Tag Archives: ESL

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.


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 AppAdvice.com 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: www.commonsensemedia.org.


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.



English News…


Old Hong Kong… New Ideas

Primary Four students took on an ambitious project that involved all classes visiting the Hong Kong History Museum over a six month period as an extension of their English unit of study, titled Old Hong Kong.  In their groups, they planned what aspect of old Hong Kong they wanted to explore, assigned roles including a narrator or emcee, took videos and pictures with an iPad, and brought it altogether using iMovie.


Students were taught to:

  • plan their visit with questions and decisions about what video and pictures should be included
  • assign key roles of narrator, photographer, writer, reporter, etc. where necessary
  • use specific grammar structures  and target language which they learned in their unit of study
  • develop positive group member skills
  • use the basics of iMovie and the camera feature on an iPad


At the end of each video, students were given the opportunity reflect and express how they felt about the trip and what they had gained from the experience.

Thank you to the English Panel Head, Ms Lai and to the Primary Four class teachers for their constant support throughout this unit of study.

My Friend Activity

P2 students have been reading the big book, My Friend, Oscar, which is about friendships.  In this activity, students present their friend with a series of short answer questions.  In the preparation for this activity, the students were guided by a worksheet that helped them interview their friend for key answers.

My Friend Worksheet P2.pages Pages, Today at 10.09.38 AM.png

My Friend Interview Sheet.

Students practice presenting with their friend working on their enunciation skills, volume, and expression.  These skills develop with time and confidence.  This activity also deepens their friendships, as well as gives them a skill set to use when they meet a new friend, or classmate (for next year!).

We will try using the iPads to video some similar activities so students can have greater control over their video, location, timing, video angle, and to use some of the editing features of iMovie.  This will build their technology skills and confidence, especially peer-to-peer support and teaching each other.

This video is a collection of the student pairs from this P2 class.  I’m very proud of their risk-taking, collaboration and success!

‘Crabs on a Rock’ Rocks!

Students in P2 performing ‘Crabs on a Rock‘ in a Readers’ Theatre fashion.

One of the best ways to engage ESL students and teach them to read with comprehension, expression and  fluency is through Reader’s Theatre.

Reader’s theatre is a strategy that combines reading practice and performing.  Reader’s Theatre gives children a real reason to read aloud, it’s fun!

As you will notice from my videos,  it does not require extensive preparation, fancy costumes, props, sets, or memorisation.

This reading style allows children to act out a story as many times so they come to understand all of its nuances.  Also, it enables them to get past a superficial literal level.

With Reader’s Theatre, they’re not only reading and fully understanding a story, but most importantly, they’re living it.

Sports Day – Let’s Play!

What a great way to start Spring with our annual Sports Day event!  The children had a great morning participating in running, relay, skipping and many other races; something for everyone.

Sports Day allows children to showcase many of the skills they have learned in physical education classes.  This day was made extra special by the large turn out of proud parents, and the cooler weather.  I was amazed how well the children demonstrate what it is to show good sportsmanship, team spirit, and cooperation.  It gave me a subtle chance to interact with the students in English in a less formal environment compared with the classroom.

Well done to all the children and thank you to all of the teachers for organizing such a meaningful event.  The students and parents see that physical education and organised competitions are valued as part of a holistic approach to school life.


Games and Language Learning

This week, our school celebrated Language Week through games, reading activities, movies, and a book exchange.  I wish to thank the English teachers for organising such an enriching event for our students.  These are all memorable and fun ways to engage children in language learning.  My favourite activity, however is games.


Learning a new language is enjoyable when the approach to learning is geared towards having fun!  Nowadays, we can learn languages through social media, movies or even by playing games, either board, paper or word games, or on a computer or mobile device!

There is an old Chinese proverb that perfectly describes the advantage of learning languages through games:

“Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.”

Effective language games are designed to involve us in different ways of using the language.

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Language games help children, as well as adults hone their speaking, listening, writing, reading, vocabulary, and understanding of the target language. It should also have longevity so their motivation is maintained each time they play the game.  Game apps are well-known for this design element to automatically adjust its level of difficulty with each successful engagement.

Today’s skillful educator’s role is knowing the necessary balance of games and a variety of traditional methods to provide accountability and enjoyment.  They need to be active in their monitoring of student progress and participation to diagnose the effectiveness of the choice of games, timing, and the assessment of the desired skills.


Big Books = Big Fun!

Readers Theatre: Giving Children a Reason to Read Aloud

Learning a second language is challenging enough.  Aspiring to the level where you are able to appreciate the subtleties and nuances of expression, volume and fluency is truly the art of reading aloud.  Although an unrealistic goal for students who spend very little daily time with English, I think there are simple ways to move children closer to this ability, and in an enjoyable way.

Readers Theatre allows me to hear groups of students read the Big Books in character while the other students are guided in what to listen for, offer helpful advice and, basically, learn to be an audience; to appreciate a good story and how everyone interprets it differently in their presentation.

The students enjoy seeing themselves online (video – YouTube) and share their reading with parents and friends.  This keeps parents ‘in the loop’ on many levels of my programme, reading skills, drama, stage presence, and overall confidence.

We’re currently working on:

  • reading longer phrases
  • trying to add expression to the author’s language
  • trying to read fluidly and in a natural voice
  • reading at a suitable speed without unnecessary pauses
  • trying to look at the audience, at times


Stop Motion – Start the Fun!

This past week was the culmination of the Extra Curricular Activity I presented using Stop Animation technique to create short video animations.

Stop motion is an animation technique that physically manipulates an object that appears to move on its own. The object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a continuous sequence.

Students created their stories using Plasticine figures. Stop motion animation using Plasticine is called clay animation or “clay-mation”.

IMG_6789Students were introduced to this method through an app called, myCreate.


They started with storyboards to record their ideas, drawings and details to direct their work. This was a new experience for them which, at times, was challenging as they were not quite aware of the precision and number of photos that have to be taken just to create a thirty second clip (easily, over 300!).


Once they became immersed in the project and understood what was needed to be successful, they surprised themselves with their creativity and the quality of the outcome. Bravo to them all.