Yo Teach! a nice alternative to Today’s Meet

I was very disappointed last year to see Today’s Meet disappear. This chatroom or back channel option was very useful in class with students during reading time. The students could ask their questions quietly about things they did not understand in the text or on vocabulary words using their devices and other students could still concentrate.

I really liked how students helped each other out and collaborated with comprehension questions and vocabulary. It allowed me to see what I needed to review with students as well.

Yo Teach!, which I have not yet tested with my students, seems like a great replacement to Today’s Meet. It even has extra features like muting or blocking a student which will help with classroom management issues. The sharing of images options is also great since it allows students to define a vocabulary very quickly. I will look into this website for my next reading class.

Here is an interesting article from the website freetech4teachers.com that presents a quick video on how to use this tool.



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A really useful background!

Do you know Classroom Screen?

Classroom Screen is a computer background that is very simple to use and can be very useful for teachers. It allows you to choose a beautiful looking background and add various functions for classroom management.  

  • You can choose the language you want it to be in so it can be used in ESL, English language arts but also in French and Spanish classes!
  • It offers many background images and even animated images
  • By adding our list of students, it has a random selection tool that can be used to select a student.
  • By linking it to a microphone, it allows students to see the level of noise in the classroom.
  • It can project a QR code for students to quickly download a document or load a webpage.
  • A drawing or text box allows you to add information
  • A pictogram tool lets students know if they are expected to work alone, in silence or in groups.
  • A traffic light tool can be used for behaviour management or to manage the level of noise in the classroom
  • A timer allows you to display how long students have to complete an activity.
  • And a clock allows you to display time and even today’s date!

Teachers can personalize the background by selecting what fits their needs. A really nice and simple tool to help with classroom management:)

and, it’s free:)


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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  https://avatarmaker.com/  and https://mybluerobot.com/ 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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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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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 Pedagogy.com

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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Ditch That Textbook-A Book Review

I love books… and yes the tech geek that I am still reads paper books. Not that I have anything against reading online but before I make the switch, I have to finish reading the 100+ books that are waiting to be read. I pick up novels, professional development and personal development books mostly and they become this huge pile of books next to my bed. Every year, I set a goal to read a number of books. Last year, I did not reach my goal of 30 books but read 28… which is not that bad. One of those books was Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller.

Funny anecdote about the book: I ordered this book over a year ago through Amazon. I bought it with two or three other interesting books that were most probably mentioned at a seminar or by friends and put them on my to-read pile next to my bed. When I finally got to it, I noticed that the book had a printing issue. Some pages were blank. I started reading thinking maybe this was a concept where we were meant to take notes but no… pages were missing. When I contacted Amazon, I was told it was too late to return the book for a year had passed… I was so sad. I contacted the author… and guess what? He sent me a free copy. A free signed copy and send some cool stickers along as well. What a great guy! I really wanted to mention it here so that you know what kind of person we are dealing with here. Made me want to read the book even more!

As a textbook author myself, I have to admit that the title kind of scared me. After all, since I wrote a few textbooks, I know that there is a lot of good stuff in there. The whole idea behind Ditch That Textbook is not to present an exposé against the material. It is also not about making sure your class become completely paperless and uses technology. It’s about embracing being a teacher, being creative, being innovative. For any motivated teacher, this is a: I am not alone kind of book.

As I read the book, it sometimes reaffirmed that what I was doing was good, sometimes gave me ideas, sometimes made me rethink things that were going on in my own classroom. Of course, some of the suggestions did not apply to me but the message always did. The author made me feel that it was absolutely OK to try things… but also to choose and not use some of the ideas presented. His reflections felt like talking to another motivated teacher and having someone understands what this passionate teaching is all about.

The Skype Mystery calls really intrigued me and I would love to try it in my classroom… The possible technical issues in my classroom(s) scare me a bit but innovation is all about getting over the fear, trying something new and adjusting.  I will also check out how I can incorporate Twitter into my teaching as well. I already use it for professional development but could use ith with students so that they communicate with others and not just me or the other students in the class.

The suggestion to use the chatroom Today’s Meet during silent reading was the first thing I tried and it is just great. My students can ask questions and not be stuck because of a word or certain passages and yet, are still silently reading and not be a distraction to other students…not that my students are silently reading every class! I just hated those long classes where students read in silence and I was left out. What a great way to still communicate and guide them! Something that technology allows me to do and that I could not do before.

With Teaching Like a Pirate, it’s one of the other must reads that I will recommend to colleagues and to the student teachers I supervise! It’s a book that I will have to schedule to re-read from time to time as well!

I invite you to follow the author on his blog here, or follow him on Twitter. I also participated in the Ditch That Textbook Summit which was amazing! It was my second year and was such a valuable professional development opportunity.


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Time management- in class and in life!

For the last 15 years, I have been juggling teaching full time, going to university and working part-time on writing contracts or giving conferences. Add to that raising a wonderful daughter as a single mom and you can see how time management had to become one of my strong skills.

Teaching requires lots of time management skills. From being able to juggle twenty questions per minutes from students to entering grades on time for the next report card, finding tools and strategies to help are essential. In my next blog posts, I thought I would share with you some the things that work for me and help me be efficient in life and in the classroom.

Time Management in the Classroom

It’s easy to lose track of time when managing 30 students in a class. I use timers a lot in my classroom for various purposes. One thing I like to do to help students stay on task and learn to manage their time is to use a timer that I project on the board. One of my favourite ones is the Online Stopwatch. It is simple to use and even has fun stopwatches like snails competing in a race. I found, however, that using the plain stopwatch was more efficient since some students became distracted by the cute and fun stopwatches. Be careful to set the volume at an appropriate level as well since the timer will make a loud sound when it is done. It will make students jump in surprise, but they usually find it funny.

I would not personally use an online timer during evaluations since I find it very stressful for students. I prefer to use it when students are working in groups. Like all human beings, it’s easy to get distracted when sitting with other humans. Admit it, if you sit with a team of colleagues, you will easily get distracted and talk about other things. It happens to students as well and it’s normal. When I use a timer, I’ve often seen students get back on task, by themselves, by watching how much time they have left and telling each other that they should hurry and get back to work. It’s always great to see them manage their time without reminders from me.

If the idea of projecting a timer on the board is too intense for you, asking a student to be your timer can also be somewhat efficient. Of course, you have to make sure you can trust this student. Simply ask him or her to tell you when the 5 minutes is up. It’s a little less efficient but is a good solution if you don’t have a timer at all or do not wish to project one. You could also assign someone in each team to be the time keeper. This way, you are teaching the students to manage time on their own. Students can use their watches or their phone (if your school allows it) or simply use the clock on the wall.

I also like to set timers for myself sometimes and not project it to students. If I am going to give students 5 minutes to reflect on something, I will set up a 5-minute timer on my watch or cellphone. I make sure the alarm does not ring and that’s why I prefer to use the vibrating mode instead of an alarm. I can then decide if students need a few more minutes or if it’s time to stop. It’s easy to get distracted while helping a student, for example, and give students double the intended time because you just did not see time fly.

5 minutes before the bell

When I first started teaching, I would often start an activity towards the end of the class, not realizing that the class was about to end. It’s a good thing to keep students engaged until the end of class but sometimes starting a new activity with only 5 minutes to go ruins the hook effect of the activity and means starting all over the following class, giving the students a boring sense of déjà vu. Timers can help if you set them on your watch or your phone to remind you that there are only 5 minutes left to class. Fill in that last 5 minutes with a wrap up activity instead. End with a fun exit ticket, a quick survey, a word cloud of today’s lesson or a quick game that helps to end your class on a positive and engaging note.

ICT Tip: for word clouds, I like to use Answer Garden since it is easy to use for students and can be set up quickly. If you do not have access to technology, you could have students create a word cloud on the board using dry erase markers or have them team up to create their own word clouds on paper. An easy activity that will also help review the vocabulary used in the lesson.

Being Flexible

Although timers can be of great help, they should also be used with flexibility in mind. If you plan a lesson expecting everything to be timed perfectly and for the student to be done in a certain amount of time, you will surely create extra stress and pressure on yourself. Some groups will go faster than others, some students will be finished way ahead of time while some may need extra time to complete everything. I cannot stress enough how important it is to walk your classroom. Check on students, analyze their work, see what they’re struggling with and stop the whole class for further instructions or strategies if necessary. Timers can be changed, paused, started again… they are flexible and so should you be!


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