Top 5 Video List: Shapes

Long ago using video in class must have been a pain. Perhaps you remember the days when the teacher dragged out the big mobile TV on that huge trolley, plugged it in, and put some tired old VHS cassette with grainy film in the VCR.

I bet that video is actually MORE boring than it looks.

Thankfully those days are over. In my own classes, I’ve used large screen projectors, tablets, laptops, and even my iPhone to show short video segments. They can complement your lesson really well, the kids really appreciate them, and with the advent of YouTube, the possibilities appear endless.

But that endless-ness is also a bit of a problem. With soooo much out there to sift through, what to choose, what to choose? Well ESL Review is launching a new regular segment, the TOP 5 VIDEO LIST, where I’ll release my picks of the best videos for a particular topic. It’ll be a heavy on materials for young learners but there will also be stuff for older kids, and adults as well, so stay tuned

And without further ado…

ESL Review’s Top 5 Video List: Shapes

5. Shapes Song by Dream English Kids

This cute song is by Matt at Dream English Kids. Although I raised an eyebrow at the production values (I know, I know… I’m a picky somethingorother), Matt’s got that kind of voice that children just follow along effortlessly to. Check out his site to download tons of his free songs and watch his other videos on YouTube.

4. Shapes by Maple Leaf Learning

Maple Leaf Learning has got a whole line of online flashcards on a variety of vocabulary that’s great for the classroom or learning at home. “Flashcards? What’s the difference with the ones I’ve already got?” I already hear you asking. But trust me, it’s different to the kids. Give it a shot.

3. Shapes by Pancake Manor

I was slow to like the videos by Pancake Manor but after a lot of repeat viewing they have grown on me. More importantly, the children really like the puppet characters and follow along with the songs.

2. The Shape Train by Vidzforkidz

There’s this whole way of teaching vocabulary on YouTube that involves putting it on trains that go by slowly. Watch the video to see what I mean. The best thing about it is that the children start making predictions about what will come next. There are actually several versions of the shape train herehere and here, but I like the video below best because it lets children hear the voice of young native speakers.

1. Shapes with Hero Guy and Baby Bear by Sesame Street

What can I say…I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Sesame Street. Who doesn’t? My preschoolers found this video hilarious.

Okay so, that was the first list. There’ll be more to come in the future. (And a BIG HELLO to Jason Isaacs!, wink, wink)

Upcoming Webinar: Developing Effective Presentation Skills

Thomas Healy

I just finished reading this great piece on the OUP ELT Global Blog which tells the story of ELT instructor and presenter Thomas Healy’s journey from technology neophyte to proselytizer. There are some great tips about putting Facebook to use in the classroom with regards to giving presentations, and touches on (one of my favorite topics) making the most out of precious class time with technology. Mr. Healy will be expanding on this in a follow-up webinar entitled Developing Effective Presentation Skills, which takes place on the 8th and 14th of November. Go to the registration page to sign up and check your local time. 

Can’t make it? Shortly after the webinar has concluded OUP sends an email to everyone who has signed up with a link to a recording of the event, including the online chatter of the attendees. That’s great news for people whose changing schedules often prevent them from attending the live events. While there is the obvious downside of not being able to interact with the presenter and other attendees, at least you will have access to the knowledge being imparted by Mr. Healy. So sign up and watch at your leisure.

Open Shut Them (And Other Opposites) by Super Simple Learning Review

I’ve been burning through a lot of great songs by the good people at Super Simple Learning (SSL) lately but I couldn’t wait to write about Open Shut Them, a song that has generated a huge buzz among my students. Found on Super Simple Songs 3, this variation of the classic song (which I was admittedly ignorant of) is amazing for introducing children to the concept of opposites. This is a super upbeat song that will get your gets energized for class. It was such a success for me that it paid for the cost of the CD all by itself.

It’s really easy to teach, too. Start off by pre-teaching the vocabulary: big & small, please & no, thank you, fast & slow, loud & quiet, and to finish it off peek-a-boo. The free flash cards available on the song page are perfect for the task, along with some really expressive gestures, of course.

There is also ample opportunity for mini activities to practice the vocabulary before or after singing the song. For example, with big & small, ask the kids to find something big in the classroom and then count down slowly from five to zero. The children will end up racing around the class looking for the biggest thing they can find. Then you can try the same with small.

For please & no thank you, I use the picture cards from SSL’s song Do You Like Broccoli? to ask the children what they’d like to eat. Any food cards (or realia) will do but I like to use those cards in particular because there are images of both food the children will probably like, and others they almost certainly will not. You just have to take them out one by one and ask them if they want any ice cream, to which they will probably say “yes, please”, and then ask them if they want any broccoli ice cream, to which they will in all probability reply, “no, thank you!”

For loud and quiet get the kids clapping their hands, or stomping their feet (or both) and then yell out loud for a bit of thunder making, followed by quiet. With peek-a-boo just practice with the child beside you and then get them to scramble around the class for a new partner while you count down from five. Then when they have their new partner they do peek-a-boo again.

The song page also has lots of tips for teaching the song which should prove invaluable to teachers. Take a look of the video of Devon Thagard (the creator of Super Simple Learning) leading a group of children through the song and pay attention to the actions, because they work perfectly.

Now, you just have to play the song. The opening lines “open shut them” were surprisingly familiar to my students, even if they hadn’t heard this exact version of the song. But even for the ones who had never heard it before, the lyrics and actions were simple enough to just follow along with me. The rest of the song is easy-peasy for the kids and thus makes for a great warm-up.

Later you can show the song’s charming music video that got a lot of smiles from my preschoolers.

Once you’ve mastered the song, you might also give the classroom version a try too. The song has been redone mostly without the lyrics, allowing you to insert any pair of opposites you like: up & down; hot & cold; good & bad; yummy & yucky; or whatever you’d like to practice.

And if you like to read stories in class, like I do, check out Blue Sea by Robert Kalan (illustrated by Donald Crews) which I had I happened to bring along with me to class this week. It was a nice way to end the class since it deals with the subject of big and small.

The children's book, Blue Sea.

The book touches on comparatives and superlatives such as bigger and biggest. I had to simplify this a bit in the telling of the story, although you might not have to. The children begged me to read it again once I had finished but alas time was up.

Happy singing.

Related Articles:

The Camera Game

There are so many vocabulary activities that involve finding, pointing to, or matching vocabulary words on flash cards, and they’re great, but why not turn the whole process into a bit of an adventure for the children? This past week I dug out a personal classic for my preschool classes called the camera game. As the name implies, it’s all about getting the children to take pictures of the words they are learning. This is great for getting them up off their bums, inspiring their imagination, and getting lots of speaking practice.

As for materials, if you happen to have twenty or so toy cameras, great, or you could just make them. Don’t worry, it’s simple. Copy and paste some camera clip art from Google Images onto a word document, print off a bunch, cut them out, and laminate for durability.

Camera game 02

After several uses some of them look a little worse for wear. One young child even insisted I take his camera into the shop for repairs like his daddy did with his camera.

To set up, I go around the class putting up pre-taught A4 sized flash cards in places that the children can clearly see (although realia would obviously be great, too). In this case the flash cards depict the fruit from Genki English’s Fruit Market song: apple, orange, pineapple, banana, lemon, cherry, strawberry, watermelon, peach, grapes, pear, and kiwi fruit.

fruit market 01

Just some of the great fruit characters from the high energy Genki English theme, Fruit Market.

Now for the game! After first demonstrating and giving a safety lesson, I pass out the “cameras”. Boy you should see how excited the children get! I then start calling out the vocabulary one by one, and the children go off and take pictures of them. As I call them out I show a picture of each word using the Genki English mini flashcards. Now you might think that this activity doesn’t involve any actual speaking on the part of the children, but you’d be wrong. They constantly repeat the words in their search and keep asking each other where they are, even bellowing out the names when they find them. 

Anyway, it is a huge hit for my students. I hope it works for you.

photo (8)

Here are a group of four-year-olds, cameras in hand, searching for grapes.

Super Teacher Worksheets: Worksheet Generators Review

스크린샷 2013-07-21 오전 11.01.51

I wasn’t going to write about this site again so soon after my last post but I couldn’t help it following my latest discovery. Super Teacher Worksheets has just added three new worksheet generators that should cause teachers who are into making worksheets to drool. Stuff produced for this site always looks professional, which is one of the top reasons I use their material in the first place (in addition to the great content, of course). Now we get to borrow some of that luster for our own work.

Just in case you didn’t already know, Super Teacher Worksheets already has three great puzzle generators such as:

These puzzles are great improvements on tools that can be found elsewhere on the Internet. Tim Weibel (the site creator) has assured me by email that they are working on the coding for a new crossword puzzle generator to be made available sometime in the future. There are also basic math worksheet generators if you are interested. Good stuff, but it all pales in comparison to these latest additions:

  • Multiple Choice Question Generator *flabbergasted* This will save me so much time in making quizzes for my students
  • Matching Terms Generator This is great for matching things like words and definitions, or questions and answers, or even the first part of a sentence and the last party of a sentence. Students just draw lines between the matching terms.
  • Fill-in-the-Blanks Generator Needs no explanation really, other than why is this the first such generator of its kind that I have ever come across. It’s beautiful and great for a number of quizzes I would normally make myself.

Like all worksheets from this site an answer key is generated, but unlike the other worksheets at Super Teacher Worksheets, you can use these fabulous tools for FREE. There is a catch, though. Although you can print off as many as you like, the save function has been disabled. A little inconvenient I admit, but all the more reason for you to fork over the measly USD 20 that it costs for their annual subscription.

Super Teacher Worksheets, making life just that much easier for teachers around the world.

Cam Jansen Worksheets from Super Teacher Worksheets Review

Cam Jansen #1: The Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds at Amazon.comDuring the summer I taught a chapter book reading class to an energetic group of high level elementary students. We started off by reading Cam Jansen #1: The Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds from the bestselling mystery series by David Adler. It was a huge hit with my students for most of whom it was their first real mystery-detective story. For comprehension and vocabulary worksheets I naturally turned to the excellent selection offered by Super Teacher Worksheets, the essential site for teachers created by Tim Weibel.

The worksheets for this unit have been crafted to a very high quality by people who obviously know what it’s like to work in a classroom. Here is what you can get:

  • Chapter Questions: Multiple choice and full sentence comprehension questions for the first half, second half, and whole of the book. You can download the first one here for FREE. I also used it as a book quiz, with great success.

스크린샷 2014-05-11 오후 3.40.08 스크린샷 2014-05-11 오후 3.40.51 스크린샷 2014-05-11 오후 3.41.02 스크린샷 2014-05-11 오후 3.41.11

  • Summarize the Picture: Students write a short paragraph describing a scene depicted from the novel. (Preview)
  • Question Leader: Students can practice writing discussion questions about the novel. (Download it for FREE).

스크린샷 2014-05-11 오후 3.47.27

  • Summarizer: Students summarize in their own words a section of the novel assigned by the teacher. (Preview)
  • Illustrator: Students choose a scene from the story and draw a detailed image using their own imagination. Then other students can guess which part of the story the image takes place. (Preview)
  • Real Life Connector: In this innovative worksheet, students compare events in the novel with things that have happened in their real lives. (Preview)
  • Word Wizard: Students choose tricky words from the novel and write a definition in English. I also ask the students to write the meaning (but not the definition) in their L1. (Preview)

There is also a nice cover page for students, a character web worksheet, and a word search of key vocabulary from the text.

Quality is rarely free, and this site does have a USD20 annual subscription, but that is a steal for the value you can get out of the site.  If you like these worksheets you really should check out the other novel worksheets offered by the site.

Review of Genki English’s Disco Warm Up

Ever walk into a class of drowsy children (or company workers for that matter) and need something to shake the sleep out of their eyes? If you almost certainly said “yes”, then the Genki English Disco Warm up is just what you need. Found on CD 7 of the Genki English series, this is the very first song I teach all of my children whenever I start new classes (aged five and above). It is especially effective with children who may not enjoy learning English so much, since it sends a powerful message that you are a fun teacher. Play it once and they’ll be in a good mood to do pretty much whatever you have planned next.

Before reading any further just go to the song page and listen to the demo, if it doesn’t have you hooked within the first couple of notes then I doubt there is much I can write to convince you otherwise. On the song page you will find the lyrics of the basic and extended versions of the song, a lesson plan, and evaluation worksheet which will be helpful in preparing to teach it.

Here is the song in action with some children in Japan.

“Genki Disco Warm Up”
by Richard Graham

Stand up, sit down.
Hands up, hands down.
Stand up, and bow.
Sit down, sit down.

And clap.

Stand up, sit down.
Hands up, hands down.
Stand up, and bow.
Sit down. Sit down.

And cheer!
Come on, louder!

Stand up, sit down.
Hands up, hands down.
Stand up, and bow.
Sit down, sit down.

And cheer!

Before playing the song for the first time pre-teach the key actions: stand-up, sit down, hand up, hands down, bow, clap, and cheer. The latter two actions are really great for getting the children all jazzed up so don’t spare any energy in getting the kids excited. Although Richard Graham, the creator of Genki English, has recently added some great flash cards and mini cards, they are not really necessary to teach the motions. Since this is all about the TPR (Total Physical Response) just do the actions with the children, repeatedly, and progressively faster. Then when you feel they’re ready just turn on the song real loud and lead them through it.

You’ll have more fun than you can imagine.

Related articles:

Super Simple Songs: Seven Steps Review

A few weeks ago I wrote about a great counting song for young learners by Super Simple Learning called Count and Move. If you liked that one then you might also want to give Seven Steps a try. Found on Super Simple Songs 1, this song practices counting from 1 to 7 both forward and backward. It has a really catchy melody and is a HUGE hit among my preschoolers, especially my four year old classes who ask me to play it constantly. They get a real kick of the music video, too.

When teaching Seven Steps you can use number flash cards, fingers or toes, maracas, or anything that keeps a beat to really bump up the excitement. As the song page says, the song is for getting the kids up and marching, and comes with free flashcards you can download.

Related articles:

Breaking News English Review: Everything You Need to Teach Reading to Adults

Some years ago I was asked to teach English to a senior business executive who told me he wanted to improve his listening ability. Although his spoken English was already excellent, he was having trouble understanding what was being said during meetings at his LA-based subsidiary. For a time I used a (not entirely useless) textbook, but after a while I switched to making my own materials. Essentially I choose a news article, created a vocabulary list and set of comprehension exercises, discussion questions, and recorded an mp3 that the exec could practice listening to in his spare time. We would read and listen to the article, discuss the topic and complete the exercises. Nothing revolutionary, and probably no different than countless classes taught by teachers around the globe.

But I’ve got to tell you… while producing those materials was a good experience overall, and the exec did seem to like the class, the whole thing was real time consuming (tens if not hundreds of hours) and I ended up never using those materials again.

Then a few weeks ago I discovered Breaking News English, a site which provides exactly what I had needed way back then, crafted to a much higher quality than I ever could, and it’s all FREE.

Break News English 01

I wanted to kick myself.

Every other day a new lesson is uploaded featuring a news article covering anything from the new Samsung watch to…well… police arresting coconuts. Teachers can then download a PDF file with the article and pages and pages of exercises, discussion questions and writing assignments. Click here to check one out. There’s everything you really need, not to mention downloadable mp3s of the text being read out in both British and American accents, as well as several online activities worth a try. 

The creator of Breaking News English is Sean Banville, a British national and permanent resident of Japan who has taught and studied in Thailand, Turkey, the UAE and Japan. Sean was kind of enough to answer many of my questions about his great site by email, many of which I have included here:

ESL Review: How do you go about choosing topics for your lessons? 

Sean Banville: I search for topics I think will interest students and that I would like to use in class. I don’t look for specific topics – one usually jumps out as the obvious topic for a lesson. I keep an eye out for more controversial news that teachers might not be able to find materials for.

ESL Review: Do you test your material with students?

Sean Banville: I’ve tested all of the activity types with my students. They have given me ideas for other activities which have been incorporated on my site.

ESL Review: How did you develop the current lesson format?

Sean Banville: It just developed over time. My first lessons in 2004 were less than ten pages long. As the years went by I simply added activities I thought might be useful, leading to my present 26-page lesson and the 40+ online activities.

ESL Review: What tips would you give to those trying to use your materials in class?

Sean Banville: To teachers – Let students pick and choose the activities they want to do.  All students are different. Some students love jumbles, others don’t. Some want to practise listening, others writing, etc. There is enough variety on the site to please most students (I think). To students – Try a variety of activities. The same vocabulary is recycled many times to give you lots of practice.

ESL Review:  Do you have any suggestions for people who would like to follow in your footsteps? 

Sean Banville: If you think you have a good idea, go for it. Be prepared for many knocks along the way. It takes a long, long time to get your site known (at least in my case).

Sean has also assured me that he is not considering a pay wall, which should come as a relief to teachers such as myself who are only now discovering his great work. For a more detailed breakdown of the worksheets, a look at the table of contents for a typical lesson will give you an idea of what exercises are available:

  • The Article
  • Warm-Ups
  • Before Reading / Listening
  • While Reading / Listening
  • Match The Sentences And Listen
  • Listening Gap Fill
  • Comprehension Questions
  • Multiple Choice – Quiz
  • Role Play
  • After Reading / Listening
  • Student Survey
  • Discussion (20 Questions)
  • The Article 2 Discussion (Student-Created Qs)
  • Spelling
  • Put The Text Back Together
  • Put The Words In The Right Order
  • Circle The Correct Word
  • Insert The Vowels (a, e, i, o, u)
  • Punctuate The Text And Add Capitals
  • Where The Spaces Are
  • Free Writing
  • Academic Writing
  • Homework

There really is something for everyone.

In addition to his blog, Sean Banville has eight other great sites that I will be reviewing in the weeks ahead:

So much great stuff, so many wasted years not using it.