Thursday, 5 June 2014

A screenshot away from your own perfect worksheet!

Have I ever told you how much I love technology!? Well not the technology per se but the powers it gives teachers to create, experiment and share ideas and experiences. Over the months of my PBLA (Portfolio Based Language Assessment) implementation saga I have created hundreds (including countless revisions) of pages of tasks, checklists and other portfolio related paraphernalia:))) One of the reasons behind designing my own materials rather than selecting from the existing ones is that looking for something specific may take unreasonably long time. I do not mean to say that it is worthless: I usually find lots of great ideas instead of just one I have been looking for provided I have a bit of extra time. There are a few things that I have learned along the way and would like to share with you.  

Images can essentially enhance materials designed for adult ESL learners with literacy needs. However, we have to be mindful of the amount and quality of the images included in the teacher-made materials. The role of pictorial representation is to support the text not to replace it! Images need to be selected and used in a balanced way to scaffold a “reading path” for learners but not replace the need to read the materials. Overloading learning materials with pictures may result in learner distraction and may create  a situation in which reading words is unnecessary. On another note, images may convey different meanings and associations for different people. An image of a hospital (often used for healthcare representation in a needs assessment activity) or tent (camping in the woods) or a poppy (Remembrance day for some) may be perceived very differently by a local instructor and a refugee learner from a troubled part of the world. What I have learned while working with pictures is that reading images is a skill and itself and, not often but still, we may need to teach learners to navigate pictorial information especially if culturally or historically bound.  

In a worksheet I look for two things: a “reading path” to enable adult learners with emergent literacies to succeed on the task and real-life applicability. Teachers and learners are often constraint in time (life happens outside the classroom; learners need to grasp as much as possible in the shortest period of time to start living a fuller life in their new homeland), therefore every moment and every word counts in the classroom. Think real life! Does this worksheet feature the tasks or the language our learners are most likely to encounter in their daily lives? For example, in a lesson about Canadian provinces and territories, consider the form learners may encounter them in real life. Most probably, they will occur in the form of the abbreviations used on Canadian addresses, newspaper or television news and weather forecasts. Therefore, it will be most valuable providing learners with materials that will enable them to decode Canadian provinces and territories from the abbreviations used by Canada Post. To design such a worksheet we can use Google maps. Just type in a place or an address you would like to retrieve (e.g., a school near Toronto, Ontario or Canada Service near Winnipeg, Manitoba, or Public Library near Regina, Saskatchewan), choose a location and take  a screenshot of the address to use in the worksheet. Look at the screenshots below, similar image captures can be easily used to teach learners to navigate a Canadian address, scan for cities, provinces, postal codes, build a bank of sight words (library, school, ministry, Service Canada, etc.), recognize commonly used abbreviations, and many others. After completing paper-based tasks, as an extension activity, we could also ask learners to check these addresses on Google Maps. 




A consistent use of the same images could be an avenue to develop learners' awareness of language skills and tasks and enhance their efficiency in organizing and filing their work in portfolios. My two favourite free open-source websites are and 

Free Images - Pixabay 

Once you create something that you think is worth sharing do not hesitate to do so. Remember that often a worksheet that looks perfect on the screen or on the paper may not be as functional in the classroom. The best materials are those that have been tried and tested in learners’ hands and reviewed or revised accordingly. A wonderful video tutorial on how to design learning materials for adult learners with low literacy has been created and shared by Shelley McConnell. To watch, click below.
Best Practices for Making Worksheets for Low-Level ESL Literacy Learners

You can take a screenshot easily using your laptop (command+shift+4 on a mac). Do not forget to rename and store it appropriately if you think you might need to use the image again. I also like to use Evernote ( if you are not familiar with it, check it out, it is great for things like bookmarking, taking screenshots, editing screenshots, saving the images, sharing your resources) and it also allows us to slightly edit the screenshots and add any additional elements such as text or arrows (I have been using an Evernote tool called Skitch to take screenshots and edit them).

If your adult literacy learners are smartphone users (unfortunately in my class we have only two smartphones and one of them is mine), a great way to crowdsource language material is to ask learners to take pictures of the texts they encounter outside the classroom (an idea I borrowed from my PBLA mentor aka coach) and set a day when you could regularly work with and review materials crowdsourced by the learners. If your learners do not use smartphones, just ask them to bring in any flyers, notices, correspondence, make a copy (whitening out any private or confidential information) and similarly address these texts on a regular basis on a certain day. I am sure it can easily become the most cherished practice by the entire class. 

Language Experience Activities are a great way to build learners’ awareness about their learning and provide opportunities to think back and reflect on it. Take pictures in class while learners are working on learning activities (e.g., a reading/writing/listening task; group/pair/individual work), but do not forget to ask them for permission and explain what you are going to do with the pictures. In about two weeks, invite learners to review the work that they have done in the classroom by projecting (I’d say about 5 pictures on Google or Powerpoint presentation slides; it will enable you to add text and create a reader) and eliciting learner input about what they see and remember from the pictures, how they felt while working on the activities, whether they enjoyed them, etc. Help learners make correct sentences to express their ideas and record them in a log. Create a reader for learners to revisit it afterwards. Enjoy!

A few extras...

Google Maps

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