Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

April 26, 2017
by leesensei

Got Minimal EdTech Resources/Access? Tech Ideas/Tools For Supporting Learning

Note: Currently I am on a self-funded leave until September 2017 – so I am not blogging regularly. Language Sensei will be back – refreshed & ready to go – with new posts in late summer. In the meantime….

I have documented, occasionally moaned, about my access to using technology in my classroom (we did not have wifi for student use in classrooms until this semester) and apps and 1:1 devices are still a dream. But a query from Joe Dale (one of the first people who I followed on Twitter!) made me realize that, no matter what your ‘access’ situation, technology is always available to support your teaching. Below is a collection of blog posts documenting  the variety of edtech tools that I have used to support learning in my Japanese language classes…in my edtech-minimal school. Each includes the title, tools highlighted/used and a link to the post!

The ‘Virtual Trip’ 3 days in Tokyo – using Quicktime, Inanimate Alice, TripAdvisor Japan, the Rikai-chan/Rikai-kun kanji reading extension, Google street view and more….

3 Small But Vital Tech Bits for my classes – TinyScanner, Export to Video (Keynote), SaveFromNet downloader:

Marking online/Oral Feedback with Kaizena – Kaizena Online Marking/Feedback add-on,  Google Docs:

Flipping a Lesson – Instant Feedback with Flubaroo – Google Forms, Flubaroo Automatic marking:

Cool Tools – My Favourite Extensions etc – Kaizena Docs Add-on, Rikai-chan/Rikai-kun, Evernote Webclipper, Texthelp Study Skills docs add-on,  Videos add-on and more:

Using/Making A Unit Slideshow/Video – Keynote, Quicktime video: Using Their Info To Make

Generating Your Own Authentic Resources Using Student Data – Google Forms:

Collaborating & Team-Building With Kahoot:

There are more – and more being added all the time. As for me up is to implement Seesaw so students can curate their learning online..I’m looking forward to it!


May 27, 2014
by leesensei

“If I Had 1 Day in…” A Webquest/Google Docs/Discussion Activity

Pagoda Surrounded by Cherry BlossomsWhat if you only had 1 day in a famous city/area in your Target Language (TL) country? Where would you go, what would you do? This is the premise for my “Visit to Kyoto” activity with my Yr 3 Japanese class. This is a 3-class activity that introduces my students to some iconic Kyoto sites – and hopefully gives them ideas should they plan a trip in the future!

Day 1 – Webquest/Google Docs Survey – In order to establish a common basis for discussion, I ask that they visit the National Tourist site for Japan – and in my case (as I’ve outlined my authres challenge before) in English.  I want them to see the specific country’s site, the extent of its offerings and, as I have a high population of students who don’t have English as their first language, the variety of languages offered to explore the site . For Kyoto I identified 5-7 top sites in the city. For the assignment the students are asked to go to each site and complete the following information (in English and on paper):

What is it?
Where in the city is it?
Why do tourists go there?
What would I see if I went there?
What could I do if I went there?
Why would I personally want to go there?

At the end of assignment, and to ensure they’ve gone to the site I want them to,  I also ask the students email me to respond to the website in particular – telling me what their initial impression of the site was and one improvement that they might suggest for the webmaster and why. I’ve sometimes even sent their suggestions along to the organization.

Google Doc Survey – Once students have completed the paper survey I ask them to enter the info into the google docs survey.  This survey just asks them to rank each site for the ‘visit’ preference from 1st (most want to go to) to the last. I don’t do this Day 1 work as an all on-line google doc activity as I want students to have the hard copy for class work – and I really only want the info to generate the rankings.

Day 2 – Vocabulary Crowd-source – Generally I put up the 6 spots on the whiteboard and ask the students to talk to their partner and answer the ‘questions’ that they had to when they did the webquest. They do this as a ‘mindmap’ on a larger sized piece of paper. For the first 10-15 min. (or so) I don’t allow dictionaries – in the hope that I can tap into their circumlocution skills. Then students source out the TL that they would need of they had to answer using dictionaries. Finally they take turns adding information to the whiteboard. If it’s a ‘looked-up’ word they put the English beside it. The last part of class allows them to borrow any words seen on the board that they might want.

Day 3 – Summary Discussion – Prior to class I go to the form response data and generate a “Summary of Responses” and a series of TL questions about the place in general and their specific responses.  I use conversation circles a lot and students are used to answering questions as a group. The questions can range from “What is Kinkakuji?” to “Why do you think the Gion was the ‘least’ popular site among students”. They get 10 min or so with their partner (and notes) to work through answers to the questions. Then they move into tables of 4. They can have notes with them if they need them still but they are there really for ’emergency’ purposes only. The discussion generally lasts 35-40 minutes and we change groups once half-way through. The discussion is self-evaluated with the written response prompts being “Today I was proud that I…” and “For next time I’m going to …”

It’s a great activity for students that makes use of their real data, and incorporates reading, listening and speaking. If your class went to an area in your TL country – where would that be and why?


May 5, 2014
by leesensei

Online Marking Using Docs – The Update (Or Tips You Might Find Helpful)

Google_docsI’ll admit that when I first started I thought it was taking way more time to mark online than it was on paper. So, as more of my students opt to hand things in electronically, I’ve been working on streamlining my online marking. I’ve found a few things that help me along – and garnered a few tips from the #langchat PLN and thought I’d add an update to my first online marking post to share what I’ve implemented.

Organizing By Name and Class: I’m much more organized now. One of my worries was to be able to find a document quickly (with so many coming in). So I’ve worked both on how the document is named – and where it’s put.

Changing the Name – It doesn’t take long but when I need to find something it’s much easier for me now. Each document is named for the student/assignment such as “Sick Note – Jenny”. I don’t have to guess based upon what my students have called it and it’s easier to find a ‘group’ of items.
Course Folders – Each of my courses/classes has its own folder and once the individual paper is marked, or a group are done, I move them to the appropriate folder.  Then when I need to find an item quickly – it’s there – and all organized for me

Marking/Feedback Ideas: I recently blogged about streamlining my feedback to students using colours and the Text Help Study Add-On.

Using Colour – Colour Keying using Text Help Study Add-On – In feedback post, I outline how I have standardized to two consistent colours using the Add-on. This allows me to reserve 3 others colours for items that may be specific to an assignment – or items that I feel need to be added as a regular comment.
Header space for comments/edits – I use the header space for comments to my students. Sometimes it’s a standard explanation of the colour coding, and often it includes personal feedback just for them. The header area is a great space because it is actually ‘in’ the document and doesn’t appear to be limited by length.
Document for Comments – Sometimes I need to include standard information for students in the header area. Not only do I not want to type it over and over, but I may use the same comment for different assignments. So I’ve created a “Comments”  document in Docs. When I start marking I open it up and  copy/paste as needed. I also add new ‘repeated’ comments there for next time.
Upload the Rubric – There’s two ways to incorporate the rubric after you’ve uploaded it. One is to copy/paste it onto the end of the document and mark it there. Another is to copy it for each student using the ‘assignment/name’ idea.  I add comments to the header of the rubric and use the highlighting to mark out where a student’s work falls in it. When I finish I send the document back to the student – with the link to the rubric in the header.


Group Document: Laura Sexton uses a form for her students – which is a fabulous idea that I have tried as well. The only issue for me is that it doesn’t generate a private report for each student. However it works really well if you’re having a group “find the error/correct it” session.
Individual Reports: I find that the header/highlights/rubric (outlined above) works best for me. A new option may be the “Collected Highlights Report” that comes as part of the Text Help Study Add-On. This allows you generate a report based upon either the colour code, or the order that the errors appear. I’ve yet to fully use this but I may see a future use!

Sharing the Marked Document: Just remember to reset the privacy on the document – which defaults to ‘specific person’ – to “anyone with link”. I’ve tried to find a way to change this default but can’t locate it! So I automatically change it each time.

I know that there will be more to learn on this marking online journey – and that I’ll probably change things again and again. Stay tuned! In the meantime – what’s your best online marking tip?



February 11, 2014
by leesensei

Marking Using Docs…A Newbie Wades In…


I am trying to expand choice in homework. At times this is in what you do to show/demonstrate your learning. The other way is in ‘how’ you choose to complete the work. This semester I am experimenting with my Japanese 12 students. I should point out that my district requires parent permission for the required use of any cloud-based tool  such as Google Docs due to privacy concerns. Therefore I do not require my students to submit or use Docs in class.   So,  when I give them choice in how they complete they have the option to submit as

  • a handwritten piece – like traditional homework
  • a piece typed on their phones and emailed to me (I paste into Docs when I receive)
  • a piece typed in Word and emailed to me
  • a piece typed in Google docs (student’s choice to use)

As more students elect to send a document to me I’ve taken some time to think about how I will handle marking them on-line in Google docs.  At this point I am not using my graphics tablet to circle/handwrite comments so I have concentrated on the setup needed to respond online. I took time to look around to other members of my PLN to see how they might handle it and many of their ideas are reflected in my initial set-up for online marking.

Teacher Gmail Account: I have my own personal Gmail Account but as I will be opening and editing student work I did not want to use that for marking. So I created a “teacher” account for me. I choose a name that included my title and school “pinetreeleesensei” so that students could quickly realize who the email is from.

Importing into Docs to edit – Not Drive!: Oh the confusion. When I was in Google Docs I would upload a word document a student had submitted and then try to edit. But I couldn’t find any of my editing tools that I wanted and didn’t understand why. It turned out that I was in Google Drive and not Google Docs. So…I selected File-Open With Google Docs. As it does this it even says “Opening in Google Docs for editing” on the bottom right of the screen. If your uploaded document doesn’t allow any editing – you’re probably in Drive not Docs!

Colour Use/Key: I have used the ‘colour’ option to highlight common problems – Because I am just starting out I wanted to keep the editing simple. So for me that is colours that highlight common errors. Yellow for a grammar error, Red for vocabulary issue and Green for incomplete sentences.  I can see that this may get a bit out of hand and unwieldy so I will have to keep the categories to a minimum and what is covered by them pretty loose in definition. It also means a seperate document (perhaps) to explain what they are for.

Comments in the “Header” Section: After much searching around at how to comment, and what to use, I settled on the ‘header’ section. It allows me to put in comments that students can see right at the top of their document.

Did a Student send a JPeg?: I have some students with tablets who choose to handwrite their homework but then submit electronically. It is easy to  copy/paste into a word processing document in Google Docs. When this happens then I just type below the picture. In the future I can see me using my iPad to circle/comment using a annotating app like Notability before I send it back.

There are more things to consider as you move to marking on line. Laura Sexton (@sraspanglish) has gone even further – with a Google Form to use for feedback for all submissions. I’m following her lead to develop my own one but in the meantime – check out her post on this! A great way to provide more feedback.

Looking forward to more choice ….



March 12, 2013
by leesensei

Authentic Information as an “Authentic Resource”

What is ‘authentic’? According to the Oxford Dictionary it is something that is  “genuine”, “accurate”, “based on facts or reliable”.  There’s a big push for ‘authentic resources’ these days in the MFL classroom. And there should be. I want my students to be using Target Language (TL) ‘real life’ information and sources in their language class and am making a big push to do that. Last year, during a unit on travel, I was stymied trying to find data – specifically data on travel trends among youth. And then it struck me – that authentic data was right at my fingertips and that data is, by its definition, an authentic resource. When I need it I now generate authentic information for use two ways in my classes.

As a Source for a Task (Google Docs Form Surveys)- in my senior Travel unit, as previously mentioned, I was looking for real data on travel preferences and trends. When I couldn’t find it – I went about generating it. I created a Google form survey in the TL and posted it on my site. Then, for homework, students were asked to fill in the survey. Armed with the responses my students set out on their task – to create an optional tour in the TL country  for young people who were visiting the major cities.  Student ‘buy-in’ is great as they know they are working with real information. After the oral students then select the tour of their choice – and write about why it appealed to them.

As a Task Itself  (Student Interactive Surveys) – in my senior Food Unit our final task is to do a taste test comparison of 3 brands of the same product. The goal is to advise the school cafeteria of possible choices in what to serve. On taste-test ‘day’ student pairs spend 50-55 minutes, in the TL, gathering data/information from their fellow students. Each student is responsible for administering the survey for half of the the time, and for being a participant in surveys the other half. All exchanges are in the TL but all information is written in English – to ensure comprehension. After the taste test students complete a self-evaluation of their oral performance. Then they have 45 minutes or so to work with their partner to discuss – in the TL – the information. The next class they come in and write their report – using the information gathered to justify their recommendation.

The best kind of resource is one that is current, valid and generated in a realistic way. Using your students to generate that resource can be an alternative as you expand your knowledge and use of authentic information.




August 20, 2012
by leesensei

Website? Get Students Using It Week 1…

While teacher websites appear to be more popular, I have many colleagues who lament the fact that, halfway through a semester, many of their students have never found it. In order to ensure that my students at least know mine is there and how to find it, I have several ‘homework’ assignments that rely on them personally going to the site.

Student Information Form – Can I get this information from our school’s student information system? Yes.  But…to reduce time spent on administrivia, and have useful data for me accessible from anywhere, I now have students complete their student information from a Google Docs form embedded in my site. It is required first night homework, can be accessed from school computers and must be done in order to gain entry into class the next day.

Photo/Email Assignment – I generally put up a page of interesting photos related to my subject. You can find many that are in the public domain. I choose photos from my last trip to Japan. Students are required to email me (we await Google Voice and the ability to call/text here in Canada) with their favorite photo and why. I learn a bit about them – but most importantly – I now have an email address for them.

Web-Posted Homework – Once in the first 5 or 6 days of class I announce that the homework will be posted on the website ONLY. I ensure that it is already up there by the end of class so students can easily access it from school computers.

Practice Tests/Quizzes –  I frequently will post a practice test prior to assessing student’s knowledge. In my area of languages this can be an audio clip, a reading multiple choice test or a straight ‘paper’ quiz. Students know that I do this. To reward those that find it I sometimes use the practice quiz as the real one. I may only do it once a semester, but students learn that practice can make (almost) perfect.

“You have a site?” is one question that I don’t hear from my students. Requiring them to use it in Week 1 means that they know it is there!  If you’re curious, you can find mine at Lee Sensei’s Site.


May 8, 2012
by leesensei
1 Comment

Survey Says..! Using Student Generated Data…

"What would you take to Japan?"

While desperately looking for statistics for a unit on Travel I realized that I was ignoring both a source of information (my classes), and a powerful tool for both gathering data and sparking discussion.  So off to Google Docs and its great Form option. I already use it to collect student information at the start of the course but generating relevant statistics for a unit is a new twist for me.

Why a Google Docs form for this?

Technology Constraints: I choose Google Docs because we are not school where all kids have input devices for phone-text surveys and because I use the produced data for further detailed class discussion (not just instant feedback). The ‘Summary’ option in the generated spreadsheet is great for this.

Easy to Create –   “Once created never lost (but editable)” When you are practiced at creating them structuring the form takes minutes to do. I choose to embed them in my own website.  The travel survey will be there for future units and modified as needed. The information will always be up to date reflecting current student trends.

Review/Learning Opportunity – The survey requires my Japanese language students to understand the questions and answers in order to complete it. Then the students see the vocabulary again during the analysis stage; multiple passes at concepts and key vocabulary.

Discussion Opportunities – By graphing the results (again easily done!) students had a source of information  that promoted a 30 minute discussion in their Second Language class – perfect.

There are times when global statistics are relevant and needed. But the information generated by students can have an even more powerful impact.





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