Fostering ‘Real World’ English

Using Picture Description to Enhance English Oral Skills

When teaching a foreign language, one must take into account the following factors so as to create a more effective and engaging programme.

  • school locality and context
  • school-based and citywide curriculum priorities
  • the students’ lives outside of school – their interests, aspirations, and home life

By creating a classroom environment that mimics real life, we bring learners one step closer to using “real world” English. Visuals help them imagine actual world scenarios and react to them more naturally.

As part of my programme with the Grade 3 students, guided reading and picture description is alternated week by week.  Picture description challenges students to describe the details found in a series of pictures, encouraging them to use target vocabulary and connecting words.


Using a guided approach, students discuss the pictures in groups.  After a suitable period of time, each student in the group take turns to describe one aspect of the picture to the whole class.  It is here that teachers can survey the strengths of each participant with praise and prompting, regardless of their ability.  This activity caters for learner independence and imagination to further their confidence and public speaking skills.  It also provides observational details that inform the teacher of a student’s progress in a natural setting where collegiality and respect are modelled and expected.

In these activities, most importantly, teacher ‘lecture’ time is reduced and student engagement and speaking is increased. The teacher’s role is to provide positive feedback on a student’s participation and encourage constructive student-peer observations.

Using pictures when teaching speaking is a very important part of second language learning. The ability to communicate in another language clearly and efficiently contributes to the success of the learner in school and later on in life.


Games Day 2018

Last Saturday, CNEC Ta Tung held its annual Games Day.  It was full of  activities, delicious food and happy children and parents enjoying all the fun activities.
This year the theme throughout this event was STEAM,  a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.  Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEAM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.
Children were the leaders in many of the booths showing participants how to play or participate in the experiments done in their STEAM lessons.  It was a great day!
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New Year Possibilities

It is at this time of year when the true meaning of the word ‘reflection‘ becomes dynamic in playing a role in starting, stopping, and continuing activities, focuses, and goal setting.  Students, like their teachers can easily do versions of this activity to help establish new and productive routines, and to realise not all methods work every time.

For students who prefer tech versions of goal setting and monitoring their goals, there are a number of free apps that are available that encourage repetition in fun ways that help them to remember.  These apps generally promote a balance reminding them to take a break, or to do a fun activity like sports, gaming, etc.

I wish to take this moment to wish all the admin, staff and students at my school a very happy new year – year of the dog in 2018.  May each of you have health, prosperity and happiness.


Apps that Enlighten ESL Learning

Teachers strive to guide students in their learning as individuals in contrast with the traditional, full class lecture approach whenever possible.  This is evident in their decision to cluster students into groups with a similar achievement or ability level.  A stigma of branding student’s capabilities can be a detriment when perceived by other students.  Although, a teacher’s best intentions are understood, its consequence can perpetuate low self-esteem and anxiety in students.  This is amplified when special needs students are involved, or with the below average in achievement students who tend to fall between the cracks receiving no or minimal modification to their programme. Technology offers numerous supports that help empower students to take greater responsibility and independence for their learning.  This is in a more personal and respectful manner… all between their fingers and a device.


Tablet technology has been a welcomed hand of friendship for students to visualise and individualise various aspects of the curriculum over the past eight years.  Its function is to promote discovery, wonderment and active exploration with touch, motion, and sound, according to Apple.  With thoughtful planning, a students’ day can be filled with a blended approach of many methods to achieve the goals of the classroom programme. The technology, not merely as a substitution for simple typing and transcription of facts elevates the learning potential to inter-disciplinary, creation-based, collaborative, promoting activities founded on higher order thinking skills ideology.


Futaba – up to four can play for picture – text identification in a gaming environment which can be personalised for your students

With the thousands of English learning apps for children on the various app stores, a definite conundrum exists in selecting the most robust and diverse apps.  Educators time is precious to be able to afford the time to download, try, evaluate and long-term test an app’s value.  An app called ‘Daily App Advice’ by is a must-have app for educators.  It offers the daily user to 4 or more apps in a variety of categories that have gone free for a day.  Once downloaded, these apps can be installed on all iPads under the same school account.  Teacher networking is another way to keep informed of useful apps for education, either within your school or district or with online sites, for example:


Little Finder – listening skills app for one or two



Choosing Suitable Apps

This basic rubric provides hints to help educators to identify apps that afford the best user experience in achieving curriculum goals and reflect sound pedagogical best practices for classrooms. With practice, educators will quickly develop a skillful eye to evaluate an app’s appropriateness and which to avoid.  The author takes the stance that using any aspect of technology is only a part of the many, varied learning tools and methods available that support a blended approach in education.


Aparecium: reveal your secrets! *

Reading tips for the ESL student

Harry Potter was certainly excited when he was given the Marauder’s Map affording him the ability to see his surroundings in real time. Imagine if a similar magical item could help students learn to read revealing the secrets to understanding what they read!

An ESL teacher’s quest: to help their students demonstrate an understanding of text beyond its basic phonemes, words, and phrases. This is a monumental moment when students understand text above its printed, superficial level. It is at this stage that text can reflect something living, breathing and expressing meaning, description and emotion. Students typically get hooked on reading for purpose and pleasure once achieving this ability.


There are a variety of reasons why ESL children may struggle with reading, hesitant to acquire the necessary skills in becoming independent readers. In my experience, it typically stems from a lack of consistent effort, motivation, and time to build meaningful routines that aid in learning. Students need time to review (to reflect), play (to take risks) and build new language skills fostering a sense of personal satisfaction and self-efficacy. This learning cycle helps ESL students to strengthen their phonemic awareness, and word and vocabulary building skills. Context and real life application can also determine a student’s willingness to learn to read… using their language skills outside of school.

The main objective of reading is comprehension, as it allows the reader to understand what the text is about.

Reading comprehension strategies (Aparecium: reveal your secrets!) are “what if…” scenarios devised to help children become better readers. Their aim: to provide students with the ability to decode information using techniques and routines, to equip and build independent and confident readers. These strategies can also be used as individualised assessment tools to help guide students and parents in a prescriptive manner. The results can provide in-depth information about what techniques a reader is using and identify areas that need attention for reading to develop.

Modelling and guiding students in the use of these strategies is an important key to their adoption. The examples below should be easily accessible for the students during guided reading times to serve as a reminder when various reading challenges arise. Parents can also use guided reading strategies at home to reinforce in partnership with the teacher. With practice, students soon figure out secrets of word structures (roots, prefix and suffixes, blends, etc.) transferable to other subject areas in their school day. It is hoped they adopt a marauder’s approach to reading, courageously using the secrets and clues to decode new text with an adventurous spirit while seeking information and entertainment from reading.

*Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling


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Life in Primary One

I would like to extend a warm welcome to all the children, their parents and members of the local community who are central to the life of CNEC Ta Tung Primary School.

Our whole school community values the contribution every child brings to our school which makes it a happy place to learn.
Acquiring English through games, songs and chants, alongside more formal learning in a structured environment is a great strategy to help strengthen your child’s language proficiency levels in the areas of listening, speaking, reading, and spelling.  I encourage you to check my website often.  I try to provide parents with valuable information on how to best help your child.
I look forward to making the coming year a happy and successful one for your child.

With kind regards,

Mr Campbell





Congratulations to Joy, Heidi, Hurris and Sam, who have been selected to represent our school in the 2017 Hong Kong Speech festival.  In preparation for the speech festival they are learning proper pronunciation, intonation, pacing and most importantly, the  “feeling” of the poem.  Their poems recorded by me have been uploaded on my SoundCloud account for use at home to aid in practice and preparation.





Speech Festival Tracks

The 69th Hong Kong Speech Festival is underway and many of our students are participating.  Below are the sound files for my students to practice.  I’m sure this experience of preparing and performing at this year’s festival will be a positive one for all.  Good luck to all!

The Fine Line of Boredom

As schools across Hong Kong close for the Summer, children look forward to a well-deserved respite from the hectic school schedule.  Typically, many parents have already enrolled their children in summer programmes as early as January, if overseas.  Planning what’s best for their child, traditionally moves to this conclusion: keep them busy and learning. In many cases, even as adults, the first goal is to rest, relax and catch up on one’s personal, quality time, alone or with family.

As an Educator and Counsellor, I believe children need down time to play freely allowing them to do all the small, simpler activities they enjoy.  This could include building models, play acting with toys or dolls, watching TV, playing computer or tablet games, and most valuable, playing with friends.


After the threshold has been reached and boredom sets in, parents usually instigate for control and scheduling.  This is an opportune time to have meaningful discussion about how to use precious, summer holiday time.  Prompting and reflective dialogue often helps to give them some control in the negotiation, usually a blend of the wants from both sides.

I believe boredom is the fine line between having something to do and, often perceived and not always true, nothing to do.  However, out from that fine line shines the possibilities of new ideas.  This could be a hobby, a visit, a new sport, or a trip to the museum or Science Centre.  It can be anything that helps to build new ideas, insights, and fascination from new situations.  For example, a day camp has the potential to build social skills that could bolster a shy individual, or an afternoon trial lesson in another language, or a musical instrument may trigger a lifelong passion for it.


Some activities, if designed in a clever manner, have the potential to build on challenging school subjects; for example, fun science experiments themed with math, drama and writing (or reading), drama combined with music (or video making and editing), cooking and math skills, coding and logical thinking, general studies, graphic design and research skills. The thoughtful parent will look for these connections.

The next time your child is bored, ask him/her, “What do you want to do?” and watch the possibilities fly!

Learning English with Scrabble

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As part of my English ECA this term, students have been introduced to various board games.  One of them is Scrabble.  Students put letters together to form words scoring points for themselves.  There are many of benefits of playing this word game, notably spelling and the use of known and new vocabulary.   Students also develop the social skills of taking turns, patience, and fairness.
What I see my students enjoy the most is their usage of high frequency words (Dolch Sight Words).  Playing Scrabble helps them strengthen their English communication skills and fosters competitiveness and confidence among them.  As an ESL teacher, I believe Scrabble would provide ways for students and teachers to expand their verbal repertoire.  Furthermore, it is a pleasant way for students to learn words for their English classes.

While playing Scrabble, the use of an online dictionary (iPad) has proven to be essential for my students when searching for a word or checking its proper spelling.  Exploring the digital dictionary exposes them to new vocabulary and its definitions, as well as 21st century research skills.   Online dictionaries speak the word for students to practice their pronunciation, as well as show synonyms and antonyms.  When the students form a questionable word, they have to check the dictionary to see if these word actually exists, and in some instances, it does!

Scrabble lightens the mood and allows the students to de-stress after a long day and enjoy their second language experience in a fun way.



Pizza Express Visit

Today, we went on a field trip to Pizza Express, in Mongkok East, as part of our ECA.  The children had the opportunity to visit a working kitchen and experience first hand, what it is like to create one of their favourite foods.  While preparing an individual pizza, each child learned the various names and the process of adding numerous ingredients (sauce, vegetables, cheese and meat choices).  They especially enjoyed watching the changes, stage by stage, that occurred during preparation and baking.

Other highlights included dressing in traditional chef uniform and eating their pizza creation at the end.

A huge thank you goes out to Miss Lai, who helped coordinate this event and Vincent, from the IT department, who donated his time to accompany us on our trip.  I also want to thank our students who were well-behaved and represented our school so well.