That new pen, that cool stamp or that new video or app by Shawn Severson

Each and every one of us has our own special little “treat” for sitting down to write, correcting papers or planning for a particularly difficult topic.  Some teachers love to buy a new stamp or stickers to add a special touch to student papers. Mine happens to be having a new pen when I sit down to correct a stack of essays because then it’s all the more fun to share my feedback.  And when it comes to a difficult class topic—apps and videos rank highly on my list.

 Selecting a pen or stamp really depends on availability and, of course, individual taste.  My favorite is a burgundy Jelly Roll pen (hard to find because it’s made in Japan).  As this article is not about how to choose a pen, let’s look at the other promise in the opening paragraph—choosing new apps and videos.

 When turning to YouTube, there is always the problem of being overwhelmed, so I am going to give you a couple of tips for finding great videos on your topic.  For the subject eating habits, for example, let’s start off with a German TV commercial—in fact commercials offer a wealth of information and have three positive attributes:

  1.  they usually contain a complete narrative (regardless of the words in the commercial students can make their own texts, describe what they see, reenact, etc.),
  2.  they are attractive (after all, they are designed to sell stuff!) and
  3. they are short (most commercials useful for ESL teaching are 30 to 45 seconds long).

Under this analysis, let’s take a look at Eatkarus, a commercial for a German supermarket—a higher end supermarket like when Pingo Doce was more exclusive and more expensive, but more—to see how it fits under these criteria: or EATKARUS – EDEKA on YouTube.

1.      the story revolves around a boy who somehow doesn’t feel like he fits in. When a bird stirs up his daily monotony and instills a new dream in him, the boy works hard to make some changes in his life. From there, the topic of eating habits becomes a clear issue and a simple observation of an eating alternative leads the boy in a new direction.

2.      Despite being a German commercial, the background music is in English and is a song that lends itself quite well to the ESL classroom.  Thus, not only are the images and storyline great, but also there is a song which can be worked.

3.      The whole narrative unfolds in 2:36.

Depending on the grade, students can then do research or present on what healthy eating habits are (surely just eating berries isn’t a viable alternative to the grey gruel we saw in the commercial) or do research on fat shaming (the commercial has been accused of that), obesity, anorexia, bulimia, etc.  There are tons of resources on explaining a balanced diet available online through the national health ministries of the US, the UK, Canada and Australia.  Thus, you can see how using a commercial may be cross-curricular and may really capture student attention, provoke further thought and breathe life in difficult topics.

As for apps, here is one that is sure to please—Kahoot. A few years ago, I passed up the opportunity to hear a talk about gamification because I thought that it meant using Minecraft in the classroom.  For one thing, my classroom does not have a fancy integrated whiteboard or super PC. Instead, we have a portable digital projector and my iPad or sometimes my laptop to use apps and websites. For another, I am also aware that not all students enjoy adventure and war gaming, even if we subvert these games for our own purposes in the classroom.  Sometime later, I attended a presentation which showed the motivational qualities of gamification and there I learned about Kahoot. In a nutshell, Kahoot! allows students to use their mobile phones to select multiple choice answers in a gameshow format educational game.  You, as the teacher, are the host and you are the one who can also program in the questions and answers?  Sound difficult?  No, it’s as easy as cutting and pasting questions and answers from worksheets.  The website does the rest!

As I don’t have a simple paradigm for assessing apps and websites (I choose them a bit by feeling, but I am trying to come up with a checklist for choosing them), I am just going to tell you how this gem works.  Keep in mind with technology, you often have different views of the same thing (like in Moodle, for example) and Kahoot is no different in this respect.  When you want to explore the possibilities of this tool, you need to use the website:  (this is the one you bookmark because you’ll always use this site to login, create and save your Kahoots) or if you want to see sample videos and instructions go to Students, on the other hand, go to or, once they’ve got excited enough about the games you play in class, they’ll probably install an app on their phone. This is probably the most technical aspect to consider in this wonderful tool, so you are ready to start.

Once you’ve signed up (for free!) and have made a username and password, you are ready to go. To start off, do a search for Kahoots that other teachers have made, like this one for the First Certificate (First-Use of English Multiple Choice Cloze “Global Warming”), but there are tons of others at any level. Kahoot offers various types of games such as jumble, discussion and survey but keep in mind that the option I find works best for the ESL classroom is the quiz, as you can see in the icon to the left. When you have mastered the art of the game, you can then put in timings for questions, add pictures to reinforce vocabulary (or quiz it for that matter). I have copied other teachers’ Kahoots too and have played games for Halloween and Christmas with cultural concepts like mistletoe and the origins of Halloween that would otherwise be hard to teach, but these were part of the game and so students made a “guess” and I was able to explain while I had their attention.  Thus, it was a mini-lesson wrapped up in a game and surrounded by other items they knew well enough to answer with certainty (or they were tricked with trick questions!)  Outside the classroom, students can also challenge other classmates to replay one of the Kahoots you have already played in class. This, in terms of autonomy and motivation, is amazing and can actually work!

So, as I haven’t completely forgotten about the virtues of paper—in fact, handwriting and explaining ourselves without emoji and the like are skills that we still need to teach—I think I’ll sit down to a stack of papers.  No stickers or stamps this week, but, ah, yes, here’s my purple Jelly Roll.



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