Edmodo is a collaborative platform that is specifically geared towards use in teaching and learning. It describes itself as “a free and safe way for students and teachers to connect and collaborate”. When I use it with my students, I tell them it is a space for us, only for us, to use English at any time when not in class. In my current context, this has instant appeal: opportunities for using English outside class are limited in Palermo, particularly if your commitments are such that you cannot get to the school to participate in any of the extra-curricular activities on offer.
It is easy to get students signed up on to Edmodo: you provide them a group code, which enables them to register as student in the class attached to that group code, and they generate their own username and password. The trick when you introduce any new tool, of course, is to get learners using it comfortably and regularly. For me, another goal that I keep in mind is to enable learners to use it autonomously in a variety of ways that supplement their classroom learning. What is the difference? Well, learners could use it “comfortably and regularly” but only when told to and only in fixed, limited ways…
However, the focus of this post is on homework, so “compulsory” use of Edmodo, rather than autonomous use. Autonomous use will follow in a different post (part 2!), after my webinar. I’ve found that using Edmodo allows me to set more interesting homework tasks, that provide learners with the opportunity to communicate and me with an overview of what they can produce and, in some cases, what difficulties they may be having with what we have done in class. Here are five ways of doing this:
1) Question Time! (Pre-intermediate level)
There is a big focus on questions in the first half of our pre-intermediate course. Students struggle with word order, form and choice of question word, sometimes adding words in when they shouldn’t, too. The course book has a grammar focus box which requires students to match question words and answers, as well as the usual focus on form gap-fills as practice. As homework, rather than a.n.other gap fill or writing questions that will never be asked, you can get students to use Edmodo to ask each other questions:
- Give them the set of question words which they have learnt how to use
- Ask them to post a list of questions for people in the class to answer.
- They can then respond to each others’ questions.
- You can see at a glance who has and hasn’t got their heads around question forms. (Obviously secure in writing doesn’t preclude problems when speaking, but you can address that in class later!)
- The students have a non-linguistic purpose for making questions: to find out more about their classmates. This should be more motivating than filling in more gaps or writing a list of questions and then forgetting about it.
- The way they answer the questions provides insight to their understanding of the questions.
- The students spend time between classes using the language that you have been focusing on in class in a freer way, making it more memorable for them.
- As students communicate with each other between lessons, as well as during their twice a week classes, their rapport builds.
- You can correct any mistakes in the questions as students post them and respond positively to correct questions, and there remains a record of this: students can look back and see where their mistakes were and what the correct version is. This could be useful when it comes to revision for tests.
A very simple activity, with plenty of benefits for both teacher and learners. This could be applied to other levels by varying the complexity of the language required. Lower levels could make more simple questions, higher levels could be encouraged to use a range of tenses and/or perhaps include reported questions too.
2) A “Getting to know you” diagnostic activity (Pre-int upwards)
The first lesson in any course usually features a heavy component of “getting to know you” -related activity. (My own current favourite is “A Map of Me”, which Sandy Millin came up with!) Of course, as a learner, when you meet a big group of people (in my context, the maximum class size is twelve and if it’s a full class this is big enough to count as “big” in terms of getting to know people!), it’s hard enough to remember all of their names, let alone everything they told you about themselves, in English, one after another. Here is a homework activity you could use in an early lesson:
- Ask learners to write three sentences about their past, three sentences about their present, three sentences about their future. In each set of sentences, one should be true and two should be false.
- Learners then post their sentences on Edmodo and look at the sentences written by everybody else.
- Learners guess which sentences are the truthful ones.
- You get a swift overview of learners’ basic tense control. (You already have a fair idea of what their speaking on the topic of themselves is like, from your “getting to know you” activities during the lesson, so this complements that and allows you to see if spoken mistakes are slips/procedural, and therefore not present when learners are writing and have more time to spend on accuracy, or due to absence of knowledge.)
- Once learners have finished guessing and the truth has been revealed, you also learn more about your learners as individuals.
- Learners write briefly about themselves for an audience, using a mixture of tenses.
- The “game” factor hopefully makes this writing a fun activity rather than a chore.
- Learners get to know more about their classmates.
Another simple activity, requiring no preparation, that gets learners communicating. For higher levels, encourage use of more complex language – stipulate, for example, use of a mixed conditional, a past modal etc.
3) A “taster” (all levels)
Looking ahead at what you are going to focus on in the next lesson, topic-wise or language-wise, you can use Edmodo to rouse learners’ curiosity and engage their interest before they even come to class.
- If your next topic/sub-topic is, for example, the news, post on Edmodo asking if they have seen anything interesting in the news lately.
- If you’re going to look at vocabulary related to “My Ideal Day”, post on Edmodo and ask learners what they like doing at the weekend. (You could then get them to repeat this activity, using “My Ideal Day” as the title, following the lesson, so that they can use the vocabulary from the lesson. They (and you!) could compare what they produced in the taster and what they produced in the follow-up. You could also get them to compare their “ideal day”‘s and find anything they have in common, to make it more interactive.)
- If you’ve prepared a concordance activity to draw their attention to the differences between “say”, “tell” and “speak”, post a sentence using each, on Edmodo, with the key word blanked out. Get them to decide which word fits into which sentence.
- You can get an idea of your students’ communicative capabilities in relation to the topic/language you are planning to look at in the next class. (This may influence your planning, too!)
- As the lesson is not the first time for the learners to think about the topic/language/vocabulary in question, they start in a stronger position.
- It provides an extra opportunity for rehearsal of the language, meaning learners may be able to produce more complex language during class discussions. Where necessary, you can help them reformulate this and the net result can be a higher quality of language as the take-away.
- If learners compare “taster” and “follow up” production, on Edmodo, they will hopefully be able to see progress.
Again, very little preparation required on the teacher’s part. (How long does it take to post a topic-related question or similar?)
4) Spot the difference (higher levels)
This works well with upper intermediate and advanced learners. It requires detailed reading and some writing too. Summary writing is not an uncommon task, every learner has to do it at some point, but this activity makes it a less tedious thing to do…
- Ask learners to find a newspaper or magazine article that interests them and to post a link to the article on Edmodo.
- As well as posting the link, in the same post, they should post a summary of the linked article. However, this is not a straightforward summary: learners need to summarise the article but change five pieces of information, so that the summary is inaccurate. Encourage the learners to be sneaky and make changes that are difficult to spot straight away.
- Learners should then read classmates’ summaries and linked articles, in order to identify the differences, and reply to the post with their suggestions. (This does not preclude other learners reading and guessing – there’s nothing to say that whoever posts first is necessarily going to be correct!)
- You can post error correction feedback on the summaries if you want to, or use it as the basis for a delayed error correction in the next class. (It’s quick and easy to copy and paste sentences that could be improved OR examples of good sentences onto a powerpoint slide to project in class). Learners can then be encouraged to go back and self-correct their summaries, using what they have learnt from the error analysis activity.
- Learners are required to read (both their article and other students’ articles and summaries), write (the summaries) and communicate (their guesses) with each other.
- The “spot the difference” element gives the learners a purpose for reading, writing and communicating.
- Trying to trick their classmates will hopefully be fun and therefore add some motivation, where “write a summary” on its own may fail, with some learners.
- Learners have an audience (their classmates) for their writing. This may encourage learners to take more care over their work, rather than rushing something off on a piece of paper to submit to the teacher in the next lesson.
- It generates a writing sample for the teacher to use for error analysis, and learners can edit their own work following this, upgrading it.
5) Project work
I don’t know about other course books but the newer editions of Headway like to include little “projects” at the end of some sections. These usually go along the lines of “Use the internet to find out more about ________ [ ________ being related to the topic that learners have just finished working with]. Bring information and pictures to the next lesson to share with your classmates about it” or similar. That’s all well and good, but what if your learners don’t have a tablet or a printer? What if your learners find interesting articles that other learners didn’t find but would like to read? What if you are pushed for time and just can’t see yourself “using up valuable lesson time on random project work, you stupid course book!” ?
Well, these projects can work very nicely using Edmodo.
- Very simply, ask learners to share links to information, upload pictures, and comment on what they find using Edmodo. In other words, do the project, but do it on Edmodo.
- Encourage learners to look at what other learners have found and compare it with their own findings.
- Now that you have a shared body of information, that learners have thought about and discussed on Edmodo, you can still allocate five or ten minutes in a subsequent lesson for learners to discuss it orally. However, if you really don’t feel you can justify this, at least learners have still had the benefit of searching for, reading and discussing information related to the topic they have been studying in class.
- Learners get to do the projects and communicate with each other outside class, using a range of skills and language in the process.
- Learners get to benefit from the information their colleagues have found.
- Tablets and printers are not required for information-sharing, making it a lot quicker and easier and not excluding learners who haven’t got access to these. (Of course more and more students have tablets, but it is still probably more common to have access to a computer. As for printers, *I* don’t have one, my sister doesn’t have one, it’s not everybody who happens to have access. Also printer ink is expensive and black and white grainy pictures are not that exciting to look at! :-p )
- If the teacher is pushed for time, the in-class portion can be cut, if necessary, or kept very brief. (A lot briefer than would be possible with loads of paper articles to swap, compare and discuss etc! Students would be ready to launch into discussion, having already seen each others’ offerings, and rehearsed the necessary language to discuss them, on Edmodo)
Edmodo is a great tool, very simple to use and with huge amounts of potential. The activities I have described above are equally simple, require little to no preparation on the teacher’s part and generate a lot of genuine, purposeful language use, both receptive and productive. It enables learners in context where English isn’t much-used to use English between classes and consolidate learning done in class in interactive, hopefully motivating ways. I’ve only been using Edmodo since September, and haven’t even begun to tap all the “extra features” it has – various features and apps and so forth – but the way I use it, just on a basic level, is proof that you don’t have to be particularly tech savvy in order for you and your students to benefit from using it.
I will finish with some student quotes gained from feedback forms and reflective pieces:
“The third English course is a bit different from the previous: Edmodo has been a new tool to improve English and, even thought I don’t like very much the social network, I think it is a very useful tool to share many things, to suggest other tools, give ideas and take one’s cut from my classmates’ works. Edmodo has been a virtual place “dedicated” to our level three and I liked it.” [From a reflective piece]
“Yes definitely. I really like Edmodo and the reading project. It’s a new idea to improve our English” [The question was, “Did the course “extras” help you?”]
“Enough helpful, because it’s difficult to speak English in this city, it’s not a thing that happens every day” [Question as above]
“Yes, because I was always in contact with my classmates” [Question as above]
“Edmodo is a good opportunity of communication” [Question as above]
“I think that the ‘extra’ activities are useful, because they are moments to improve our English and you can compare your extra homeworks to your extra homework of your classmates” [Question as above]
I hope I’ve convinced you to give it a try, if you don’t already? 🙂
If you do already use Edmodo, I would love to know how you do – I’m always looking out for fresh ideas! Please comment and share ideas below… 🙂