Sunday, 16 August 2020

Grammar Game for Learning Tenses


As a language teacher I can tell you that games are the best tools to make your students excited and learn better. Particularly, grammar games are helpful in making learners understand and absorb grammar points. It is also a point for teachers to note that they can always include one of the four main skills as part of the grammar games so that students will be able to either write or speak confidently using the part of the grammar that is being taught. 

Traditional grammar exercises and task sheets may help students to probably fill in the gap with the same form of the tenses repeatedly and students could complete most of these exercises effortlessly as they just follow the pattern of the grammar in the task without actually understanding the usage. Many of us had done this before, but we know that most of the times they do not work especially when students are unable to apply the grammar points learnt in another or freer settings even after completing pages of grammar exercises. 

This was the reason I tried using games. Games allow my students to explore the hows and whys of constructing sentences using the tenses learnt before moving on to drill based exercises so they would be well - aware of what they had learnt. Besides, they will be able to use them to develop their speaking and writing skills. 

The lesson I had with my students were based on the Full Blast textbook, unit 5a, page 69. The language awareness lesson in this unit focuses on the usage of Past Perfect Simple and Past Perfect Continuous. The exercises were limited, so I decided to get some worksheets from the internet and designed a game to help the students to understand the tenses. 

Firstly, I got the verbs and the forms of tenses printed out in coloured papers as shown below. The verbs were selected from the texts from previous units and I chose verbs that students were familiar with so that it would be easier from them. I also made sure that there were a good combination of regular and irregulars verbs.  

Then, I cut them into small pieces and put them in two separate boxes. 

In class, I began my lesson by comparing the Past Perfect Simple and Past Perfect Continuous by showing a set of examples. Students were asked identify the different forms of tenses and to make sense of the sentences as well as explain the meanings. Students' points were taken and written on the whiteboard. 

After getting feedback from students, I explained and demonstrated the use of Past Perfect and Past Perfect Continuous using a video aid from YouTube : 


Students were then put in small groups (preferably 4 in a group) and each group was given a marker pen and mini whiteboard. I also displayed the cards containing tenses on the teachers' table and  all the verb cards were kept in a small box as shown below. The cards containing tenses had a mixture of Past Perfect Continuous and Past Perfect. Both sets of cards were placed in front of the classroom on the teacher's table. 

Before the game began, I explained how it was played. Each group were asked to assign a runner and a writer among the group mates. 

The runners in the group would be assigned to pick one pink and one yellow card and return to their respective groups. 

In groups, they were to construct a sentence using the verb and the form of tenses taken by their runner. For example, If they had gotten 'Past Perfect Tense' and the verb 'LEAVE', they were to construct a sentence having the verb 'LEAVE' used in the Past Perfect form.  

Students were asked to discuss with group mates before deciding the sentences as each group would be given a score of 3 for every correct sentence and a deduction of 2 for a wrong one. Once they had completed a sentence, the runner would walk over to the teacher's table to return the cards and pick a new set. 

Students were given 10 minutes to complete the task and they were to construct as many sentences as they could to ensure a higher score. The pictures below were taken when students were actively constructing sentences. 

I used a 10-minute musical timer to keep to the time limit. Once they had completed the task. The representatives were called one by one to present their sentences to the class and I identified, explained and corrected the sentences.The pictures below were taken when I was correcting and explaining the sentences to the class. 

Well, when students constructed their own sentences, I could really see how much they had understood the lesson. As homework, I gave them some work sheets downloaded from and pinterest to help them to understand the tenses better. I also prepared an online test for them via quizizz to be done over the weekend as a blended learning initiative. If you are interested in the materials used for this lesson you may download them here

Happy Teaching!


Monday, 3 August 2020

Blended Learning - The New Normal in My Classroom

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about changes in various aspects of our lives as we were forced to adapt new practices that were once alien to us.  One of it is online teaching. A firm believer of traditional classroom, online teaching and learning never came across my mind until I was pushed into it without given a choice. Well, I am not someone who abhors technology; I use technology to create teaching tools for my lessons and use gadgets in my classroom when needed, but never have I felt that my classroom practices needed online approach.

However, things changed after 18 March 2020, when Malaysia went into Movement Control Order (MCO). It was a difficult period for most Malaysians as we were forced to stay at home. During this period, most teachers were pushed into the unknown abyss of online teaching and learning to crawl, grope and creep in darkness on their own. To be honest, having had a minor in Information Technology for my undergraduate degree did not help either as I went through the same struggling phase like others, but I did learn things much quicker compared to my counterparts who struggled for weeks if not throughout the entire MCO period. 

It was during these period that I ventured seriously into starting my own Youtube channel (English Vibes) where I  shared tips and ideas to write good essays. I also started doing online English language workshops for SPM students.  Most importantly, I learnt how to teach online. It was quite awkward at first, but knowing that I didn't have a choice, I had to make use what was available. However, I got used to the online teaching and learning environment sooner than I expected. Google Classroom application was one tool that I relied on during the pandemic to manage and facilitate teaching and learning. I assigned, checked, graded and returned my students' work online using this application. In order to make learning more appealing to my already bored students, I tried using other applications too such as Quizizz and Socrative to set online quizzes and tests. 
online workshops conducted during MCO period 

Soon, I realised that I was actually enjoying my online lessons but it was not a bed of roses as there were thorns in the forms of challenges. I had students who disappeared throughout the MCO period and did not respond to any of the tasks assigned online. My attempts to reach out to them was futile and parents were rather hostile and preferred to threat MCO as a holiday. However, these did not hinder my motivation and I stayed focused to help the larger group who were committed and eager and it was smooth sailing with them throughout the entire stay - at - home period accept a few days where we had problems with the internet connection.   
My online lessons

All was well until the reopening of schools was announced,  I realised that I was going to miss my online lessons. I was addicted to the after taste of online teaching and learning and was unable to let it go. I decided that I did not want to go back to the old ways but wanted to do something different. That was when I started googling about blended learning strategies. 

Blended learning is : 

a method of teaching that integrates technology and digital media with traditional instructor - led classroom activities, giving students more flexibility to customize their learning experiences. 

I realised that blended learning would be one possible approach that allow learning both in traditional classroom and also online platforms. I did a lot of research on it and was pretty much confident when I started it as soon as the school reopened. 

Using a blended learning approach allows me to be more informed about my students' learning as I can keep track of their learning in class and online. The tasks that I set online were related to what they had learnt in classroom and a reflection of their understandings of the subject - matter. 

How does this differ from the ' traditional homework' that we give, one may ask? Well, the paper - based homework we give traditionally, takes time for us to check and understand students' shortcomings, but with google classroom application, students work get checked instantly and we can set more assignments or practices to further strengthen their knowledge on the topic learnt. 

I also did not have any problem of students not doing the assigned tasks, as they were no longer at the comfort of their home and had to face me every day, so it was not an option for them to shy away.

The tasks assigned are all related to discussions and lessons that were done in classroom. For example, two weeks ago, I asked my students to write descriptive essays using words given in a chart. To help them with the writing task, I assigned activities on vocabulary and sentence construction related to the writing task on the online platform. These were the activities that I was unable to complete or discuss in an hour lesson. So I shifted them to online platform. Students were to complete all the activities assigned online before resuming their essay writing tasks. 

I have also been using my video recordings on YouTube as at - home tasks for my students. Students were given tasks to complete via online platform after watching the videos. I assess and grade all these tasks online as well. Students' achievement and grades for all the tasks are automatically recorded ( This is on Google Classroom application). 

I also used quizziz as formative assessment after having a lesson on the poem 'A Poison Tree' two weeks ago. After the lesson ended in the classroom, I gave them three sets of quizzes via Quizizz. How students' have understood the poem after the lesson was reflected through the quiz and I did not need to spend much time checking their work one by one. 

Blended learning provides me with a clearer path to meet and measure student learning outcomes. Student assessments are built in and these assessments allow me to have a clearer picture of my students' success. Through my on - going blended learning approach, I have come to realise that my students and I benefit equally. On one hand, students gain a richer learning experience through greater interaction, engagement and autonomy and on the other hand, the digital tools empower me to provide more customised learning experience that is responsive to the individual needs of my students.  

The blended learning approach is not a new approach, many teachers are already practicing this approach in their classroom. I am glad that I have explored the online resources and found a way to make learning more meaningful in my classroom. Well, I may have discovered it late but it is not too late to get started. 

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Writing About the Pros and Cons of Team Sports

When I decided to explore the writing task on page 62 in the Full Blast textbook, I wanted to do a hands-on activity with my form four students. With 'social distancing' being practised in school, I had to think of doing activities without having my students to break the social distancing rule, at the same time I also had to make sure I have sufficient materials and tools for them to do an individual task. 

So, What I did was, a few simple but engaging tasks. As a starter, I asked my students to think about the advantages and disadvantages of doing things as a group in the class. Students were given 2 minutes to think and they were then asked to shout out their answers (of course with their mask on, I had a difficult time listening to their answers). I wrote all their 'shout - outs' on the whiteboard and save it for the discussion later. 

The next task, students were asked to read the text on 'The advantages and disadvantages of team project work at school'. I did not want to make it a typical lesson of students read and the teacher asks a few questions and then move on to the next part of the lesson. I found the text to be very useful and students could actually explore the text looking for useful details before working on their own writing task. So, I designed a diagram for them to fill in details while reading the text. This was just another 'information transfer' activity, but I believe by doing this students will understand how to layout the structure of the essay when they write about advantages and disadvantages. You may download the task sheet here. The following picture shows examples of students' work. 

In this task, students were required to identify the advantages and disadvantages of a team project, as well as the writer's own opinion on the issue discussed. Besides, students were also asked to identify phrases to express contrast, phrases that are used to give example, phrases to extend one's opinion as well as phrases that are used to summarise the entire write - up. 

After completing the diagram, students were then drawn to the next task. Their task was to design a diagram on the pros and cons of playing team sports. The diagram that they used to complete the earlier task was an example for them to understand how to design their own diagram. 

Before they began, they were given a few reminders, they were told to think about specifically on the pros and cons of team sports. They were not to give general ones such as the following : 

Pros of team sports : 
                           a) keeps us healthy 

Cons of team sports : 

                           b) takes our time away from studies  

I did not allow my students to give ideas as above as they were too general and applicable to all kinds of sports. I wanted to develop their higher-order thinking skills. So, I made them think the pros and cons specifically on team sports. The following are some examples of diagrams drawn by students :

    I put all the diagrams on the noticeboard in the classroom so that students could take turns to look at their friends' work and get some ideas on how to work on the topic as they were required to write an article on "The Pros and Cons of Team Sports" in about 250 words as their homework. In order to help them to write better, I also gave them a checklist to refer while writing their essays. The checklist is shown in the picture below and they are to submit their essays together with the checklist. 

My reflection : 

The lesson went well and I believe with the activities that were carried out throughout the lesson, students will remember how to develop ideas to write an essay on advantages and disadvantages. I also focussed on the grammatical elements while we were reading the text to help students to understand the tenses that were used to write this essay. So, it helped them with the writing part too. 

That is all for now. Thank you and Happy Teaching! 

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Vocabulary Chart for Descriptive Writing

Recently, I used a vocabulary chart as a writing aid for my students to write simple descriptive paragraphs. The chart has a plethora of words that can be used to describe emotions. The reason I used this chart was to help them to explore and use various descriptive words to describe emotions. This chart is very helpful as mediocre students can explore and refer to the chart whenever they need to describe emotions to choose the right words. 

The wheel - of - emotions shown above, is the chart that I used for my lesson. Though there are many other wheels in different shapes and sizes, I find this to be helpful to build confidence among mediocre students to write essays. I wanted a chart where the vocabulary isn't too difficult for mediocre students to handle and this chart perfectly fits into my expectation. 
If you are interested to explore more about this chart you can just type 'wheel - of - emotions on google search bar and you will find a lot of wheels which you can choose from but remember to choose something that your students can handle. If you want to look at some examples you may click here to visit my Facebook page where I have uploaded some 'wheels of vocabulary'. You may also download the chart here

How did I use the vocabulary chart in my writing lesson? 

I decided to use the chart above for a lesson to condition my students to use  different words to describe emotions. Firstly, I gave them an example as shown in the picture below : 

Based on the picture above, students were shown, how the paragraph started with the word 'bad' and the idea got extended from one word to another.  I engaged my students in a short discussion and then gave each of them a copy of the chart to refer. 

Students were then asked to construct a short paragraph in simple past tense using the words given in the vocabulary chart. If you notice, the vocabulary chart is colour - coded with the seven most basic emotions such as sad, bad, happy, surprised, angry, fearful and disgusted. Students were asked to pick one basic emotion and use the words that are associated with that emotion in the same colour to construct their paragraphs. They were not allowed to pick words from other groups. For example, if they were to choose the word 'happy' which is in yellow, their paragraph must only consists of words that are associated with the word happy which is colour - coded in yellow. However, if you are working with weaker students, you may change and make amendments to the rules. 

To help the weaker students, I had also created simple writing prompts to get them started. The prompts shown below are a few examples that we can share with our students to help them. (We do not need to give this to the mediocre and good students)

The writing prompt can be used as a guide only if students want to use them. However, If they decide to construct their own ideas, we can just let to them try.  Students were given 20 minutes for the in - class activity. When all of them had completed the task, they were to leave their products on their tables, walk around while maintaining 'social distancing' and read their friends' work . They were assigned the ' Two Stars and a Wish' activity. They were to write the stars and wishes on a note pad and put them on their friends essays. The following pictures show some examples of stars and wishes given by students to each other. 

After completing the in - class task, I gave feedback and students were required to pick two other emotions and write short paragraphs as their homework.  They were also given a self - assessment checklist for them to assess their own work before they hand in their work to me. The picture below shows the self - assessment checklist used for this lesson. 
The video below shows examples of students work done in the classroom.

That is all for now and happy teaching!!

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Understanding 'A Poison Tree' through Poetry Bingo!

In my previous post, I shared a poetry lesson I had with my students after the school reopened. As a follow up lesson to check how much they had understood the poem, I decided to do a poetry bingo with them. 

Zoe - Trying to get her first 'BINGO!'

The lesson was intended to check how much they had understood (formative assessment)  the poem from the previous lesson. This was done to ensure students' understanding of the poem 'A Poison Tree' and planning the 'What's next?".So, I decided to try out 'POETRY BINGO' with them. 

The reason I chose Poetry Bingo because I wanted to them to enjoy learning poetry. At the same time while maintaining social distancing in the class, they could do something fun.  

Ever since they came back to school on 24 June, they did not get the opportunity to move and do exciting activities as teachers were worried that they might be reprimanded for not following the S.O.P. and I also sensed growing restlessness and boredom as a result of being confined to their seats all day.  So, I decided to plan activities that were both fun and do not require them to move from their places.........   

......and I started looking for activities from the old literature modules. (they are really old. I mean who would still be keeping modules from 'The Drover's Wife' generation? I do as they come in handy at times) That was when I bumped into 'POETRY BINGO'. 

'Poetry Bingo' is not something new. In fact, teachers who had attended the 'CEFR- Aligned Formative Assessment Workshop' in 2018, would have come across this activity. Just dig your files and you may find it, just like how I found it in an old literature module.... 

So, this is how the lesson was carried out : 

Students were given an empty bingo sheet and they were required to fill in 9 words from a list of words from the poem A Poison Tree. The word list was given as well.  Once they had filled in the words, I read the meaning of the words and they had to identify the meaning. If you are teaching the weak or very weak students, you may discuss the meaning of the words with them and help them to identify the words but if you are dealing with above average group,  reduced support will do. 

Students were told that if there was a BINGO, they were to stand and shout out 'BINGO!'. They may continue doing so when they get the second, third and fourth BINGO. 

Kalai Malar- trying to make her 'Bingo' sheet as 
colourful as possible

I continued the activity till everyone got a BINGO, till the last word. 

After completing the word level BINGO, I continued with a second round, which was more difficult compared to the earlier one. In this round, they were given a list of lines from the poem and they were to choose 9 sets to fill in the bingo box. 

The second round was about making interpretations of the lines in the poem. So, I read the interpretations and they had to identify from the lines - whether they had written in the box or left them outside. In this round, I chose to read the interpretations of the 10 most difficult lines in the poem. This was because, I was very sure that they would only fill in the bingo boxes the lines they had understood the best and ignore the difficult ones; true enough, that was what they exactly did! I did not want them to shy away from the difficult lines, so I picked the difficult ones.

However, it was not completely difficult as I made the interpretations easier with 'clue words' for them to understand. There were more clue words for the weaker ones and less for the good ones. 
Some students got back to back bingos!

After completing this activity, I moved to the SPM based activitiy which was a breeze, students could answer the questions effortlessly.  You may download the 'Poetry Bingo' activity task sheet here

Chong Chi Rou - attempting the SPM type literature
questions after the 'Bingo' activity

The following video shows how the 'Poetry Bingo' activity was done in my class : 


Do not try a third round of BINGO. It will not work, the excitement dies after the second round. So stop after the second round and try something else. 

Happy Teaching!

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Adding Colours to 'A Poison Tree'

I taught my students the poem 'A Poison Tree' entirely online during the MCO period. We never had the opportunity to discuss the poem during our face - to - face lessons before the announcement of the  MCO. So when the school reopened last week, I decided to revisit the poem with them. Each of the students was given a sheet of paper with the poem 'A Poison Tree' printed on it and I asked them to make their own notes. 

They were instructed to do the following things. 

a) Identify all the important words and phrases, write their meanings on the left side of the poem. 

b) Write the interpretation of the poem for every two lines from stanza 1 till stanza 4, on the right side of the poem. 

Students were provided with coloured pens to make their notes and interpretations. They were excited to do things differently. It is a norm at times to just print notes for students to read and understand while doing some SPM based practices. I decided to beat this norm and do things in a different way by guiding my students to make their own notes so that they would understand the poem better. 

Before they started the note - making activity, we had a short discussion on things that they had understood about the poem from our online lessons. From the discussion, I moved my students' attention to the words and the first stanza of the poem, once we were done with the discussion, students started making their notes and when they completed one stanza, I moved to the next stanza and it continued till the last stanza. 

Since the control movement order is still in practice and students are to maintain 1 - metre distance from their friends and teachers, I did not allow them to move or sit in groups. Instead, they were asked to do the task individually. However, they were allowed to discuss with a peer sitting closest to them, that too in a metre - distance. 

To check students' understanding, there were quick questioning sessions after the completion of one stanza and before moving to the next stanza. The sessions worked really well especially after they completed their notes for every stanza as I could actually check how much they had understood and what was missing so that I can do some sort of reinforcement before we could move on. 

I did not provide them with notes as I wanted them to make their own notes based on the power point presentations as well as discussions and rely on their own notes to understand the poem. The following is an example of a work done by one of the students : 

work done by Melissa Annabel from class 5V2

maintaining 'social distancing' while explaining one the of the stanzas 

Sabrina from 5V1 -  diligently making her notes. 
girls from 5V2  - proudly showing their products

It was a fruitful lesson as students displayed their understanding of the poem 'A Poison Tree'. After they completed their colourful notes, I gave them an SPM based exercise and they could actually complete the task by referring to the notes that they had made. That was when I wrote in my reflection - 'objective achieved'. 

By they way, excellent students can complete the note - making task in an hour lesson but the average and weaker ones should be given a lot of support and  time to digest the content of the poem as it is not an easy poem work on for the weaker ones. The following YouTube video shows more examples of my students' work. 

Happy Teaching!!

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

At - Home Writing Activities

   ‘Blogging’ and making Youtube videos have taken most of my time nowadays, these are the two mediums I use to get connected to teachers and students.

Schools are closed and lives have come to a standstill, but that does not mean that learning has to stop. Over the past few weeks, I noticed that teachers are working hard, trying to get connected to their students through online lessons.

As a teacher, I have been spending more hours I spend at school in front of my computer screen now to develop and assign online tasks. This can be overwhelming to some, especially to those who have families to tend to 24 – 7 and needing your attention.

While assigning online tasks, I feel that teachers can also take a break from the syllabus – based tasks to activities that would allow students to explore. One way of doing it would be through writing activities that would help to let their hair down.

The writing activities that I mean here are not the SPM or PT3 based writing tasks but something that would be more personal, which would help students to develop their creativity as well as writing skills. These activities would eventually help them to develop skills that are essential in the SPM and PT3 writing tasks.

I am suggesting writing because it can be a therapy in which students can express their fears, hopes and joys when there are no rigid conditions set. So, here I am sharing a few ideas that our students can attempt while being locked down at home.

Writing a Journal

We can assign our students a daily journal entry without limiting the number of words, expressing their thoughts and ideas or on what they feel about things that are happening around them throughout the MCO period. It need not necessarily be about COVID – 19. It depends on us, on what criteria we want to set for the activity. We can list down a set of prompts for them so that they can use the prompts to write their journals. Please click here and here if you are looking for journal writing prompts.

Poetry Writing

Students can also try their hands at poetry writing. Currently, I am working on this with my form 4 students. I have done some simple poetry writing activities with them before and now I have assigned them poems based on themes. I do not want them to delve too much into the COVID – 19 pandemic. So, I give them some general themes such as love, nature, war, butterfly as well as sadness. I have also given a picture prompt for them to explore it creatively. I do not limit the number of words and stanzas for their poems. Their poems are to be as short as four stanzas and as long as they want them to be. To those of you who would like to try our poetry writing activities, you may refer to my previous blog post here. You may also refer to some poetry teaching websites here and here.

Writing a Movie or Book Review

Most of our students are now spending their lockdown hours watching movies and reading books. Since these have become the most common ways to pass time, why don’t we create a writing task for them based on these? Asking students to write a review on a book or movie would be fun. There are plenty of resources available online where we can get ideas to write book and movie review. If students are not interested in a book or movie review, we can leave it to them to decide on what they would like to review – games, radio shows, songs, singers, actress or Netflix shows. Anything that they fancy. You may look for ideas to write reviews here and here.

   Writing An Open Letter

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only issue that the world is facing now, there are other moral related matters that are closely connected to the COVID – 19 that we are aware through the news sources. Using those issues we can ask our students to write open letters or letters to editors. We have NST and The Star newspaper where opinions from the public get published every day. We can actually ask our students to write such letters and if the letters are really good, they can even get them published. We are aware that The Star and NST are not the only sources where students can get their letters published. There are also many online portals that are publishing letters from the public. As much as this activity sounds fun, students should be reminded that they are not supposed to discuss sensitive issues such as religion and politics. You may refer here and here to get more ideas on how to write letters to editors. 

Writing How – To Guide

Writing a how-to guide would be a possible fun activity that our students might love. I am sure that students are exploring many new things such as cooking, baking, making a video or even making handicrafts. We can probably ask our students to write a how-to guide to be shared with their classmates. For example, if they have successfully baked a chocolate cake they can write the recipe and share with their friends through their class Telegram/WhatsApp group. This can be one interactive activity as curious friends may ask for further explanations. Well, the how-to guide may not necessarily be on cooking alone there is a multitude of things that students might have explored, so let students decide what they want to write about. Don’t limit to writing a recipe, let them explore what they want to write about. You may click here and here to help students to develop their language skills to write a how-to guide.

Creating  Comics

At a time like this, why don’t we take the opportunity to ask students to create interesting comics? I am sure students would be excited to read comics created by their friends. Students can sketch and colour their comics or use the online free comic making tools that are widely available online. Some students prefer to express their ideas via sketching with few words. This can also be a form of relaxation for students. If you would like to explore online comic making tools, please click here and here

7.       Writing a Photo Essay

A picture says a thousand words. Assigning students to write a photo essay is another interesting task that students may fancy. Assign a writing task based on a picture or ask students to communicate their feelings through an essay using a picture of their choice. This task can help students to think critically while exploring different facets of a photo/picture. Please refer here for a comprehensive guide to write a photo essay. 

     Creating Awareness through Posters 

This Poster was done by one of my students as part
of her assignment 

Students can also be asked to create an awareness poster on the COVID – 19 Pandemic using online tools. If students find it difficult to use online tools, they can use whatever they have to create their posters. I did this project last week and the outcome was excellent, I would say. I set the word limit so that students know how much information is relevant. Most of my students used to create their awareness posters. I am sharing some of their posters here.

These are some tasks that I have tried and they worked well for me and I hope they work for you too!!

Happy Teaching 

Stay Home and Stay Safe!!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...