How to create a Flipped Learning System

Welcome! This post is part of my Flipped Learning series. For more information on the magic of the flipped classroom (and what I'm even talking about) check out this page.

I've got tutorials on free flipped learning tools like:

  • How to harness the power of Youtube and the ESL community & even make your own videos
  • How to record audio to introduce a lesson's topic or grammar point ahead of class
  • How to send pre-quizzes to my students with google forms
  • How to make digital flash cards for your students to study before class
  • And just when you thought you'd collapse under all this great information, I'll show you the lesson planning system that not only ties it all together, but actually saves you oodles of time while giving more value to your students.

Alright, on to the lesson!


We know that flipped learning is great for the student. But what about the teacher? The key to making flipped learning easy and profitable for you is to have a system.

After you create a great audio exercise or a killer deck of vocabulary flash cards, or you find the perfect youtube video, where do you keep it so you can send it again and again and again? Seems an obvious question, but really, where? How do you know what to send to whom and when?

Paper-based management systems are totally out, or you're going to be writing down links that are 87 characters long (and getting them wrong). 

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You could create a word doc or a spreadsheet with a list of links. But does that list tell you exactly what you have to pre-send to next week's classes, all in one glance? 

And how can you know what your students should study for next week's lesson, if you don't know what next week's lesson will be?

Okay, before I twist your head in knots, I want you to know you can do this, and you can set it up in a step-by-step system that will rock your teaching world. I'm going to help. Let's get started.

How to use TRELLO

to automate your teaching life

I use Trello because it's easy, responsive and I can personalize everything. You might be a app developer and want to rig up a digital teachers' lounge for yourself—hats off to you. For the rest of us, I recommend free, quick & easy. Here's how I do it.

1. Get your links together. Your materials need to be accessible at all times, whether you're teaching from home, at school or out and about. There is nothing worse than realizing you left your lesson plan on your home computer and having to recreate a lesser version 20 minutes before class starts. Or realizing that the audio file you created for class is at home on your hard drive. Putting all your materials on the cloud is non-negotiable. 

You can house all your materials on Trello. I upload lesson plans, exercises I’ve scanned from textbooks, activities I’ve found on the internet, timelines, etc. With a free Trello account you can upload any document up to 10MB. If I have a document that’s larger, like an audio file or a Powerpoint presentation for my online students, I can simply store it in Google drive and link it to the Trello card.

Here's what a typical Lesson card looks like in my Trello for TEFL system. I can see right on every single lesson card, exactly what materials I have saved to the back of the card.>>

Front of the TRELLO for TEFL lesson card

And when I open the back of the card, I have immediate access to every file, exercise, sound file, youtube link, & lesson plan that is related to that lesson, ready to send to students, print for my lesson or teach online.

Back of the TRELLO for TEFL lesson card

See that copy & paste email at the bottom? That's the flipped learning magic. You took 10 minutes to make that deck of quizlet flash cards, saved the link to your lesson card, and you will spend no more than nano seconds to send the cards each time you teach the "A2 Clothes & Accessories" lesson. But your students will get huge benefits, again and again, without added effort on your part. 

With Trello, I have all my lesson plans and exercises accessible and printable from any computer phone or tablet.  I also have all my notes about individual student progress and even about the best way to present Future Continuous.

What was that really great visual demonstration I drew on the board last week? Next time I'll just snap a photo and save it to my lesson card so it's always there where I need it.

Grammar lesson cards come equipped with form, function, board-able example sentences and teaching tips, which you can whip out on your phone before class, just to refresh.

 
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2. Know who you're teaching, what you're teaching, and when you're teaching it.

Having everything you could possibly need to teach on the back or your lesson card is only the beginning of what you need. In my TRELLO for TEFL system, we set up the student board so every private student (and full class) has an automatic syllabus pre-planned from the intake phase. The system comes with a Level Assessment Test so you can not only assess the perfect level to begin your lessons, but uncover holes in their English learning, and add those lower level lessons to their syllabus.

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The beauty of the Trello platform (totally free!) is that it's versatile. If one student needs or wants a particular lesson, it's drop-and-drag easy to add that lesson card into their syllabus, or to specialize according to their hobbies, jobs and whatever topics excite them. You can see what you taught two months ago, what you'll teach two months from now, and most importantly, what you'll teach next week—all automatically.

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In one click you can view all your lessons on your calendar and sync it right up to iCal or Google Calendar. Now you know exactly what flipped lessons you need to send, weeks in advance.

When it's time to lesson plan and send flipped learning materials, you can see at a glance, what's already been planned. In this system, you never plan the same lesson twice. All your materials go on the relevant card and you're never hunting or scavenging the web. You're only tweaking and making the lesson better, each time you teach it.

This system may look flashy and beyond what you think you can manage, but let me tell you, it's exactly the opposite. As you grow your list of private students, or take on new full classes, you're adding to the unpaid administrative time you're constantly trying to reduce.

With the right system, you can not only keep track of your flipped learning lessons, but completely automate all the tasks that are keeping you from from taking on more students or taking that extra vacation. I'd love to show you more about how I automate it all!

Happy teaching! 

How to Make Digital Flash Cards to "Flip" your ESL Classroom

Hey there Teachers! This post is part of my Flipped Learning series. For more information on the magic of the flipped classroom (and what I'm even talking about) check out this page.

I've got tutorials on free flipped learning tools like:

  • How to harness the power of the ESL community on Youtube & even make your own videos
  • How to make your own audio recordings & places to find audio resources
  • How to create online "quizzes" that teach your students the grammar point before you present it in class
  • And just when you thought you'd collapse under all this great information, I'll show you the lesson planning system that not only ties it all together, but actually saves you oodles of time while giving more value to your students.

Onward!

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This is my favorite flipped learning method because I've been a flash card learner all my life. When I first started teaching, I recommended that my students make flash cards of the words we learned. I even made PDF print outs of the those cards and distributed them after class. Not flipped! What good was it for my students to study the vocabulary after the lesson, when my goal was for them to use the vocabulary during the lesson?

Quizlet, a free computer and phone app) is making my life so much easier. It takes less than 10 minutes to make a deck of flashcards, complete with photos, which extremely effective for learners of all levels. Students can study the cards on their phone or laptop and by the time they get to class, they've already learned the words, freeing up more valuable class time for using the words in conversation

 
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And here's the best part: Quizlet functions like an open source library, with many sets already made by other ESL teachers. You can simply search for a deck you need and send the link to your own students. Like anything you find on the internet, you'll want to check for correct spellings, and that the vocabulary suits your students needs, then send away!

In the Trello for TEFL system, lesson cards come with copy-&-paste email language link. I simply check what my automated calendar has me scheduled to teach the following week, and email the students with the link. 

Want to copy my decks? All the links are in the Flipped eBook!

How to copy a deck of cards in Quizlet

1. Sign up for a Quizlet account, using facebook, google or your email account. There is a paid option, for less than $20 a year, but for what we're doing today, you can sign up for the free account.

2. First, we'll search for pre-made ESL sets. Just like any search, try words like "ESL" "English" or "EFL". We're going to start with ESL animals.

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3. Scroll through the pre-made decks. I'll click on this set. (40 is a bit too many new vocab words for one lesson, but I can always edit the deck later.

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4. Click Copy.

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5. Give a title to the set (I always like to include the Common European Framework level, because I might have several decks of animals at different levels). Then click create.

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6. Whenever you use any materials from the internet, always check for spelling and other mistakes before you use it. Run down the cards just to make sure they didn't include any cards you don't want in the set. At the bottom of the set, you have the option to Add or Remove Terms.

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7. If you want to eliminate a word, once you're in this Add or Remove Terms mode, you can click the trashcan icon to delete, you can change the terms, and you can add photos. With the free version, you can choose photos from the photo library. With the paid version you can add your own photos. The paid version also allows you to record your own voice, but the free version will have the computer read the term to your student. 

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8. Your students can study the sets in many different ways, try them out and play with your students. I like to start them off with the learn or flashcards modes.

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9. Now you want to save the link to this set in an easy to find place. I save the link in copy & paste email language on the back of my A1 VOC Lesson Card in my Trello for TEFL system, so anytime I see that lesson in next week's calendar, I can copy, paste and email it to my students. To get that shareable link, click the share button with the arrow on it. In the pop-up box, click copy link. Then paste that link to your Trello for TEFL lesson card, or if you use another system, put it where somewhere you won't have to hunt it down.

 
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How to make your own Quizlet Flash Card Deck

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1. Sign up for Quizlet. In the upper lefthand corner of your home screen, click create.

2. Name your deck. I like to use the level (A1, A2, B1, etc.) because I might have several  decks at different levels with the same subject matter.

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3. Start adding your terms and definitions. The definitions (right column) will be what's on the front of the card. It's also the place you can choose to add an image, with or without a written definition. Also, make sure you choose English for the language, so the computer voice will read the word with an American accent.

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4. To make life even easier, you can copy a list of words from any document, and Quizlet will automatically fill out the terms for you. I just go to my lesson card for A2 Clothes in Trello for TEFL, and copy the list.

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5. Then in my new Quizlet set, I click Import from Word, Excel, Google Docs, etc.

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6. Then I paste those words and click import. the terms for my cards have automatically been filled out, now I can write the definitions, or select the photos. Easy!

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To add photos and complete your deck, simply follow steps 7-9 above and you're all set!

Whatever you do, don't let this work go to waste. It's easy to forget you have a link to this great deck of cards all ready to go, and you'll realize it when it's too late if you don't keep the link in a place where you need it—right with your lesson plan.

That's why in Trello for TEFL, everything related to that lesson is on one convenient card, and every time that lesson comes up in my automated calendar, you know ahead of time exactly what cards you have to send in advance.


Now, I want to hear from you! Think of your typical lesson plan. What components could  give to your students to ahead of time that would make your lesson go more smoothly?

Could you send them an introductory Google "quiz" to get them familiar with a grammar point before you present it?

Could you teach twice the amount of vocabulary if your students had the opportunity to study them on digital flash cards before class?

Could sending a video or an audio recording before class make the class more interactive and the discussion deeper because students were able to watch/listen as many times as they wanted on their own time?

Tell us in the comments below: What's a single, small way you could flip your next lesson?

How to Use Google Quizzes to "Flip" your ESL Classroom

Hey there Teachers! This post is part of my Flipped Learning series. For more information on the magic of the flipped classroom (and what I'm even talking about) check out this page.

I've got tutorials on free flipped learning tools like:

  • How to harness the power of Youtube and the ESL community & even make your own videos
  • How to make your own audio recordings & places to find audio resources
  • How to make digital flash cards for your students to study before class
  • And just when you thought you'd collapse under all this great information, I'll show you the lesson planning system that not only ties it all together, but actually saves you oodles of time while giving more value to your students.

Alright, on to the lesson!


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Google forms can be easily made into quizzes that you can email your students and get their results. You can make multiple choice questions, questions requiring written answers. You can use them to test your student's knowledge (I send all my new students an A1-B2 Level Assessment quiz, so I can see in one glance what we need to work on and then automate my syllabus for each class and private student).

I also turn quizzes into flipped learning material, to get my students warmed up for our next lesson. That way they can take extra time ahead of class to feel comfortable with the material and translate words on their own time, rather than whipping out their phones in class. I make these super easy, just 10-15 questions to prepare for class. 

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How to create a quiz on Google Forms:

  1. Sign Up: Go to forms.google.com. Click Start a New Form. Name the form.
  2. Click the settings icon.
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3. In the settings, make sure these boxes are checked in the GeneralPresentation, and Quizzes sections. First you want to make sure you collect email address, so you know who's taken the quiz. Then, if you like you can show the progress bar, so students feel a sense of progress as they go through your quiz. Lastly, make sure to make it a quiz, that way you can have right answers and wrong answers and so each answer can have an automatic explanation after a student gets something wrong.

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4. Next, click on the + sign to add a question.

5. Choose from the drop down menu what type of quiz you want - I like multiple choice because I can make them self-grading (automation is my jam).

6. Write your first question and multiple choice answers.

7. If you like, add a photo to the question or any of the answers. You can upload from your computer or search for images straight from google. This is super helpful for my Beginners and Pre-Intermediates.

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The beauty of a self-graded quiz is that it costs you no extra work after you've emailed it to your students, and you still get the opportunity to explain correct and incorrect answers. So make sure you've made this google form a quiz (Step 3 under quizzes.) Then you can add in your explanations:

8. Click ANSWER KEY

9. Choose the correct answer

10. Click ADD ANSWER FEEDBACK

11. Explain the correct and/or incorrect answers

12. Give it a points value.

13. Now it's time to share your form with your students. In the upper right corner of your quiz, click SHARE. You can email your students directly from this pop-up form, but I prefer to copy the link to my Trello for TEFL system, so every time this particular lesson shows up in one of my automated syllabi, I can just copy and past the email language, without even opening up the form, just like the picture on the right.

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14. It's time to see how your students did on their "quiz". Seeing their responses before you class can focus your efforts on aspects of the lesson the students will need most. When your student submits the form, you can view their responses, by clicking the responses tab. Here you can see I've had 9 submissions to my quiz so far.

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You can view the results by summary, so you can see everyone who's responded. This is good for a group lesson or larger class, so you can see what aspects of the lesson you should focus on. Or you can view by individual student—perfect for private lessons.

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Depending on how you write your questions, Google forms can be used to create end-of-level tests, homework, or in the flipped learning method of sending them pre-work. I send the above "quiz" to my students before I teach them the difference between Present Simple and Present Continuous.

Get access to this quiz and all the tutorials and freebies in this series right here>>

Each of my questions reflects very subtle examples of the differences—I don't want to overwhelm the student with complex answera. I use photos and I use the answer feedback to give simple commentary on the differences. I'm not really trying to test their knowledge (I assume they don't have any, since I'm about to teach it!) But rather, I'm trying to give them a little insight into the next lesson and give them time to mull it over. Students will either absorb the difference from this exercise, or they'll have questions ready to go at the start of class. Quicker students will confirm what they already know. Slower students will have the time to go over the exercise as many times as they want. My goal is to even the playing field before class. You can view the exercise here. (After you copy it for yourself, you can edit it to your liking.)

Google forms are incredibly useful in other ways too. As part of the Trello for TEFL system, we use a student assessment form to test students from A1-B2 for every incoming private student. Then in a few clicks, teachers create an automated syllabus, personalized to each student, so we know exactly what we'll be teaching tomorrow, next week, and months from now.


Now, I want to hear from you! Think of your typical lesson plan. What components could  give to your students to ahead of time that would make your lesson go more smoothly?

Could you send them an introductory Google "quiz" to get them familiar with a grammar point before you present it?

Could you teach twice the amount of vocabulary if your students had the opportunity to study them on digital flash cards before class?

Could sending a video or an audio recording before class make the class more interactive and the discussion deeper because students were able to watch/listen as many times as they wanted on their own time?

Tell us in the comments below: What's a single, small way you could flip your next lesson?

How to use Audio to "flip" your ESL lessons (+tech tutorial)

Welcome! This post is part of my Flipped Learning series. For more information on the magic of the flipped classroom (and what I'm even talking about) check out this page.

I've got tutorials on free flipped learning tools like:

  • How to harness the power of Youtube and the ESL community & even make your own videos
  • How to send pre-quizzes to my students with google forms
  • How to make digital flash cards for your students to study before class
  • And just when you thought you'd collapse under all this great information, I'll show you the lesson planning system that not only ties it all together, but actually saves you oodles of time while giving more value to your students.

Alright, on to the lesson!


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There are many ways to use audio in (and out of) your lessons. 

After private conversation lessons, I record my notes and send the 3-5 minute audio to the student along with a quick written transcript to the student. The whole process takes about 15 minutes, but my clients pay more for the service.

You can also send a listening lesson in advance, giving slower students the chance to listen repeatedly before class and save some more class time for discussion, which they can't get on their own time.

 

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Today, I'm going to teach you how I flip a grammar lesson by sending an audio file that focuses the students' attention on the grammar we're going to learn in the lesson. So let's get to it.

1. Select a passage:

I'll select a short passage that uses the grammar, in this case present and past passive tenses. They're plenty of these passages in textbooks, or you can even write your own. I'm going to record a passage I wrote about visiting Prague.

I haven't taught past passive before, but by having the students familiarize themselves before the lesson, I get them to zero in on good questions for class, and maybe they'll even pick up on some of the grammatical rules on their own.

Next, I'll record myself reading it.

2. Record audio on a Mac: (Got a PC? Use Sound Recorder. Instructions here.)

  1. Open Quicktime (found in the applications folder)
  2. Under FILE choose NEW AUDIO RECORDING
  3. Click the red button in the center of the audio recording pop-up to start recording and click it again to stop after you're finished. If you make a mistake don't worry, you can always start again.
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Once you're satisfied with your recording, under FILE choose SAVE and choose location on your computer or Google Drive. Once your audio file is saved to your Google Drive, anyone you send the link to can access the file, so you don't have to send a large file through email.

To get that link, open the sound file document in Google Drive. In the upper right corner, click the triple vertical dots. Click share. In the pop-up, choose anyone with the link can view. Then click Copy link. Paste it in the email to your student (or a place you will never lose it so you can use it every time you teach that lesson).

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3. Create an exercise to go along with the audio file

With some audio exercises, you might just want to send only that link. But I want to create an exercise using the passage that I read. Take the passage and select the grammar you're trying to focus the students on. Swap the grammar (in this case, the present and past passive) for blanks.

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4. File recording and exercise into your system

If you take the time to make these recordings and don't put them in a system that AUTOMATES your ability to send them EVERY TIME YOU TEACH A PASSIVE LESSON, I will personally reach through this screen and whack you upside the noggin'. 

Here's how I automate flipped learning in my system: 

  1. Save audio file to Google Drive (step #2 above)
  2. Copy text passage in Google Docs.
  3. Save both links to my Passive Lesson Plan card in the Trello for TEFL system
  4. Now every time I teach Passive, the system shows me ahead of time and I can swipe the copy & paste email language from the back of the card (see next step) to send in a few clicks. Easy peasy!

5. Copy, paste, send.

Hi [student],

Before our next class, please listen to this audio. Then fill in the correct words in this attached document.

See you in class!

Now my student will spend 20-30 minutes a few days before my lesson, focusing on the passive structure in the passage. It puts them in the driver's seat so I don't show up to a bunch of blank faces, waiting to be entertained by the tap-dancing English teacher!

You just gave yourself a HUGE leg up when you present the new grammar to the class. Slower students can work at their own speed before the lesson, and your students will be more engaged (and prepared) from the get go.

Do you want that audio file and accompanying exercise, plus all the other free lessons that come in my flipped learning series? Get it here>>


Now, I want to hear from you! Think of your typical lesson plan. What components could  give to your students to ahead of time that would make your lesson go more smoothly?

  • Could you send them an introductory Google "quiz" to get them familiar with a grammar point before you present it?
  • Could you teach twice the amount of vocabulary if your students had the opportunity to study them on digital flash cards before class?
  • Could sending a video or an audio recording before class make the class more interactive and the discussion deeper because students were able to watch/listen as many times as they wanted on their own time?

Tell us in the comments below: What's a single, small way you could flip your next lesson?

How I use Video to "Flip" my ESL Classroom (+ tech tutorial)

Hey there Teachers! This post is part of my Flipped Learning series. For more information on the magic of the flipped classroom (and what I'm even talking about) check out this page.

I've got tutorials on free flipped learning tools like:

  • How to make digital flash cards for your students to study before class
  • How to make your own audio recordings & places to find audio resources
  • How to create online "quizzes" that teach your students the grammar point before you present it in class
  • And just when you thought you'd collapse under all this great information, I'll show you the lesson planning system that not only ties it all together, but actually saves you oodles of time while giving more value to your students.

Onward!


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Think of how often your class grinds to a halt because a few students are just not getting what you're laying down. In a typical 60 minute lesson, you have only a few minutes to elicit the target language, and if only a few students are still confused, you have to make a decision—move along with your lesson or pause and try to re-explain (if you can). When that happens, it's hard to get all the way through to your final activation exercise, and the point of the lesson is lost.

Now, think of how many videos scroll through your social media feed every hour. There are millions of English learners scouring Youtube for "the difference between for and since" or the correct pronunciation of "through". Why not provide this to your students before the lesson, giving your slower students a leg up and saving your lesson from derailment? It benefits your student to get their English from more than once source. If you're American, try using British teachers, a vice versa. 

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Why not provide this to your students before the lesson, giving your slower students a leg up and saving your lesson from derailment? It benefits your student to get their English from more than once source. If you're American, try using British teachers, a vice versa. 

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The only problem with using Youtube videos is that selecting the right videos can be time-consuming. You have to view the video and make sure it suits your students/ needs. That's why in my Trello for TEFL system, I have already pre-watched dozens of videos, and added them to the appropriate lesson card, with copy-&-paste email language ready to send to your student. Now all I have to do is view the following weeks lesson cards, copy, paste and send!

Want a list of my favorite ESL YouTube Channels? Get the eBook>>

 

How to make your own videos with LOOM

Making your own videos might seem daunting. No one likes to see their own face (or hear their own voice!) when played back. But, remember, your students like your voice & your presentation, because they hired you in the first place! Do it for them. Value over vanity.

The tech-phobic might think making videos takes expensive cameras, recording software and a Youtube channel where the whole world can see them. None of this is true! In the tutorial video below, I'll show you how with a free application called LOOM, you can make a video right from your computer and email it directly to your student.

Loom videos can showcase both your face and your "blackboard" which is just your screen. In this tutorial, we'll use both to create a short video for our students.

1. Go to USELOOM.com and sign up for an account. When you sign up for Loom (using the Google Chrome browser), you will get the Loom symbol in the top right of your browser. This is what you’ll click when you’re ready to record a video.

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2. Create a "blackboard" with the relevant info already typed out. This is optional, but it is nice to have words on the screen for Beginners and Intermediates.

I prefer to use slide presentation software like Keynote (mac) or Powerpoint (pc or mac) or Google Slides (web app) rather than a word document. That way, you can drop and drag words, shapes, lines, photos. Slide presentation software is just easier than a word doc.

I'm going to teach the difference between "mustn't" and "don't have to" because I know that this is a tricky grammar point for ALL my students. This way, I can pre-teach it in a quick video, and once they get to class, their questions will be more informed and focused. 

I created 4 slides with information that I want to "board," just like I'd use to explain it in class. You can add photos to make your slides more interesting, or to be more descriptive, but it's not necessary.

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3. When your slides are ready, go into your Google Chrome browser and click the Loom icon.

4. This box will pop up, giving you three options for recording - Screen & Cam (show your face & the blackboard) Screen Only (blackboard only) and Cam Only.

**If it is important for you to have your blackboard and your face in the video (Screen & Cam mode), you will need to use Google Slides (rather than Powerpoint or Keynote) to create your blackboard. Why? Well, right now, Loom only supports the camera mode when you’re in a Google Chrome web browser. You can still record your Keynote or PowerPoint slides, but your face will not be in the video. 

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If you really want your beautiful mug on there, here’s what you do:

  • make your slides in Google Slides from the start; or
  • make your slides in Powerpoint and then go to slides.google.com. Start a New Presentation. Go to file >> import slides >> chose the Powerpoint presentation you want to import into Google Slides.

5. Click Start Recording.

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6. After you stop the recording, you can share your video by clicking copy link. You can send it directly to a student, if it’s relevant only to them, but I know I’m going to want to send this video to anyone whom I teach “Have to” and “Must”, so I’ll save the link to my Trello for TEFL card.

 
 

Now, I want to hear from you! Think of your typical lesson plan. What components could  give to your students to ahead of time that would make your lesson go more smoothly?

  • Could you send them an introductory Google "quiz" to get them familiar with a grammar point before you present it?
  • Could you teach twice the amount of vocabulary if your students had the opportunity to study them on digital flash cards before class?
  • Could sending a video or an audio recording before class make the class more interactive and the discussion deeper because students were able to watch/listen as many times as they wanted on their own time?

Tell us in the comments below: What's a single, small way you could flip your next lesson?

 

How to Lesson Plan 3 x Faster (+ 3 FREE Lesson Plans!)

Lesson Planning—oi veh. The bain of a good language teacher's existence. 

I say "good teacher" because bad teachers don't lesson plan. They go into a classroom unprepared and try their hand at "winging it." Bad teachers download rando exercises from questionable internet resources, spotted with errors. Bad teachers bribe someone in the teacher's lounge for extra copies of whatever they just taught.

Okay, I admit it. I've been a bad teacher. We all are sometimes.

But we're trying to be good, right? We love our students after all, and we want them to succeed. We want to be good teachers. But it's just...the lesson planning! THE LESSON PLANNING! Sometimes it's just too much. 

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So my goal today is to cut your lesson planning by a whopping two-thirds! That's right. We're going to plan three lessons for three levels in the time it used to take you to plan one. That's a big chunk of time! What are you going to do with that extra hour or two? What if at the end of this blog post, I gave you those 3 FREE LESSONS, all planned up and ready to print? Would that be worth a 10 minute read?

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But hold the phone! I'm going to show you how to cut ALL your lesson planning by two-thirds. Holy cow, that's like 10...20...30 million hours of unpaid work that I've just saved you from! Okay maybe not that much, but you could definitely squeeze out an extra daily nap, yoga session or Netflix binge. 

So let's get this show started, we don't have all day!

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The first step in this streamlined lesson planning method is to pick one category of vocabulary, which you'll use for all three lessons. I keep the list of official list of Cambridge test prep words (for the KET, PET, FCE etc.) easily accessible in my Trello for TEFL System (wait for it) so they're right where I need them when I'm lesson planning. The lists conveniently divide the level-appropriate words into subject categories like "transportation" or "food & beverage" or "entertainment" and much more.

Almost every group of vocabulary can be split up into three levels (many more actually). Take "entertainment": A1 can learn the basics like television, radio, film, book; A2 can learn genres like comedy, drama, thriller; B1 can learn various musical instruments like drums or entertainment professions like director. Briefly think of a few examples of words in that topic at three different levels so you know you're on the right track.

Today I'm going to choose "Clothing & Accessories" as my topic. So for A1: trousers, shirt, to wear; A2: high heels, swimsuit, to put on; B1: baggy, fabric, to fit. Sounds good to me, let's move on.

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The activation is last exercise of my lesson (about 20 minutes long). It's when I push the students out of their nest to use what they've just learned. An activation exercise simulates a scenario where they'd naturally use the target language. A scenario can be "buying a car" or "sick at the doctor's office" or "lost in a new city."

A good activation will prompt the student to use almost ALL of the target language they've just learned. That's why I work backward in lesson planning, from the last exercise (the activation) to the first. I don't want to waste time creating a fabulous Study 1 & Study 2, and then realize I've included vocabulary that's not natural in that role-play.

For example, if one of my activations has my student shopping in a clothing store, I might include the words blazer or tight or size, but costume or uniform might be hard to realistically include in that role-play, even though those words are all at an A2-B1 level. 

So what are three scenarios where my students would use "clothing & accessories" vocabulary naturally? 

For one, I like the clothing store idea—one student can be the salesperson, one can be the customer. That will be good for my B1 students, eliciting expressions like "The shoes fit." and "I'm looking for a wool coat." 

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Packing for a vacation (with a partner) is another situation where lots of clothing vocabulary can be used, like sandals for a tropical holiday or gloves for a ski trip—perfect for my A2 students.

And for my A1 beginners, I'm going to keep it simple and play "Who's wearing what?" where I have them describe each other's clothing and switch partners again and again.

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But I can't just tell a pair of students: "You're a salesperson, you're a customer—discuss!" A good activation has a goal. The goal is the fuel of the discussion. Maybe the customer is buying clothes for a special occasion for her and her partner, but the store only has a limited selection—I can imagine a lot of back and forth there. 

Whatever the goal of the scene, try to imagine the students using most if not all of the vocabulary they've just learned. Keep your plan loose here, you can always tighten the scenarios in the next step.

Easy, peasy. Onward.

 

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Now that we have our scenarios, It's very easy to pick out words that will naturally be used in those situations. I choose 12-15 words, and try to include a few nouns, verbs and adjectives, making sure they all have specific relevance to the activation scenario. (Baggy is a specific adjective for a dressing room scenario, but pretty might be too general. Get me?)

Once you've got the list of words for each level, the activations should be shaping up in your mind—you should be able to envision your students using most if not all of them while acting out their role-play. Now you want to give your students the tools to learn the vocabulary...

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We are flying along here, and so far we've only done the brainstorming!

Creating Studies 1 & 2 used to stop me in my tracks, but that's because I used to begin the lesson plan there! Dumb idea! Staring at a blank page 20 minutes before a lesson, trying to come up with a couple studies is the ass-backwards way to lesson plan. It's also the biggest way to get stomach stress cramps and end up with some crappy mistake-riddled exercise from the internet as a last ditch planning effort. 

But once you've done steps 1, 2 & 3, you're three-quarters of the way there, seriously. The purpose of Study 1 & 2 is to get the students comfortable with the vocabulary so they can use it in the activation, which you already have!

On a side (but important) note, here's the reason I don't like getting studies from the internet: 75% of the time, random exercises are not geared towards an activation. Often they're just filler material, and mostly directed towards small kids, whom I don't often teach. Sometimes I look to their structure for inspiration, but then I created my own pack of exercise templates, included in the Trello for TEFL system. I easily add in vocabulary and photos from Google images, and voila!—fresh exercises perfectly tailored to my brilliant activations, without errors or janky British/Australian English words (Joking! I do teach trousers, but I can't bring myself to teacher jumper, sorry.)

Study 1 should be a closed study, meaning the answers should be black and white, without room for interpretation.  For A1, I'm going to plug the vocabulary into my Picture Matching Template, and add some Google images, which takes about 5 minutes. For A2, I'm going to use my Word Scramble Template, which is a little more challenging for the student. And for B1, I'm going to get creative with a Fill-in-the-Blank Template because I want B1 to be working with words more than pictures.

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Study 2 should be an open study, meaning I want the students to generate the words on their own. For A1, I'll include some Body Templates, and have pairs dictate what each one is wearing, while the other one draws. For A2 & B1, I'm going to make life super easy on myself and give them the same exercise, but with different words. I'll cut up cards with the vocabulary on each, and have them play a game of Taboo (they have to describe the word on the card, without using the other words listed on the card).

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And viola! It used to take 30 minutes to plan one lesson, but we've just planned 3 in the same span of time, saving ourselves a full hour!

But wait, the final step is going to save your future self TWO to THREE TIMES that much—EVERY SINGLE WEEK. Trust me. This is where the power of the lesson planning system goes nuclear.

 

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Let me stop you because I know what you're thinking...you don't need three lessons, you need one, and you need to be able to plan that one lesson three times faster

Let's take a breath and assess your situation, shall we? (I know exactly where you are, because I've been there 3 dozen times before.)

You think you only need one vocabulary lesson right now, for your A2 class tomorrow morning. But what you don't realize (because you are not a fortune teller, nor do you plan lessons 3 weeks ahead) is that you will need a B1 Level "clothing & accessories" vocab lesson about two weeks from now (the day after a long weekend) and you'll need that A1 Level "clothing & accessories" lesson a month from now because your school is going to ask you (at the last minute) to sub for a sick teacher in her beginner's class. If you had only planned those three lessons at once! And saved them! WHERE THE HECK DID YOU SAVE THEM?! Oh. You didn't save them. Whoops.

You my dear, harried teacher are playing a defensive game.

You are only reacting to tomorrow's schedule. Or if you really have your sh*t together, you might even be reacting to next week's schedule. But your game is not offensive. You have no plan to kill the beast.

Tell me how familiar this sounds: You're half way through planning a grammar lesson (ass-backwards, probably, like I used to) and you think to yourself, "Hey wait a minute, I've planned this before. Where the heck is that lesson plan? Or the exercises? Did I type it? Why can't I find it on my computer? Is it on my roommate's computer? Where is my roommate.

Oh no...did I—?

I wrote it on the back of the gas bill. F@#%*&!!!!

There goes my lunch hour.

What is your system?

Wouldn't it be great it you had one place to keep these 3 x free lesson plans I'm about to send you? Not in the abyss of your email or in a stack of papers on your desk, but in an online teacher's lounge, complete with every exercise you've ever written, borrowed or stolen? 

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And what if you could see, in that very same system, every single class you will teach, planned months in advance? What if you knew you could teach the same exact lesson tomorrow, next Tuesday and the day after you return from vacation, without re-planning a thing? What if you just logged in to your student's syllabus, where you found the entire lesson, happily waiting to be printed?

Don't imagine it. Make it happen. Stop letting the job steal your free time.

Here are the three lesson plans we worked (not so hard) on. I hope the time they save you inspires you to batch-plan the rest of your month.

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Not in the Trello for TEFL Tribe yet? Get your lesson plans here>>

And if you want to supercharge your planning (or supercharge your laziness—I'm super lazy now that I use the Trello for TEFL system!) you can learn more about my system right here>>

Happy teaching!

 
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5 New Years Resolutions for Teachers (& 1 to Grow On)

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I used to make resolutions about my English teaching processes not yearly, but WEEKLY. Okay sometimes even HOURLY. 

Every time Sunday night rolled around with the crushing need to lesson plan, I vowed to plan my lessons further ahead next week. Every time I spent the 20 minutes before class frantically trying to hunt down an exercise I had already used many times before (with no luck) I vowed to keep better track of my work. Every time I gave up planning altogether and decided to 'wing it' during class, I felt guilty knowing my students deserved better than that, and vowed to do better next time

I had the best of intentions—so why did these problems persist, week after week? Why couldn't I get a handle on things? Was I the only teacher working this hard and barely treading water?

I felt like I was already giving my students so much of my out-of-class time, my UNPAID time. And as much as I was pulling for their success, my schedule was pulling me too thin. I couldn't afford to take on less classes, just to give me the time to do all the work required to get my business in order. So I circled back around to my own bad habits. After only a few days, I gave up. Again.

I now can see that the problem wasn't me. The problem was that every solution I could come up with involved hours of work, notebooks, copies, binders & spreadsheets just to start the system and even more time to maintain it.

I feel bad for that harried teacher, and wished I could have known then what I know now. 

So today, I want to talk about the 5 resolutions YOU'RE probably making on a weekly—hell, daily basis. And the 6th resolution that is the easiest one to keep, and helps you keep all the rest.

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I often joke that teaching English is like tap dancing, especially at the lower levels where you really have to elicit with your body, your face, your gestures. It can be exhausting, but if you have the temperament for it, it can also be super fun. All that fun goes away when you are unrehearsed, unprepared. I used to get nerves in my belly, the feeling that I was a fraud, when I stood in front of that class without a plan.

"Can they tell I'm winging it?" I'd think, stalling to do a deep dive into the origins of a random English idiom. Their faces were confused. The clock ticked slower. I lost the thread.

On rare occasions, some forgiving, lesson-planning fairy let me slide and the hastily planned lesson went off without a hitch. But those were rare. More often than not, a lesson I'd planned at the last minute resulted in a waste of time for us both.

So, in the new year, I vow to plan each lesson ahead of time, respecting my students' needs and the path we've set out for their growth.

Want to know how to totally automate lesson planning? Keep reading.

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This sounds like an insane resolution to pretty much everyone. But YOU, my dear EFL teacher, know exactly what I mean.

How many times have you planned that same Present Perfect lesson? How many times have you rummaged through a shelf full of textbooks 20 minutes before a lesson, trying to find the same exercise you've used multiple times? How many times have you left a perfectly planned lesson on your home computer and scrambled to recreate it right before class started?

Multiply that by 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Add up those hours of re-planning and look at your calendar for 2018. What else could you do with that time? Take up Taichi? Take on more students and earn more money? Take a daily nap? Make a resolution here and now never to plan the same lesson twice.

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We give our students our ALL from the moment class starts until we erase the wipe board—not to mention the hours of planning that take place before they even arrive. Do we really need to keep track of everything we've taught and everything we need to teach?

If you've ever felt like you are correcting the same mistakes over and over again, and your student is just running in place, you know that something has got to change.

Let me tell you how your students see you: to them, you're not just an English speaker who can supply them with the right word when they struggle to express themselves. To them, you are a guru, a shaman, a skilled professional who has the experience and skills to guide them along the path to fluency.

This is so important, and I can't say it enough—your student is not paying you for an hour of your time, they are paying you for an outcome. That outcome does not result from disparate, unconnected lessons you throw together every week. 

Lessons with you are, in fact, an investment they've made in their future. The better you help them fulfill that investment, the more you will be respected and recommended and the higher hourly wage you will earn.

So take this vow with me here: I will track my student's progress out of respect for the investment they are making in themselves and in me.

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This one is a vow to preserve your own sanity. 

Let's get real with ourselves, shall we? That stack of papers on your desk, by your bed, in your bag? The lesson plans, the worksheets, the cut up cards, etc.? You're never going to organize them. You didn't with the last pile and you won't with the next pile. So let's give ourselves the gift of sanity and sweep them mercifully into the trash.

Because really, you'll be a better teacher when you understand that this paper system isn't working for you (don't worry, I've got a system for you that will!) Phew. Now doesn't that feel zen-like?

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Wait, is this one even an option? I mean, aren't teachers SUPPOSED to dedicate nights, weekends, and metro rides to planning, organizing and all the other unpaid administrative work required of us? 

Uh, sure, if you don't mind your hourly wage being cut in half.

Let's do some simple math: if you make $20 for an hour of teaching, but it takes you another hour to plan, grade, travel to and organize that hour, you're getting paid $10 an hour, not $20. 

The solution? Automation.

Automation is nothing exotic. In fact, it's more present than ever. Let me take you back a decade or so...we used to have to go down to the curb and wave down a taxi cab. We used to buy maps at gas stations if we wanted to go on a road trip. And we used to have to find jobs by printing countless resumes on actual PAPER and submitting them IN PERSON to HR drones.

Why the hell are you still doing all the unpaid teaching tasks the hard way?

So, right now I want you to raise your right hand and solemnly vow to stop spending time on non-paid teaching tasks and figure out what you can AUTOMATE. Because time is money. Because you are worth it, and your students are worth having a teacher who is well-compensated.

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I know what you're thinking—you'd love nothing more than taking these vows with me. It sounds dreamy...to stop wasting time, to be so organized you can practically roll into class in your pajamas and teach a knock-out, drag-down lesson. But this is the stuff of fantasy—not reality. Right?

Wrong.

Once I figured out the fool-proof way to organize resolutions #1-5, it completely revolutionized my teaching life (and my personal time). Never again did I feel like a fraud, never again did I feel like I'd half-assed lesson planning and felt guilty because I knew my students deserved better. 

So when I say you need to INVEST in yourself, here's what I'm talking about: it is impossible to move forward in your career without investing in yourself. When you wanted to become a teacher, you invested time and money to take a TEFL or CELTA course. There were opportunity costs—you could have spent that money on new skis or new tires. You could have spent that time learning to play guitar. But you wanted to move forward, and you knew that investing time & money on your career would pay dividends in the end.

I invested time. I invested A TON of time (we're talking major time that I could have spent taking on new clients and earning more money). It was a personal challenge...I'm a systems freak and I enjoy nothing more than life-hacking my way through impossible organizational problems. 

I invested months of my life figuring out this system so you don't have to. 

If you want to learn more about the system I created to automatically help you keep resolutions 1-5, you can check it out right here>>

Working together, we won't let these resolutions become a faint memory by February.  

Here's to an amazing 2018 for you AND your students!

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