Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

December 4, 2014
by leesensei

Best of 2014 – Number 5: Conversation Skills, Kahoot & Cool Tech Add-ons

MP900385755(1)Looking back at the most popular posts on Language Sensei in 2014 I am always surprised at what resonates. I am pleased when something ‘hits home’ for others because, truthfully, I write for one person – me. Blogging has helped me to clarify – for me – what I value and, more importantly, where I am headed as an educator. So for the month of December I’m going to take the lead from one of my favourite #langchat colleagues – Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell) and her Musicuentos blog and re-publish some of the most popular posts. And wouldn’t you know it – a 3-way tie for 5th place!

Developing Conversation Skills – the “Follow Up Question” Game: We work hard in my class on developing an ease at conversing. It isn’t natural for many people, including me I’ll admit, so why would we expect it to be so for our students? This semester I have a new crop of Grade 10′s, 30 students who are in my class for the first time. When I asked what it is they want to many of them wrote ‘have a regular conversation in Japanese.” My job is to have them meet that challenge. I’ve written before about extending conversation skills using ‘follow-up questions’ and this group needed a way to jump-start their ability in this area. So I invented the ‘Follow Up Question’ game….my fancy title for essentially practicing conversations!  Continued…..

Fun, Team-building & Reinforcing Learning: Using Kahoot! In Your Classes: I’ll admit that in the past I have shied away from online class games. Our school is limited in WiFi availability and I have not wanted to either single out students who didn’t have phones, or ask them to use data to play. But the #langchat community is big on the Kahoot! – and I just had to join in. Basically you create a multiple choice quiz. When you start the game students see a ‘game code’ – they go to the web site and enter that code – create a team name – and you begin. I’ve tried to use it in my classes to both increase teamwork and minimize data use. Why do I like it and how do I use it in my classes? Continued…

Cool Tools – My Favourite Browser Extensions, Add-Ons and Docs Extras: We use a lot of tools, apps and other on-line resources in our teaching. I had to work on a browser the other day – which required me to re-enable the add-ons and extensions for it. It got me to thinking about my ‘go to’ tools that I use with both Firefox and Chrome. So I put together a collection of my favourites – probably some of yours as well. Continued…


September 15, 2014
by leesensei

Cool Tools – My Favourite Browser Extensions, Add-Ons and Docs Extras

MP900387935We use a lot of tools, apps and other on-line resources in our teaching. I had to work on a browser the other day – which required me to re-enable the add-ons and extensions for it. It got me to thinking about my ‘go to’ tools that I use with both Firefox and Chrome. So I put together a collection of my favourites – probably some of yours as well.

Kaizena – Google Docs: a free tool that you can integrate with your Google Drive account to leave voice comments on the documents that students share with you. With Kaizena authorized to access your Google Drive account you can highlight portions of your students’ work and add voice or text comments to it. Haven’t used it much yet – going to this year.

Texthelp Study Skills – Google Docs: I use Texthelp’s Highlighting Tools to highlight key areas of  student’s documents. I’ve written before about my ‘colour coded feedback‘ – and this allows me to do so online.  You can also collect all the highlighted parts of a document to create a ‘feedback’ page (by color or location) for a student  to review. Love it!

Rikaichan- Chrome/Firefox: This could be a GAME CHANGER for my classes in working with authentic resources. I’ve written about the challenges of teaching a character-based language in the past. Then I discovered this Rikaichan add-on that allows a student to ‘hover’ over the Chinese characters Japanese uses – and get both the way to say the word – and a general translation of it. Oh My Goodness – Equality of Access! Works with Japanese to English/German/French/Russian dictionary. Don’t forget to download the necessary dictionaries for the add-on to work with the languages you want!

Tweetdeck – Chrome (Twitter): Following a Twitter chat like #langchat can be a challenge. Tweetdeck  (a Twitter product) works with Chrome and is a social media ‘dashboard’. Essentially it allows me to customize my view of Twitter. I have a column for an individual hashtag, another for specific references to me all at the same time. It makes it easy to focus on that one hashtag and quickly respond to comments/questions to me personally. I couldn’t do #langchat without it! Edublogs offers a short primer on it here.

Evernote Webclipper- Chrome/Firefox: I’ve blogged a lot before about my shift to using Evernote to curate my teaching life. One of the most indispensable tools for me is the Evernote Web Clipper. It allows me to send full articles, parts of hte article or just the URL right to my Evernote account. More importantly it sends it to the notebook I want – and allows me to “tag” it before I send it – and for me ‘tagging‘ means I’ll actually find the article again.

KeepVid – Chrome/Firefox: Ever had a great clip you want to show from YouTube or another source and  – bam – the internet goes down in your class. Or its slow….and keeps buffering. If a video clip is key to my teaching I have to be able to use it without relying on the speed or availability of the web. I’ve used a couple of methods and KeepVid Video Downloader is a pretty reliable one. It is a free web application that allows you to download from sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitch.Tv, Vimeo,etc.  All you need is the URL of the page that has the video you want to download. Videos – Chrome (YouTube): Sometimes I do show a YouTube clip in class – and stream it. At that point I just want to show the clip – and not worry about any questionable ads or other ‘sidebar’ issues. So I use Cleanr is a browser extension that strips out the ads, sidebars, comments, buttons etc from YouTube videos. If I haven’t downloaded the video to keep for future reference – then this is the way to ensure that the video is all that I’m showing!

Hola Unblocker – Chrome/Firefox: US-based colleagues won’t understand but frequently clips/streaming from BBC, Hula, Pandora and  other networks are blocked by region locks and unavailable to me in Canada.  Well I can – using Hola Unblocker – a browser extension that removes region locks and allows you to watch BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Hula, Pandora, and more regardless of where you live. They try to get you to pay at some point – but works for free (and lets me watch “Downton Abbey” way before we get it here in North America!)

There are a lot more add-ons, extensions and web tools out there – I haven’t even mentioned Diigo which I am starting to work with either! What are your favourites?


March 28, 2014
by leesensei

Dear Edtech “Nervous”: You don’t have to understand “how” it works…just be able to work with it.

Hand ReachingDear “Nervous To Try Something New (Edtech-wise)”:

You know when you spoke with me the other day and told me that that introducing more tech into my class was fine for me because I was ‘into it’ and ‘understood’ it? That you were not going to try a new way of doing things (edtech-wise) because your students would see that you weren’t an expert. Well I need to let you in on a secret. Neither am I. It would probably shock you that me, a proponent of choice/more edtech started exactly where you are now in terms of knowledge and confidence. It took, it takes, some courage, and a big leap of faith to step out and try something new in class – in front of 30 teenagers?  How do I do it? I remember 3 key things:

I am Not the First to Do This – “Search Engine” It – Take the simple voice recorded phone conversation. As I’ve said before – we in Canada have no access to Google Voice – so my default is the ‘voice memo’ utility on student’s phones. I use this quite a bit and when I naively did it the first time I received files that my computer couldn’t work with. Disaster or challenge? When you get a file your computer can’t open – “search engine it”. Seriously – when the .amr and .mp3 file extensions come in from your student’s mobile-phone recorded conversations don’t panic. Just type in your problem into your favourite search engine and hit ‘enter’. Amazingly you will probably find out what you need.

I Have Help Available in Every Program/App – Prior to teaching I worked for a developer in the area of school administrative software. My job, in the early 1990’s, was to provide demonstrations of the possibilities of the program to rooms full of educators who had limited exposure to computerized administration tools. One of the biggest selling points for me was the “help” menu item. I knew the people who wrote the documentation for us and the detail that they went into to assist people to understand how something worked. I know to look at the menu items for a software program and locate the ‘help’ one. And if I can’t find my answer there – see tip 1.

My Peers in My School Are a Great Resource – In a school of  over 120 staff members the chances are that someone out there has faced a similar challenge/implemented a similar tech tool. And if they haven’t they probably know someone who has. So prior to trying the new tool/trick – send out an email and ask. Before my first on-line discussion I sent a blanket email to all the teachers on my staff with the subject “Have you done any ‘on-line’ discussions?”. Amazingly a teacher in the Social Studies department had. He was invaluable in giving me tips on how to structure and conduct the discussion. All I had to do was put it out there. If you aren’t a fan of the blanket email then ask your school librarian. They see so many classes, and work with so many teachers, that they probably have an idea of who does. And if that doesn’t work – see tip 1.

So go ahead and try something new. It could be as simple as using a wordcloud instead of a worksheet. Or perhaps allowing students to send in files that you will mark/comment on in Google Drive. In any case be sure that someone out there has an answer when you confront a challenge. And if you happen to find success – let your department, your staff, and even perhaps your online PLN know what you have done. After all the way we really know we’ve learned is to help out someone else.





March 17, 2014
by leesensei

Thinking about ‘Paperless’ – The Kids Weigh In

MP900341458Some of us in our school are looking to try going ‘paperless’. There are many reasons, and programs/apps to support this. (Did I mention the huge deficit in our district that means slashed budgets for supplies?) However, my high school, in a middle-class suburb of Vancouver, is not a 1:1 for devices, has limited wireless capability, no BYOD policy and doesn’t even have an LCD in all classrooms. And keep in mind that privacy concerns/laws in Canada mean that requiring the use of any cloud-based program based outside of Canada (Evernote, Google Docs, Edmodo, Prezi etc) requires signed parent permission.

I’ve always believed in asking, and not assuming, so recently surveyed students in language classes (mostly mine) about access to, and attitudes toward working only online. Their responses indicate that there is still an issue for access to, and varying degrees of comfort with, using computers in classes.

– The majority of kids bring phones to school (54%) – but not everyone is able to bring a computer/tablet (28%)
– 80% of students report being ‘quite to very’ comfortable reading online – but fully 20% were ‘fairly – not’
– 50% report using their mobile devices ‘almost daily – daily’ but 50% don’t
– 44% used their devices to obtain information (dictionary/research) and a small number use it for note-taking (11%) or outside of class work/homework (12%)

 What is the most interesting – and worth heeding – are the comments of kids when asked “Is there anything more we should be asking about using mobile devices at school?” Clearly not all students would find a complete move to technology to be a benefit. In fact, many of their comments mirror the hesitation that some educators express when moving to more technology use in school.

 – If I was going to use mobile technology at school I’d like there to be a simple, easy to read standard program for viewing – as often it is hard to read scanned documents put online
– I would only be comfortable reading online from a computer/tablet – not a hand-held phone
-I don’t think students should be allowed to use on-line dictionaries – use a book-based one
– I’d like more e-texts so I don’t have to carry books around
– I don’t have the internet at home, and my device can’t access it at school
– I’m excited that teachers want to integrate technology into my learning
– My phone is a Windows phone so I can’t use most apps that are recommended
– I am not as comfortable sending work on-line as it may get deleted or not be received
– If the school wants us to use the internet – they should stop changing the WiFi password!

  What does it mean as I consider paperless? Until there is a supported solution, or push in my school, it will have to remain what it is right now, an option. So my focus will be on expanding options for students to demonstrate learning, Some will continue to do work the traditional way (paper). Others will move/have moved to create and compose on their phones and computers and then submit online. If I do consider ‘all – paperless’ it will be an option for those who find that it works for them. Perhaps, as budgets, priorities in the building, and degree of comfort allow – we may all get there one day.








Skip to toolbar