Blog 12: New York Times Learning Network- have you taken a look?

Look I’m not a one to enjoy having impersonal mails delivered to my inbox offering me this, that and the other. No matter how much I try, I can’t seem to stop myself getting clogged with mail that I subscribed to. I will unsubscribe to more stuff this year. There is, however one service that I look forward to getting updates from, it’s the New York Times Learning Network. 

As a teacher in Israel, it always fascinates me what is going on educationally out there in the big wide world. The NYT learning network certainly gives me a taste of different educational approaches in the US. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much in this site that is fascinating, useful, relevant, inspiring, and educationally sound. ‘Hot topics’ are addressed and turned around for classroom debate and exploration. Amazing videos are posted with ideas for the classroom. The NYT network also posts amazing student contests and even more amazing winners. An example is this year’s contest which is creating a calendar based on hot news of 2018.


I think it’s enough for a teacher to have a browse through the site to get some great ideas for texts, clips and activities that will generate student interest and engagement.

activities NYT

As you can see above, here are examples of the countless activities on the site.

Subscribing to the NYT learning network was definitely a move I don’t regret. It is, however not free. These poor newspapers have to get their money from somewhere. The subscription plans, however are between 1 to 2 dollars a week. Sounds like a deal to me.



Blog 11: Organizing your class with Class Dojo

Ever wanted to randomize partners or get students into random groups effortlessly? Well, that’s one of the features of Class Dojo.

You can also share your students progress with parents (I don’t know how, but it’s supposedly quite easy) and with co-teachers as well.

Another neat feature is being able to constantly monitor your kids, by adding skills that they are mastering, and ones that need work.

edit skills

As you can see the interface is user friendly and enables quick updates via the app on your smartphone.

The group organizing feature works like this:



create groups

I have used this feature of the app many times and it is definitely better than any other randomizer because you can keep your the names of all of your students on the app.

It also allows you to take attendance, but I do mine using the mashov app, which I’m required to do by the school anyways.

The biggest plus of Dojo is how simple it is to use.

More tomorrow,


Blog 10: Why not use Soundcloud for audio projects?


Our main focus in English is still on writing. And I’m not saying that writing is unimportant. But really, when push comes to shove, the type of production skills that will be demanded from our students in later life will be oral ones. Hence the new focus with the ministry on speaking skills and extra money being put into speaking programs.

But parcelling off our students’ spoken skills to one hour a week simply isn’t enough. The focus has to change. Like it or not, we are switching to audio and visual modes of communication in everything. Youtube has way more users than WordPress, and videos, podcasts and vlogs are increasingly used in every field, including business and higher education. Out students need to learn how to talk clearly, with correct intonation and pronunciation so that the listener can follow and remain engaged. How many times has a very slick video been ruined by a bad voice?

This is where good old soundcloud can come in. Students can submit and share recordings and projects with their teachers and with each other, and even add audio notes to files. Files can be public or private, or shared with a group. For detailed ideas of how to use soundcloud, this link is very helpful.

Having students record and store files on the cloud means less clogging up on our phones with whatsapp files and greater accessibility, plus easier organization.

Here are some ideas for soundcloud projects/tasks:

  • students interviewing each other (as they are or pretending to be famous)
  • reading text aloud
  • oral book reports (not a bad idea if they are practising for oral exams)
  • radio documentary about a subject the student has researched
  • oral reflections on a topic or activity

Grades can be given according to pronunciation, intonation, language accuracy, inflexion, fluency (ie. lack of hesitation) and listener engagement.

Obviously, the lower the level of the students, the more flexible the rubric. But don’t get lax on bad pronunciation!

I think I’m going to make sure that my students will all submit at least one activity as a recorded one, and soundcloud sounds like a great platform for it!

see ya


Blog number 9:Language Corpus has become so much easier to use thanks to Skell

I remember stumbling upon the English language corpus and getting very hyped about the ramifications of such a powerful tool.

What is corpus? Well, basically it is a way of seeing language in action right now, based on all of the hundreds billions of bytes of English across the web. Example, you come across the word ‘peachy’, almost impossible to understand without a context, let alone use. corpusSo I typed it in in the search engine and I get all types of information, where the word appears, what year and we see a pattern in how the word ‘peachy’ is used, and it’s not necessarily ‘like a peach’ and the context is overwhelmingly a positive one.

Skell, however is a much more learner friendly, user friendly interface, with a lot of the extraneous information we have in corpus engines (which are really more for academics anyway) removed. Plus you type in the word and you get the results right away, whereas with corpus you have to get through a couple of pages before you get there:



But that’s not the only thing that’s cool. You have something called ‘word sketch’ which shows up like this:

word sketch peachy

Which is pretty cool, as it is important to know that we often say that things are ‘just peachy’, ie. peachy is used in a slightly cynical or sarcastic way.

Here’s a more impressive example, using the word ‘impassive’

impassive skell

I typed in a tricky to use word, ‘impassive’ and skell has come up with a word sketch of an ‘impassive face’ or ‘remaining impassive’, which really sums up the contexts that one would use the word ‘impassive’ in.

Then there’s similar words, wonderful for creative writing:similar words

made into a lovely word cloud. Then there’s this other option in ‘more features’ called a ‘sketch engine’ which is beyond the scope of today’s blog, but looks super-cool:


sketch engine

Skell is a great tool that enables students to understand how language is embedded in contexts. As we know, teaching vocabulary as simple words and translations without a context is a lost cause, especially if we teach the word in the lesser used context. However, if we give students tools to understand how that specific word is used, then we give them the keys to productive language acquisition rather than rote learning. It is also helpful for us in providing real, live examples of language in use and useful sentences for quizzes and tests. I mean, there’s nothing I hate more than sample sentences which would never be used in real life.

Happy skelling!

Day 8: Canva Resources for Education

I remember when Canva came out and people got very excited about it. It was the first time that I felt you had access to the most beautiful templates for presentations, posters and other documents without actually having to pay a graphic designer to do it for you. I actually really feel sorry for graphic designers these days, I mean you really can create some impressive looking publicity without needing anyone!

You can see below how user friendly it is and how nice everything looks:


Canva is great for teachers in a number of ways. Firstly, it creates gorgeous, I mean gorgeous power points. A couple of my students used it for a presentation two years back and it made their power points stand out from the rest in unbelievable ways. OK, but let’s say you don’t care about presentations. They also have a massive selection of templates for other things, such as book reports, journal entries, creative writing prompts, KWL charts, infographics, posters, invites, ID cards etc. Teachers can either print them out for class distribution or turn it into an activity eg. a class newsletter.

Yes Canva is really easy to use. No, Canva is not entirely free but a lot of it is. You can down posters to PDF and share and edit presentations together.

I created a power point for you to see as an example of the aesthetic wow of canva.

Like it or not, looks are important. With more and more responsibility going falling on teachers for curriculum design and adaption, and more and more projects and tasks being created by students online, knowing how to create handouts and presentations that look good is important. It’s the world we live in.

see you later


Day 7: Make your own interactive storybooks with Elementari

The best way to practice writing is having students write, it’s a simple as that. For younger learners in particular, having them write their own stories is a relatively painless and fun for them to practice their writing skills, while adding some creativity at the same time. There are some great technologies to help them.

Once again, I must thank Larry Ferlazzo for all his resources, because it is through his site I found out about Elementari.

Elementari is a very easy to use storybook creator, with  cartoons and music. You can create a story for you class or have them create their own in a very short time and, so far it is free.


So this is what it looks like when you’re creating your own story. Pretty simple, heh?

Here’s an example of a finished product.

It’s a great idea for a class project and looks like a lot of fun!

Happy storytelling!


Day 6: Using TED talks in the classroom

Does anyone remember life before TED? I can’t. I have found some of these talks truly inspiring, eye opening, revealing, shocking, tear jerking…you name it.

A good story is a great basis for a class lesson or extension activity. I will hopefully do another blog with a list of my favorite TED talks for the classroom but today I want to talk about TED ed.

TED ed is a wonderful site where TED talks can be adapted for classroom purposes. You can take any TED talk and add your own questions (multiple choice or extended answers) and the format is really user friendly. I’ve made a couple and have used them with my students. The best plus is the short animated talks used on TED ed (a potted version of the longer TED talk) are really appealing for students.

I gave a test a couple of times to my classes where students got to pick a TED ed topic to be quizzed on and they had an essay at the end. It worked very well.

There are also tons of ready made lessons on the site already. You can adapt them to your class if you want.

TED ed

There are TED ed talks on so many different fascinating topics, and most likely you’ll be able to find something relevant to the one you’re teaching right now.

Remember, if it’s hard for students to understand the video, you can slow it down in the ‘settings’ menu of the video player!

Have fun and dig deeper!