Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

December 15, 2015
by leesensei

Best of 2015! Top 5 Posts of the Year: Number 3 (Key Tech ‘Bits’)

As I count down the ‘Best of…’ this year it strikes me that the top posts – like our teaching practice – reflects a combination of the old and new. The top post drew on a classic game, and the second most popular on a philosophical shift in my ‘practice’. The third draws, not on major technological changes, but three small tech bits that work well in my class…and perhaps yours.

 Three “Small But Vital” Tech Bits for My Language Classroom techonology imagesThere are lots of technology ‘tools’ and ‘apps’ out there to make our teaching lives easier – and enrich the learning experience for our students. As I was uploading a file to my Evernote yesterday I thought about 3 ‘tech’ bits that are vital in my classroom.

Tiny Scanner App for my Phone –  I admit that I got this because Joe Dale posted that the “pro” version was free one day on his amazing blog. Wasn’t sure I’d use it but if Joe says its good – you get it. Well – with my use of Evernote for my school planning it has been an absolute winner. I use TinyScan to take pictures of my board before/after class. Often I don’t need a full ‘photo’ but really am just looking for a ‘record’ of what happened. Tiny Scanner turns my phone into a portable scanner. It will upload directly to my Evernote in formats from ‘photo’ to ‘black & white’ and can also directly link to other ‘cloud’ storage programs. It is an essential app in my daily teaching. (Joe has already let me know that if you are an Office user then Office Lens might be a more ‘seamless’ app for you to directly integrate with the Office suite of products.)

Keynote Export to Video (even HD!) option – I’m big on unit slideshows. I use them for teaching/repetition of ideas all the time. But a nifty feature I have been using more and more is the ‘export’ to video function. An example of its impact is going on right now in my class – we review ‘class language’ at the start of the year. I use my Keynote slideshow for that as I take kids through our key phrases. I also have the video file (set to about 8 seconds per slide) ready to go – it plays before class starts, it plays while the are completing work…it rolls whenever I need it. It’s a great way to reinforce key points, or introduce ideas in an indirect way. You can even export the audio from a presentation to the video as well. And yes you can also create videos via PowerPoint….

SaveFrom.Net – Easy Youtube Downloading –  When the internet at school is shaky – or even non-existent – you can’t stream anything in class. So downloading a video from YouTube or another source becomes key. There are some great programs out there – including – but my current fave is SaveFrom.Net. Why? Because you don’t have to copy/paste the YouTube URL to use it. Just type “ss” between the ‘www.’ and the ‘youtube’ in the URLusethis  – then hit ‘enter’. When you do this you go directly to their site. Don’t click on any links there for other products – but download your video when it shows up as ready to go! It will handle YouTube, Vimeo and many more formats. No more ‘buffering’ …..

What are your ‘small but vital’ tech bits that enhance your teaching life?


February 3, 2014
by leesensei

Considerations As You Allow “The Phone”

Outrageous Phone CallAs a language teacher I find mobile phones are a great resource as a dictionary, a unique way to do homework and, for many of my students, an alternative way to take notes. I’ve been using them in my class for a while now and their presence is actually hardly noticed – so seamlessly is it a part of what we do. In working them into my class I’ve learned some things about how to introduce them that may help you if you just starting to allow them.

“Out on The Desk”  – The first few weeks of my class always starts with the call to “take out your phones – upside down on your desk”. So stunned are most students that you are allowing this that the phone carriers all do. As we work through class I make a mental note of who has them. If I don’t see it when I initially ask them to take it out they will often get a personal reminder to do so. Gradually the action becomes a habit and having it in plain sight makes it easier to use, and not to abuse.

“Silent/Upside Down” –  In the first few weeks of class I start each class the same way by asking them to take out their phone, place them face down on their desks and set to “manner mode” (‘mute’ as it’s called in Japanese).  I warn them that sometimes we all  forget to mute it and it will ring and usually tell a story on myself of how my mother likes to text or phone me at all hours of the day. Then I talk what to do if your phone goes off – apologize, mute it, don’t check it and continue on with what you were doing.  By the way inevitably my mother does call, my phone isn’t on mute and my students hear the ring, look at me and say “your mom?” (target language of course!)

“Use It As They Do” – My phone is out, on my computer table during class. It is upside down and set to ‘mute’. I have blogged before about the usefulness of recording what happens in my classes. So I use my phone in front of them. The first few times I do it I tell them what I’m up to but eventually they don’t even notice. What am I doing? I take photos for me of my boards if I have been using them. I will often upload it (after converting it to a pdf or grey-scale photo) to my website – in front of them – for those without phones who want the visual as well.  I update my website with it – in front of them. If we’re searching for a word I’ll use the dictionary app. For my Japanese classes I also use it to show them how to look up characters using ‘hand drawn’ input.  Using it yourself is a powerful tool for you – and a great way to model it’s proper use.

“Consequences When Needed” – Okay there are still occasional slip ups. It’s not hard to notice the furtive glances or an attempt to key in a quick text. Generally I call out the offender with a “really?” and it doesn’t happen again. Students know it is a privilege to use the phone in my room – and that that privilege can be removed. It’s only ever happened once – a student who kept using their phone inappropriately. After 3 warnings they were asked to hand it over – each day at the start of class for 3 weeks. I kept a post-it on my computer desk to remind me to ask. Three weeks later, when the phone was returned, it was never misused again.

So go ahead – release the phones. If you set the ground rules, model what you want and monitor it a lot at the start they will learn to use it positively in class. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll unleash its potential benefits for you as well!



June 20, 2013
by leesensei
1 Comment

Printing Out My Evernote Daybook…My Solution…

evernoteI know –  all that effort to be “paperless” and in the cloud as it were. But I still like to have a copy for me – a hard copy. Call me old fashioned but if anything went wrong in the digital world, and any of my 3 backups failed I’d have ‘something’ of a roadmap to go by.

However those of you that have tried it know that printing out a unit of notes – especially if you save each lesson as a  particular note – is not as easy as it looks. It took me a while to figure out what worked for me and I thought that I would share. Basically it involves copying and merging groups of notes together. Here’s how I did it:

1) Create a notebook called “Printing Notebook” (or some such title)

2) Select the group of notes that you want to print and Copy them (Note>Copy to Notebook) into that notebook

3) Ensure that the group of notes is in the order that you want them to be. When Evernote ‘merges’ notes it will do so in the order the group of notes is in. I like mine to be in the order of Unit Handout, Lessons, Tests – so it took a bit to fiddle with the titles to make certain that the notes were in the order that I want them

4) Select the group of notes and then look to the right – there will be a ‘merge’ optionMerge

5) Hold your breath and press it!

6) Rename the ‘merged’ file to indicate it’s status (Eg “Chapter 1 Unit handout, lessons merged”)print notebook

It’s not super elegant and may take a bit but I have a copy of each of my chapters…and if you are looking for a solution this might be one for you!



September 18, 2012
by leesensei

My New Evernote Notebook Stack…

Three weeks into my Evernote experiment and the organizing of my life ‘on line’ is underway. Perhaps the area that required the most thinking for me was my ‘notebook stack’. How would I put it all together?

Notebooks follow my interests – I am not just interested in technology and language teaching for me, but in the introduction of tech into education in general. My notebooks that have sprung from this reflect the first ‘thought’ that comes into my head when I see an article or site. “Ah – technology in the classroom’ sends it right to “Tech”. Then I use the tags I apply to help to refine what exactly it relates to. Some broad topics get their own notebooks – such as Flipping Class or PBL. “Other Subjects” allows me to save, and pass on, neat things I find that I can’t use but someone else in my school could. One top tip I did learn via Twitter was to have an @inbox notebook. It serves as my holding tank for anything that I send to Evernote – and allows me to categorize it later. A great idea.

The core of my stack are my course notebooks. As I teach  a language – and multiple levels at a time – organizing by course is the best for me. In any one notebook I include not only my unit plan but also my daily lesson plan. Those are prepped the night before class and edited – either text or audio comment – after the lesson. For each I also add any .pdfs or small audio files used that day.  If there is one thing that teaching shows us – a plan may not always go as it should and my records have to show that.

I know that my Evernote use will evolve. I am looking forward to see further refinement of my notebook stacks – and what they might look like by the time the year ends.

Now if I can only be brave enough to try some IFTTT’s!


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 10, 2012
by leesensei

“Guerilla Pro-D” Subversively Introducing EdTech

How do you show people that adopting Educational Technology (edtech) is easier than they think? How do you convince others that doing something they already do, but with a new 2.0 tool IS worth their time? All too often barriers are put up, not because people aren’t interested but because they are told to be interested. What we forget is to treat the introduction of edtech with staff like we would in leading students into a new area; show relevance, build upon previous knowledge, inspire risk-taking. So completely on our own initiative a small group in our school has embarked on “Guerilla Pro-D”.

Who Are We? – We’re really keen on introducing edtech to our lessons, and on spreading the ideas and activities that incorporate these new tools. We are a mix of more seasoned teachers and younger ones.  We are not ‘evangelicals’ but people who are cast as ‘problem solvers’. Most of all none of us has a technology-related title. We are simply teaching colleagues.

Why Are We? There can be a resistance to technology, and I understand that. Too often the ‘tool’ has been forced on teachers as the ‘solution’. By regrouping and sharing resources that help a teacher do a better job at what they already do, the technology they resist resumes its rightful place. Hence this  “Guerilla”, or perhaps, less hip title “Indiret” Pro-D.

How Are We? – Quick presentations during Pro-D have worked well. As an ‘aggregator’ for staff we send targeted emails with links to 2.0 tools or to useful sites for that department. Sometimes we share with a colleague about what we have done in our classes. In another case we took a common activity in a subject and volunteered to ‘help’ a senior department teacher who we know has influence over others.

Our subtle, yet not really subversive, campaign is starting to inspire a desire for edtech in our school ….Viva La Revolution!!


March 29, 2012
by leesensei
1 Comment

Worksheet or WordCloud?

I recently looked at a new way of doing an “old” thing. My Japanese 11 students typically read an article (in English) on Haiku and answer questions about this poetry form. Admittedly it is a pretty dry, and not necessarily engaging, activity. This year I changed it up and used a program called Wordle (  to make word clouds about poetry. It is a web-based program that is easily accessed from any computer in my school. It works in English (and even Japanese with a few tricks).

How does it work? Basically you enter English words directly in to the create ‘field’. The size of a word in the visualization is proportional to the number of times the word appears in the input text. So, for example, if you type “apple banana banana grape grape grape” into the create page’s text field, you’ll see that banana’s font size is twice apple’s, and grape’s font size is 3/2 that of banana’s. When a particular word doesn’t show up in Wordle it is probably because it thinks it is a “stop word” (a frequently-used word  such as “the”, “and”, or “but”) . See the “Language” menu for a setting to turn off the removal of such common words.

Key elements composed by Alice Han (Jap. 11)

To keep my students on track the criteria for the work included required elements such as a title “Haiku”, demonstrated knowledge of topic via choice of words and at least 2 ‘prominent’ elements – words selected due to their relevance to the topic. Marking was done in a holistic way using a criteria referenced scale (‘word cloud rubrics’ are easy to find on the internet). If you are interested in using Wordle and have questions, I am happy to send you the assignment that I gave – or talk to you about it.


March 27, 2012
by leesensei

Helping Students Learn Vocabulary – On Line…

Every course has vocabulary specific to it that we ask kids to learn. In my subject I am always looking for new ways to help kids “learn the words and what they mean”. I have recently been using an online flashcard program called Quizlet ( I am enjoying using it, and so are my students, for a number of reasons:

Convenience: Search cards already produced in almost any category such as AP History, Geography, Canadian history, AP Chem. Solubility Rules etc

Easily practice vocabulary - on your computer or phone!

Ease of Use: Easily import vocabulary from word (or have a student assistant help?). Can also export into Excel from site. Supports written text and audio in a large number of languages – including Chinese (simplified and traditional), Spanish, French and Japanese

Accessibility: Students can access from any computer. They can also access using smart phones via free flashcard apps. Have your own site? You can even embed links to specific card sets into your current website.

Its More than a Simple Flashcard: Offers a variety of ‘testing’ for comprehension including matching, spelling, multiple choice etc. Can even say the word to have student hear as they read.

Supports Review: It’s a way to post unit vocabulary – once – and then it is done. Students can use to study for finals or unit tests.

No it won’t be used by all – but it may support learners who don’t benefit from traditional ‘studying’ methods and allows us to expand how we deliver info to them. Give it a try!

Any questions? Just ask!


March 27, 2012
by leesensei

Why? Why? Why!

Age and experience. Used to laugh about that but now I realize that indeed I possess both. I used to think that teaching would be less involved the longer I did it but it seems to be the opposite. With my knowledge of the curriculum (mostly) secure, I find myself looking to alter, expand and enhance what I have always done. New twist on an old style of evaluating? Yes. More use of technology in the classroom. For sure! Join me if you’d like – as I reflect on the ‘old’, implement the ‘new’ and integrate the ‘tech’.


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