Tag Archives: educational tools

Feeding the Hungry One Word at a Time

1 Jun
For the past two years, I have been using Freerice with my English Language Learners. We usually kick off the Freerice Vocabulary Feeding Project in November just before the American Thanksgiving Holiday.

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Freerice is a free online educational website that is maintained by the United Nations World Food Program. John Breen, a Harvard professor, founded it in 2007.  He hoped Freerice would aid in both ending world hunger and educating as many people as possible. Since its inception, Freerice has won many awards for its ability to both raise funds and awareness about the fight against hunger.

Freerice is an intelligent game in that it adjusts to the level of the learner, offering multiple choice questions on the skill of their choice: Math, English vocabulary or grammar, SAT Prep, Geography, Art, German, French, Spanish and Italian.  A virtual bowl fills with grains of rice with every correct answer they provide.

My students love using Freerice because they feel they are not only learning new words but more importantly they are helping others.  They also love its competitive aspect and all try to be the top player of the week or the top-leading group.

I love Freerice because it makes my students eager about learning new words. Its ability to adjust to a learner’s level and to recycle mistakes is a great way to ensure that exposure to new words is being met. Using Freerice gives me the opportunity to discuss issues such as world hunger and being of service with my different grade levels. Integrating Freerice in my teaching is not only exposing my students to new words but also teaching them to be compassionate. It supports my ultimate goal: teach children to grow up to be global responsible citizens who speak English among other languages.

When my students show Freerice to their parents, I get emails requesting membership into our group from moms who want to improve their vocabulary. I have so many of my students now using Freerice at home with their own parent.

Freerice Vocabulary Words - One Step Further

Freerice Vocabulary Words – One Step Further

One of the ways I use Freerice in my classroom is to create a database of vocabulary words. For a language learner to truly learn a new word, the learner has to actually be able to use that word.  Knowing therefore involves not only learning the meaning of that word but also how to pronounce it, spell it, and use it in the correct context. With that in mind, following each Freerice session, I ask my students to choose one word that they will commit to learn for that week. They then add the word to a spreadsheet I have set up in Google Docs.  These words are then shared with everyone in the group and are used for games such as Hangman, crosswords, word jumbles and fill in the blanks. In having my ten students submit one word each, we, as a class, increase our vocabulary by ten words – words that we get to use over and over in different contexts.

Courtesy of Vietnam News

When the whole school competed in Freerice for a month, the students, along with their parents, were so focused on filling bowls of rice, they spent many evenings after school on the website. The experience lent itself to great dialogues on world hunger and effective ways of learning a new language, a dialogue involving parents and children that went beyond the classroom walls.  Its success led to newspaper coverage in Vietnam News, Hanoi’s English newspaper.

Whether you use Freerice for extra credit, to engage students in collaborative projects with other schools and classrooms, for service credits, or to keep students that finish their work early engaged, there are no drawbacks to incorporating this website into your teaching.

While it may not end world hunger, when you use Freerice, students become sensitized about the world and specifically about world hunger. More importantly, students are empowered when they see how they can make a difference and contribute to a good cause irrelevant of their age, race, language or location.

The Powers of Photography

18 May

Where memory fails, Google remembers! In today’s technology driven world, search engines dig out information about us even when we no longer have a recollection of them ever taking place. That is how I came across a project I took part in, while teaching English in North Carolina, entitled CommonVisions.

Essentially the project consisted of taking pictures using disposable cameras. (Do these even exist now?) There were 20 participants from 8 different countries. The youngest was 12 years old and the oldest around 60. We met twice a month.

It was 2001. At that time, taking pictures meant using film photography and one had to wait about a week to see their ‘developed’ pictures. We were so filled with excitement upon receiving the envelope with our name on it. We would open it hastily and go through our pictures choosing one to share with our group that evening and leaving the rest to savor later.

This was not a photography course. For most, like me, we had no prior lessons on photography nor were any techniques taught. We were told to simply click when it felt right. We were given the medium of photography to capture that which we deemed important and to then use the photographs to dialog about race, ethnicity and culture.

As the English as an Additional Language Specialist, my job consisted of teaching English to Hispanic children of migrant worker. To achieve this goal, I worked at bridging the gap between parents of these children, the mainstream classroom teachers, and the school administration.


America: the land of opportunity, the paradox of our time-
                                                                               George Carlin

During my time with CommonVisions, I took many pictures of my students, their families and their homes.  These photographs allowed me to share and discuss the realities of migrant workers living and working in the States with project participants and co-workers, resulting in a much more profound understanding of the students I teach, their language needs and daily challenges.

CommonVisions is one of the many projects that exist where photography is used to bring about social change and to remind us of our unity as human beings. Kids with Cameras and PhotoVoice are the other two projects that I know of with a similar vision and mission.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom - Marcel Proust

Let us be grateful to people
who make us happy.
They are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.
Marcel Proust

With today’s ease of capturing photos, doing a project along these lines has a worthy place in any type of classroom, regardless of age and level, and especially in an English Language Learner setting, where students’ background and diversity lends itself to an array of discourse.

Whether you use the pictures for students to tell a story, give an opinion, or simply as a starting point to discuss issues  that unite us as a race, this type of activity will build connections that will once again leap out of the classroom, breaking all barriers, while forming responsible global citizens along the way.

Photography is an effective tool that can ignite a child’s curiosity, give an outlet to a young struggling student, build communities of learners and artists, and even transform lives. I would encourage each teacher to experiment with photography in his or her classroom and each parent to give his or her child a camera.  Why not pick up a camera today and start your own dialogue!


Student Writing and Peer Editing with Google Docs

3 May

Google Docs make teaching and learning creative. It gives students the opportunity to work collaboratively while becoming digital savvy. It is fairly easy to use and it is another one of my zero cost tools to use for teaching and collaborative learning.

I have been using Google Docs word processing for peer editing with my Middle School classes.  Students read each others text and offer comments, ask questions and suggest corrections.  At first, this exercise is modeled over a few lessons. On the overhead projector, a piece of writing is displayed and as a class, it is edited. Each student either offers a comment, a suggestion or a correction.  As comments, corrections and suggestions are noted, I as the teacher can then identify those strong editors in the class as well as point out the difference between “peer editing” and “content editing” all the while giving direction and modeling to ensure that students are focusing on specific aspects of the writing process. Throughout the process, students are paired with different writers in order to be exposed to many writing styles.


What I find useful in using Google Docs for peer editing is that it is web-based and therefore students aren’t limited by physical space, time, one classroom or even one country.  Students’ learning consequently goes beyond the walls of my classroom as they interact and exchange ideas and comments. In addition, it can be used at any point in the writing process: idea formation, outlining, draft revision, or copy editing a final draft. Another added bonus is that it is easy to track my student’s development and as I work with English Language Learners, this tool gives them a platform for purposeful communication and interaction in a stress free environment.


Peer editing keeps my students all participating. When students know that their classmates will edit their writing, they write better, livelier text. Identifying problems in their classmates’ writing helps them to think about their own writing. Peer editing gives them the opportunity to teach what they learned thus giving them confidence and solidifying the concept in their minds. After all, asking students to teach is a great teaching tool in itself!

Other ways I have successfully used Google Docs word processing in my teaching with different levels are:

  • I’ve set up a close exercise document where in teams students fill in the blanks –You can then project the answers for all the students to share and discuss.
  • For vocabulary building, I have provided students with a basic story line where students are asked to add details in teams.
  • I’ve given students stories where they have to change one part of speech for example verbs in the present tense to the past tense, adjectives to their antonyms, etc…
  • I’ve placed a shared reading on a topic where students can highlight words they do not understand. They then can click on the word and it takes them to its definition.
  • I’ve had students collaborate in creating a story by each adding one part. We did this as a collaborative project with another classroom and it was very successful.
  • I have also used it for brainstorming or developing ideas and goal setting.

Google Docs have made teaching and learning in my classroom more collaborative, creative and student-centered. Why not try it out!

Vietnam Tech Conference 2013

8 Mar

Last week I attended the Vietnam Technology Conference in Saigon where teachers and technology savvy eagerly shared the latest buzz in technology and education.  Using Storify, a service which enables one to collect comments and information from different social media to create a story about an event, I have gathered information about the conference to give you, the reader, a picture of all that transpired throughout the conference. All in all it was a good conference, which offered food for thought for all teachers, no matter where they are on their journey of integrating technology in their teaching.

You can view the complete story here on my Storify Page.