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



Holiday snapshots in class

Snapshots in class
Use holiday photos to spark speaking and writing in class
Special thanks to Sophia Nikoletou for her contribution!

With the extensive use of smart phones, tablets and digital cameras, more and more of your students are likely to have taken a sizeable number of photos during their holidays. In this post, I will suggest ways in which teachers and students can use these photos in order to practise speaking and writing skills.

Activity 1: The inanimate object
Choose a photo with an inanimate object and ask your students to imagine what the object would say if it had a voice: “What can the object tell us about what had happened before the photo was taken?”
Below you can find an example. Students can use their own photos to illustrate their own stories. They can present their story in class by showing their photo(s) on a ®Powerpoint slide and record their voice narrating their story on the slide with the photo.  

Here's a sample of the kind of writing it may inspire:
 "Standing at the small cafe' on top of the cliff, Henry was enjoying the breathtaking view of the island which seemed to be the perfect holiday destination. Suddenly, a distant voice pulled his eye from the coast to his wife, who was swimming under the cliff and waving at him. Henry grabbed his camera to capture the scene. He narrowed his eyes to take a close-up shot, but what he saw turned his excitement into panic. Christine was not waving but drowning!!!"  

Alternatively, use an unusual photo as a lead-in to story writing.

Activity 2: Give it a title
Choose a funny or unusual photo and ask students to write a title or brief comment.

Flying saucers invade Greek beach: Swimmer blames Mojitos

Activity 3: Tweet it
Ask students to write a message accompanying the photo as if they were going to share it on Twitter.  The message should not be more than 140 characters.

Pristine waters, Mediterranean food and idyllic view on Europe’s southernmost tip.  Heaven on Earth #serendipity #Crete

Activity 4: Present with sway
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:

Activity 5: Use mobile phone apps
Most students download apps on their smart phone that create various effects on photos. ®Prisma is free and turns photos into art work. You can use these effects to compare and contrast the real photo and the one  with the effects or you can have sets of photos to start a story. The students can work in pairs or groups and they can narrate it or write it down or even create an e-book with the content they have put together.
Last night I had a strange dream. It was dark and rainy and my balcony door overlooked a cliff..

Then, suddenly it got lighter and I could see outside my balcony. There  were two rocks in the sea...

Then the sun came out and the sea started sparkling under the sun...

It felt as if it was true... I could smell the sea and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. 

For those of you who may not have a smart phone or do not feel comfortable using your personal photos, Eltpics,  http://www.eltpics.com/ is a website with photos from teachers for teachers.

Final thoughts
Personalizing learning and inviting learners to be actively involved with their own material can both act as a very strong stimulus to motivate learners and urge them to develop their creative thinking skills along with writing and speaking skills in L2.

Have fun and enjoy your learners' creativity and imagination!
Dimitris Primalis


Who says feedback can’t be Motivating, Involving & Xciting ???!!!

Who says feedback can’t be Motivating, Involving & Xciting ???!!!

Revisiting feedback with the aid of technology  from a personalized learning perspective.

Does the word feedback conjure spine-chilling images of scraps of paper with red smudges, stereotypical comments and a much awaited mark? And then a feeling of bitterness on both sides?

On the students’ side, the feeling that it is only mistakes that are highlighted and there’s rarely a word of encouragement or recognition of their hard work.

On the teacher’s part, the feeling that endless hours of work are not spared more than a quick glance at the grade and practically nobody paying attention to the corrections. All the hard work going down the drain…

With few exceptions this has been the picture so far. Yet technology can change the game and motivate and involve learners through personal or group feedback. Below you can read 3 ways that you can change the feedback you give to your students. My students loved them and it is very easy to use

  • .      Use video and voice recording to give feedback.
  • .      Instead of spoon feeding your students, challenge them with a poll.
  • .     Create content with your students and then ask them to give you feedback on their product.

The tool I used is called  Office Mix. It is an add-on  Add-on software that allows you to record what you have on your screen, record voice or video and draw or underline. This process is called “screen casting” and there are quite a few tools available on the market. Yet, what I found convenient with Mix is that once  downloaded,  it is automatically added to the top menu bar of your powerpoint and it is easy to use.

1. Most students find personalized feedback in front of the class embarrassing and they would like to have it in a more discreet way. Because breaks are never long enough to do it I tried emailing them the feedback they need using Office Mix.  You can see a video below (View from 15th second).

Use the video or voice recording functions to give personalized feedback to your learners. Click  Mix on slide recording on the top left corner,

 record your feedback – you may use the pens on the left to underline or circle areas and then click preview to check if you’re satisfied with your recording. Then convert it into an mp4 video (see top bar) and send it to your student. They will surely appreciate the fact that you pay attention to their work and you provide personalized feedback.

2.  Few students like to be lectured upon their mistake but when they are given a second chance to correct their mistake then it is seen as a challenge they are willing to take up.

I often ask my students to share their work in digital form (either email it or share it on the school’s Learning Management System).
If you have their homework or project in digital form, insert it in a powerpoint slide and then click on the top bar of Mix on Quizzes, Video Apps.

Choose the type of quiz or poll you want to give them. My favourite is the multiple choice one. They can choose the reason why their answer is wrong or even better ask them to choose the correct answer and write why they chose the specific one.

They are far more likely to respond to that kind of feedback rather than reading detailed comments on their notebook.

3. Helena is a new student and can be described as a very weak in terms of cognitive skills. Yet, she is eager to learn and seems to be learning through doing things rather than being lectured. When she sang a song from the student’s book that practices a function – “I’d like some ice cream, how about you? Me too” – she did well but when it came to a freer practice, she could not perceive the pronunciation mistakes.

I created 4 powerpoint slides ( you can see them in the form of the embedded video below) and we recorded her voice using Office Mix. She insisted on listening to her recording (click on preview recording) and asked to delete it and try again. She was recorded several times until she felt satisfied with the outcome. I promised her that I would turn the powerpoint presentation into  video so that she can show her mother and grandmother – her role models – her creation.

At the end of the lesson, Helena was happy feeling creative instead of the usual frustration learners suffer when given feedback.

A few closing thoughts
Mixing in new tools with old techniques and approaches can be fun and fruitful in terms of motivation, involvement and assessment. Technology can pave brand new ways to serve pedagogy. It is up to the educators to explore their potential and integrate them seamlessly into our lesson to serve best our students’ learning goals.

Dimitris Primalis