An activity to start off the year: creating avatars

I use a lot of different websites that ask students to create a profile. Many websites offer the possibility to add an image. I don’t really like to have my students’ pictures all over the internet and that is why I invite them, during one of my first classes with them, to create an avatar and to use it as their profile picture.

A lot of free avatar creation websites are available on the web. My favourite is, but to create your avatar, you need to download an app and therefore need some type of mobile device… which is not available to all of us. Their images are very nicely done and very useful, however. I use my Bitmoji and the Chrome extension regularly. I will come back to this in a later blog post.

*Careful: Bitmoji offers avatars with text and contexts that can sometimes be inappropriate to a younger audience. I do not recommend it for younger students but will let you judge on the maturity and appropriate age of your students.

The websites  and both allow students to create and download free avatars. They are very easy to use.

Once students have created and downloaded their avatars, I invite them to add to a collaborative presentation. If a collaborative presentation option is not available to you, you could simply cut and paste the images your students will share with you in your own presentation (although I always prefer to have the students work more than me… but I do understand that sometimes, some tools are not available to teachers).

Here is the presentation that I use with my students in English as a second language, secondary 3. Feel free to modify it and translate it as necessary.

Finally, a very simple activity that is a lot of fun is to have students try to guess who is who by looking at all of the avatars.

Students really appreciate this activity.

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Google Chrome extension: Palette Creator

A nice and useful find: Palette Creator!

I had the chance to discover this little tool during a presentation at ISTE. It is very simple to use:

Step 1 : Download the tool on the Chrome web store and install:

Step 2: choose an image or picture







Finally, click right to see the Palette Creator option appear. You can select how many colours you want. And there you go!





Thanks to the colour codes, you can select colours that will work with your chosen image. Websites like Canva allow you to choose the colour of the fonts you are using or the colours of images or background with the colour numbers. A nice easy way to become a graphic artist!

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La version Beta de Google Classroom

Aujourd’hui je vous propose deux vidéos sur le nouveau Google Classroom.

La version Beta du nouveau Google Classroom est disponible depuis quelques semaines et la nouvelle version officielle devrait sortir très bientôt (et avant la rentrée)

Dans ce premier vidéo je vous présente l’interface du nouveau Google Classroom et mes impressions.

View on YouTube

Dans ce deuxième vidéo, je vous présente l’outil de correction des travaux qui a beaucoup changé.

View on YouTube

Pour en savoir plus, Alice Keeler (en anglais seulement) est LA référence. Voici donc des liens qui pourraient vous intéresser:

Taking a Peek at the New Google Classroom

NEW! Google Classroom Comment Bank

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Master the Screencast: What I have learned

I already adore Screencastify and I have been using for two years now. I started out with the lite (free) version but quickly moved on to the paid version since it offered more possibilities and more recordings.

Summer is always a time for me to reflect and learn (and yes, to relax a bit and enjoy the weather). I discovered this one-hour online course from Matt Miller and thought I would sit and watch to see what I could learn about the tool I already used and liked!

Here are some of the things I learned and will apply.

Time: I was not aware that you could add a timer to your recording. I will be using this option for students. I know they will appreciate following the timer to see how long they have left to watch but also for them to more easily go back and fort in the recording.

Editing options: I have been recording my videos in one take. If I did not like it, I started over. I will look into the cropping options but also the zoom in option which may be interesting in giving feedback or instructions for students. I also did not know you could merge videos together which offers new possibilities.

Sharing on Google Classroom: In one of the videos about sharing your video, Matt Miller takes us through the Google Classroom procedure of sharing. I originally thought that you could only share to an entire class but as I watched him go through the process, I could see that you could send the video directly to a student. In the past, I used to copy and paste the link to my feedback video in the comments of the assignment and many students were unable to find it. I made a video to show them how but still, some students struggled. Next year, I will share the video as an assignment. This way, the video will show up in the stream of the student and they will have to mark it as complete after watching it. This will make it easier for them to find it but also, will let me know who watched it.

Turning videos into animated gifs: I love gifs and find them amusing. But they can also be very helpful to show something quickly (where to find a file or where to click, for example). By recording your screen, you can then save the file as an animated gif to share as an image. No need to navigate to any other website for this! Neat!

💡 Tips and tricks: if you want to start over, don’t press stop but the re-record button. If you press stop, the video will load and become a file that you will then have to delete. By using the restart or re-record button it simply starts over. It will also avoid you having lots of little ”mistake” files in your drive.

Shortcuts: I will definitely try this one and try to learn to use the shortcuts to be faster and more efficient. This will also make the quality of my videos better since students will not have to watch my mouse all over their screen when I need to do something.

Some of my favourites to try out:

  • Alt (option) + Z: to delete everything you have written on the whiteboard
  • Alt (option) + R: to start or stop the recording
  • Alt (option) + T: to hide the toolbar or make it appear

Different ways to use Screencastify:

  • Instructional videos (useful for parents AND students and could be used with substitute teachers too!).
  • Feedback videos (instead of the red marks all over a page!!!).
  • Parent communication (let them know what is going on in class, replace your newsletter with a video)
  • Digital parent-teacher conferences
  • Professional development (consider sharing your expertise and posting tutorials, presentations, etc.)
  • Replace oral presentations (have students create a video presentation using Google Slides or other presentation tools and record themselves)
  • Create stop motion videos with Google Slides and then record them.
  • Have students create video reflections using the webcam recorder
  • Create a walking tour with Google Street view.
  • Upload your Screencastify videos to Flipgrid.
  • Upload your Screencastify videos to Edpuzzle to create interactive video lessons.
  • Upload your Screencastify videos to Seesaw.

Want to check out the online course and learn more?





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Flippity: A Google add-on to discover

Flippity is a free add-on that adds to Google Sheets. You can download it for free here.


This Google Sheet add-on (Sheets is the equivalent of Excel) allows you to create all sorts of games and tools for your students. Simple to use, it allows you to share the documents with students or even print them.

Here are some of my favourites:

  • the hangman game to review vocabulary
  • the flashcard option
  • the Jeopardy type quiz to review while having a little bit of fun
  • the Random Name Picker to select students in a fun way
  • the Wordseach and Crossword puzzle option to review vocabulary or have students create their own.
  • the Bingo game to review vocabulary

You do not need extensive knowledge of Sheets to use this tool. I love Google Sheets and Excel. I realize they are scary because they look like math and programming but you should not be scared! They offer lots of possibilities, even to second language teachers like me. 😉


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Emojis in the classroom?

I was unable to attend this presentation in Chicago at ISTE 2018 but the author of this blog generously shared his findings and presentation.

I am now sharing this article with you as well but also what I will try out in class. As an ESL teacher, I see lots of possibilities but also see possibilities for my other colleagues as well.

My favourites:

This game is played on a mobile device and asks students to quickly find the object that is named and place it in front of the camera. The artificial intelligence involved will determine if the article is the right one and if it is the case, show the matching emoji. The game is in English so it’s a great way to review vocabulary and have fun!

This site is not necessarily an emoji website but offers many possibilities in using them. It allows students to create a fake conversation that appears on fake mobile phone image. I see many possibilities with literature when students could be asked to imagine a text conversation. Students could also add to a story by adding a technology aspect to their writing. I will also check out how I can use this website as an exit ticket. I may ask students to imagine the conversation that would have followed what we have just done in class.

This website generates random emojis that can be used as writing prompts. It can generate up to 280 emojis at a time! A teacher could project this site or students could use it independently.

This website allows students to type a text and see it transformed with emojis. Students could then send that version to another student and see if the text is still understood!

To introduce emojis, I created this presentation that I am sharing with you. Please note that the text included is not mine and comes from the article mentioned in the introduction and that the source is also cited on the last slide of the presentation.


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No Zero Policy: My personal reflections

I recently came across this article from a great website teachers should check out: Edutopia

Edutopia had sent out a debate question on social media asking teachers what they thought of No Zero policies. Here in Quebec, it is also an issue. Urban Legends that say the ministry’s program says that zeros are not possible or that a grade cannot be lower that a certain percentage have some teachers upset and saying that we are creating a generation of lazy, entitled students.

Photo by David Pennington on Unsplash

Zeros were no big deal when I was student. Well, they were to my parents if I got one but I don’t remember any student or their parents going to the principal’s office for getting a zero. After all, if a student did not complete the work, that’s what they deserved… or was it?

The first question is ask is why we grade in the first place. The objective of any evaluation is to see if a student has reached the objectives of a task, developed a competency or acquired the taught knowledge. The grade itself is based on a rubric or evaluation grid of some sort with specific criteria linked to each letter or number. Giving a grade a not a punishment for not getting the work done… but what CAN be done when the work is not completed.

When I started teaching, I applied the same rules I had seen as a student and gave zeros…but it did it not always feel right. There were always exceptions that made me feel like giving a zero was not at all the human thing to do. I have seen students struggle with family life situations, having to testify in court agains a parent on the day an assignment was due. I have seen students battle depression and just not be up to it… Adults would take a leave of absence from work, yet these students came in and were expected to battle depression or anxiety and still perform. An adult battling these issues would get a doctor’s note and would be prevented from being fired (at least where the law is respected and human compassion is present). Yet it was ok to ”fire” this student with a zero?

The equity argument always comes up: but other students had to do the work and hand it in on time. The equity argument can easily be answered by: and do the other students have the same issues to deal with? Students are not the sum of  a list of assignments. They are children and teenagers developing. If a competency is not achieved, teachers need to figure out why and find a way to help them.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

It can be frustrating when a student has the potential, is totally capable but is not doing the work. That’s when other methods should come into place… but grade as a punishment? Fairness is a tricky thing.

In my English as a second language classes, I have students who come in and already speak English. They had parents who spoke English or English speaking family in the States or Ontario and my English class is very easy… Should I give them a zero if they don’t make an effort for an assignment?  Would that be representative of their competency in English? Or should I take a look at how I can differentiate the task to motivate them?

I love this quote at the end of the Edutopia article and it speaks to me. I teach humans after all… not content, not English as a second language really… I teach students and I want them to like what I teach them and I want them to succeed…Giving a zero? It’s possible… but hopefully a last resort!

“If you hand me an essay that’s really lousy, do I say ‘F, do better next time,’ or do I say ‘I’m not going to grade this. I expect a much higher quality of work from you. I wrote comments on it. Come to my room at lunchtime, and we’re going to work on it together, and then I need you to turn it in next week’,” Duncan said.

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ISTE Discovery: Factitious

At the ISTE 2018 convention in Chicago, I discovered a neat little website that teaches students to recognize fake news. The game on the site is very simple, after reading a text and checking out the source, students need to vote whether the text is fake or not.

As an ESL teacher, I see lots of possibilities! The text could be projected and read to students and students could vote as a class. With multiple devices, students could be placed into groups and could discuss and come to a consensus before voting. Students could also take time individually to read and then vote.  Since the website works directly on the web, it works with any device. A great way to teach students reading strategies but also to help them acquire 21st century skills such as critical thinking!


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ISTE discovery: Listenwise

Another great discovery at ISTE 2018 in Chicago: Listenwise.

Really useful for ESL teachers but also for language arts teachers, this audio resource is updated regularly and in link with current events. The free version allows teachers to share audio recordings with students with a link or by sharing it on Google Classroom. The premium version allows teachers to create groups and add assignments to the audio link. When you register on the site, you will receive a 30-day trial period that will allow you to check out the premium features.

Whether you use the premium or free version, the audio resources are varied and offer many interesting options to teachers and students. It is possible to slow down the speech and it is also possible to read the transcript. The transcript can be even be downloaded. It is therefore very useful for teachers who do not have access to technology in class since they can play the audio for everyone and print the transcript. If students use it online, they can choose to slow down the speech or use the transcript as needed.

The free version suggests discussion questions on the audio recording or comprehension questions. The premium version allows the teacher to add different types of questions such as multiple choice, short answers and even allows to customize the questions. Graphic organizers are suggested to help students take notes as they listen.

It is possible to search for recordings by theme or by lesson and the current events section allows you to find up-to-date items. The favourite section allows you to save audio files for later use and you can also share your findings using social media.

This tool reminds me of Newsela, another extremely useful tool, but with audio recordings. It is definitely something to discover so that we can offer students various types of texts!


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ISTE discovery: Tools for

I recently came across this website at ISTE. Someone gave me a nice-looking sticker but ISTE is such an overwhelming experience, that I can’t remember who did. After the buzz of ISTE wore down, I saw down and started checking out this website.

This database of tools available for teachers is visually interesting and easily to navigate. The different categories allow you to search for tools and gives you information about them such as the rating (on 5) if it is free or not and a link to the actual website. I really like the fact that you can sign in and add the tools to a bookmark section.

There is a section to suggest tools, one for teachers and one for companies. If it keeps growing, this website could become a really interesting resource! Consider adding your own favourite tool to the site!

Check it out!

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