personal work situation may be, make sure to find an outlet, any outlet, no matter how small, for creativity and connecting with others.


Education on the Cloud: Opportunities and challenges

Education on the Cloud Opportunities and challenges
What is a “Cloud”? What are the opportunities and challenges educators face when using it to the benefit of their students?

The following video is based on my Pecha Kucha presentation (20 slides, 20 seconds each) in Thessaloniki, Greece at the TESOL Macedonia-Thrace, Northern Greece international convention.

Even though it may not answer all your questions, it will give you a brief idea about Education on the Cloud. For further information about the "School on the Cloud" you can visit the following link: schoolonthecloud.eu
Dimitris Primalis