Toolbox: Interactive boxes

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I’m the type of teacher who loves using envelopes, slips of paper and boxes. I’m always carrying materials like these to my classes, as I believe that they can be used for many purposes. Last year I attended a session about ‘learning boxes‘ in a Training Day for teachers and since then I was thinking about how to integrate this idea together into my lessons. At that time, my colleague prof. Juanjo Rabanal popped in my office to ask for my opinion about types of activities which could be carried out in the ‘Jornadas de Educación’ (Education Workshops), which are held once a year at the university where I work, and a light turned on in my mind. Why not turning ‘learning boxes into ‘interactive boxes’?

Interactive boxes are plastic or paper containers in which we put a task or activity. Students need to be able to carry it out without any lecturers’ help, and the task should ideally involve cooperative learning. Boxes need to include clear instructions about what students need to do to produce a learning outcome. Another characteristic is that time is restricted (that makes students go to the point and collaborate!). Instructions can be included as a paper worksheet, a digital file in a pen drive, a link to a video you have previously recorded, etc. Once students read the instructions and negotiate its meaning in their group, they start working to complete the task. In the box you may include objects they need to use in the activity. In this case, as we were working on interactivity, we used ICTs together with other objects, for example, a mobile phone, a tablet, a laptop, a measuring tool, etc. To make things more challenging, prof. Eva Peñafiel contributed to the project with an added difficulty using geocaching. In that way, students were given the coordinates of the location where the boxes were hidden (this was the first step to start working). We were really happy with the results of this experience, and it looked like students were finding it quite innovative.

My second try with interactive boxes was in a Postgraduate on-campus session.Lecturers from different departments created cross curricular activities which revolved around the topic ‘Scientific Expedition Trips‘. Students were divided into groups and given an explorer’s pack (introduction to the activity, a map with the places where the boxes where located, and a tablet). Once they read the instructions to the activity, they had a limited time to complete the task. For example, I designed an interactive box with fragments of real texts taken from diaries written by explorers. Students had to create a comic strip using photographs and an app to create Comics. Students created freeze frames and took pictures. When we finished the activity, teachers and students had a round-table discussion together. This was guided by the analysis of the activities carried out and the discussion about their design, usefulness,etc. One of the best things was to discover that many students were thinking about adapting this activity to their teaching contexts.

From a linguistic point of view, cooperative learning sets the best context to make participants use expressions related to negotiating meaning, giving opinion, praising others’ ideas, or encouraging peers to participate, among others. Also, it is advisable to encourage participants to reflect about what they have thought and felt while involved in the experience, and to encourage them to come up with more ideas to create new boxes they may use in their lessons.
Are you thinking about using this resource? Have you already used it? Was it successful? Would you like to have more ideas to develop it? I’d love to hear from you.

Interactive boxes are resources full with possibilities
Interactive boxes are resources full with possibilities


Cool Graphic Organisers

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Every time I test my students on their preferred multiple intelligences, I discover they are more and more visual. I believe that our students are increasing their visual intelligence thanks to new technologies and we should be able to cater for these characteristics (without forgetting that all the rest should also be tapped). In the past years, I have found out that graphic organisers are extremely helpful to develop students’ visual intelligence while also improving their metacognitive and cognitive skills. Unfortunately, many of the visual organisers found on the Internet are so plain and simple that I really prefer not to use them. They are not motivating at all! That’s why I’m sharing this fantastic collection of graphic organisers with you. Have a look at the Ice-cream organiser or the sandwich one. They are really nice and students love to work with them.


Ready to start

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Let me start by wishing you a wonderful academic year 2013/2014, full of exciting lessons, great learning moments and interesting projects.

It is now two weeks since we started classes in my University, and one of the things I hate most of these days is that I have to make students read one dull document we call “Study Guide”. It is basically the syllabus of the subject, and students find it pretty hard to organise all the information all their lecturers are giving in just a few days.

This summer I thought about more dynamic ways of making them read the document and understand what is written on it!, and I would like to share some of these ideas with you, just in case they are working for any of the reading activities you’re planning to carry out in your courses.

1. CHECK-IN POINT. This is a list of four-six questions my students have at the end of the document. They go through them to check if they have understood important information contained in the Study Guide. These questions can also be used as a TRIVIAL PURSUIT activity. The teacher divides the class into groups, and they get points for each question answered correctly.

2. QR CODES. I don’t know about you, but my students cannot be separated from their mobile phones. You can divide the study guides into different parts and covert the text into QR Codes using any app, for example this.

3. THREE, TWO AND ONE. This is an activity I use in many situations, when finishing a lesson as a recap, when starting a lesson as a warm-up, as a reading comprehension activity, etc. It is so useful in my lessons, that I created a poster with to have a nice visual to use with my students.

My 3,2,1 poster
My 3,2,1 poster

You can download it here

4. STUDY GUIDE CUT-OUTS. I prepare a blank copy of the study guide, leaving just the headlines. The body of the text appears in paragraphs. Students have to stick each paragraph to the correct section. This makes them read, understand and classify the text.

5. FIND THE MISTAKE. I make some changes to the original version. These should be crazy and funny, so that students can easily identify them. For example, you may include a crazy aim, such as ‘to be able to fly to the Moon’, or ‘to write Harry Potter’s prequel’ 🙂

6. JIGSAW ACTIVITY. I divide students into pairs. Student A and Student B have half of the information contained in the Study Guide together with a set of questions. They ask each other to complete the information which is missing.

I hope you find these ideas helpful and practical, if we are lucky, we won’t have to answer that very last question. “Is there an exam in this subject?”



Towards a literacy-friendly CLIL classroom

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This is the title of the session I’ll be in charge of at the TESOL-Spain Convention to be celebrated in Bilbao. I’m really thankful to University of Dayton Publishing for sponsoring my talk and support my work in many ways. The materials UDP is introducing to the Spanish market through S.M. are really interesting, well-designed and suitable for CLIL contexts. I’ll be using some of them in my talk, and we’ll explore and discuss how literacy is being developed in early years (infant and first cycle education).

As always, I hope to share my experience with participants, get them involved in thinking and exploring ideas and resources, and learn from them ways to keep on helping them face the challenging CLIL classrooms.

CALP in the classroom. Academic vocabulary

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Source: Boaz Yiftach I am now involved in the fascinating task of enhancing my students’ Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. Although it is supposed that students at tertiary education have been exposed to this type of languagefor many years, it comes as a surprise that they return written assignments using poor and basic vocabulary. It is time to expand their vocabulary and help them build up appropriate discourse.

At the moment I’m using two strategies. One is to provide students with Academic Phrases (sometimes related to Oral Language, sometimes related to Written Language) in small cards. Students are asked to laminate and compile them. This is proving successful in some cases, specially for the written assigments (not so much for the oral ones).
Another resource I’m using is a web my colleague prof. Ana Halbach suggested:
It can be very useful to spot academic language used in text and to raise students’ awareness on the use of vocabulary and structures.

Finally, I’m also researching on didactic materials for Infant Education. I was curious to know if they are developing CALP in any way. Many bilingual teachers have told me that the vocabulary included in textbooks for this level is not useful for their “classroom life”, and does not help to develop cognitive skills. I find this a really interesting and intriguing topic.
What about you?
Are you CALP-aware in your lessons? Do you work on CALP? What has proved successful to you?

Source of image: <a href=”Image: Boaz Yiftach /

“>Boaz Yiftach /

BoW! Bilingual Open Workshops at the Escuela Universitaria Cardenal Cisneros

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BoW is a new initiative of the Bilingual Project at the Escuela Universitaria Cardenal Cisneros (Alcalá de Henares, Madrid). It is Bilingual, because Workshops will deal on aspects related to bilingual education and CLIL in infant and primary level.

It is Open because in-service and pre-service teachers, as well as Teacher Training Students are welcome.

It is a Workshop because we want to look at the practical side of education by providing resources, tools and materials, and FOOD FOR THOUGH to reflect on our practice and improve it!

We open our BoW Workshops on 17th November 2011 (from 17.30 to 19.30) with a talk given by Alexandra Basile, who was collaborating with us in our I Bilingual Campus. The Workshop will be centred on literacy and storytelling and has been entitled: BRING STORIES ALIVE IN THE BILINGUAL CLASSROOM.

If you are interested in attending this session, you can register at the reception desk (EU Cardenal Cisneros) or, if you are unable to register onsite, you may contact us using our e-mail:


Bilingual Campus at our Teacher Training College (11th-15th July)

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Up to  now we’ve been offering one week 30-hour courses on specific topics related to Bilingual Education. This year we wanted  to host a richer and more varied event, and that’s why we decided to offer a BILINGUAL CAMPUS at our Escuela.

The Campus is organised into two different sections. In the mornings we have Discover CLIL, focused on developing workshops working on different subjects through English; and in the afternoons we offer Discover English, interactive and dynamic sessions to practise your English and get to know more strategies to help your students’ produce correct output and build up their confidence when communicating in English. The morning sessions are divided into two, one programme has been designed for Primary teachers, and the other for Secondary Teachers.

Registration is now open, you can have more info here. If you have any question, you can write an e-mail to