I ❤️ Emojis – using emojis in the foreign language classroom

A great deal has been written about the use of emojis in the classroom but I think that they are particularly useful in the MFL classroom.  Images are often used in second language learning in order to prompt oral or written responses and at GCSE and A level students gain greater marks for expressing their opinions about various topics.  Over the years, try as I might, I have been unable to express emotions on keynote presentations or on worksheets very well. The advent of the emoji has done away with all that worry, emojis are the perfect way of tapping into the teenage zeitgeist and encouraging oral and written work expressing likes and dislikes. Here are a few ideas that I have used successfully in my classroom.  None of them are new but it’s often good to gather all ideas into one big blogpost!

Emoji sentences: Emoji sentences have no words in them at all.  They can work well in a number of ways.  Students can be given the emoji sentence and they have to write or say it in words or the teacher can say a sentence or pupils can read a sentence and students have to “translate” it into an emoji sentence.

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You can extend this idea and provide emoji paragraphs for example;

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Je m’appelle David et j’habite une grande maison nous avons  un jardin et un garage. Au premier étage il ya une cuisine, un salon et un bureau Au deuxième étage il y a quatre chambres.

This task works well the other way around too, where the students are provided with the text and they have to add the emojis,  It’s a good way of testing understanding of vocabulary as well as providing them with longer texts to read.

Emoji bingo and emoji OXO also works well.  In bingo, provide the students with various emojis, the teacher reads out sentences in the foreign language and the students cross off the emojis when they hear a sentence which they think fits the emoji.  The catch comes at the end  when they call lotto they have to provide a suitable sentence for every emoji that they have crossed off. OXO works in a similar way but in teams.


My students also like playing a team game that we call first to the board.  Split the students into 2 teams. Students open keynote and in a new presentation choose the slide that has a large title and a subtitle. In the subtitle I get them to put their name. The teacher says a sentence in the foreign language and students type their emoji sentence into the large title box.  They then have to mirror their iPad to the main screen in the classroom.  The first student to successfully display an accurate emoji translation of the stated sentence wins a point for their team.

Apple recently released a new and rather brilliant app called Clips, its fabulous for using in the languages in classroom in many, many ways. My friend and fellow ADE Simon Pile used Clips brilliantly to create emoji ‘guess the film title’ mini films which can be seen here. This then gave me an idea about how Clips and emojis could be used in tandem in the languages classroom in a guess the sentence style mini film.  Take a look. They are really easy to make and are great for using as starters!

Emojis are also perfect to use in speaking tasks.  Try adding emojis to something like the Decide Now app or Last piece app the wheel can be spun and the student has to either use the word for the emoji in a sentence or they have to translate the emoji sentence into the foreign language.  You could even spin the wheel 3 times and the displayed emojis have to form part of a story. I also love Lucie Renard’s idea for using emojis to create guess who boards for students to play which once again, is perfect for language learning.

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These are just a few ways that I use emojis in the classroom. Let me know your ideas!



10 ways to use Explain Everything in the Languages classroom

jpeg-image-dbc4671fd4a5-1Last week @joedale and experimented with the podcasting app Anchor.  Our slow chat was called Explaining Explain Everything.  You can listen to the chat here please feel free to join Anchor and join in with the chat – the more the merrier!

This blog post is designed to accompany the chat.

  1. Mirror your iPad to the main board in the room and use it just like an interactive whiteboard. At the end of the lesson, save the slides and share them with your students so that they can review the work they did in class at home.
  2. Create a screencast.  Hit the big record button on Explain Everything and record a screencast for your students. By tapping the record button Explain Everything records every pen stroke/keystroke that you make as well as your voice.  Screencasts are a great way to provide grammar notes and resources for your students, they are also a brilliant when using the flipped classroom model
  3. Get students to show what they know.  Consumption is all well and good but in my view it is when creating that students have the most learning gains. Students can use Explain Everything to create their own screen casts showing what they have learnt in a lesson or series of lessons.  It’s a great way for a teacher to understand any student misconceptions.
  4. Animate.  Animation is relatively easy in Explain Everything; record your screen whilst dragging hand drawn images onto the slide and adding speech.  When drawing in Explain Everything be sure to tap the finger image at the top of the tool bar after you have drawn each image or all the pictures ‘stick’ together. If students keep forgetting to do this (and mine do) they could draw in Paper 53 app and then export to camera roll with the background off and then import into Explain Everything.  It sounds more complicated than it actually is, believe me!
  5. Annotate and explain. Annotating and explaining is simple in Explain Everything. Imagine that your students have not done their homework very well, simply take a photo of a piece of work and import it into Explain Everything.  You can now annotate this work using the pen, highlighting and pointer tools.  You could do this activity on the main screen in your classroom with your class present or record your thoughts and annotations and share them with your students via your school VLE, Google Classroom or similar.
  6. Students can complete a similar activity by talking through their thinking on a piece of work or an exam question.  They can explain how they tackled a homework or an exam paper and they share their video with you. It’s a great way to get inside a student’s head and discover their thought process.
  7. Explain Everything has an infinite canvas which is great for creating more complex animations but in doing so giving the students more scope to talk in the target language. My students used it to talk about their home and surrounding area.  They began by describing their bedroom and then zooming out to describe their home and finally zooming out yet further to describe their village or town. I wrote about this here
  8. I have already mentioned annotating in Explain Everything but did you know that you can import a webpage into Explain Everything? It will scroll just as a webpage should but you can annotate, highlight and make voice notes too. I use this facility when asking students to explain how they tackled exam questions.
  9. It’s easy to draw in Explain Everything  so why not try some  sketchnoting with you class you could even get them to record themselves explaining their sketchnote in the target language.  My classes and I have used sketchnoting very successfully when introducing new vocabulary and also for explaining grammar points
  10. Similar to above why not get students to label a photo in the target language again they could record themselves using the vocabulary on the photo in phrases or short paragraphs.

Half a world away. VR helping to cross the cultural divide.


I live on the Isle of Man and this is going to be our year of going global and yet we aren’t ever going to leave our classroom.

I was fortunate enough last year to meet a fellow teacher Rosie Kolster, she came to the island from Muscat, Oman to see how we use iPads in our MFL classrooms.  It was a great couple of days and at the end we agreed to attempt a project between our students.

Sometimes with real beginners in second language learning connecting with native speakers can be difficult for them and as result I have found that making connections with other early stage language learners can be highly motivational. Rosie and I decided that our students would make ebooks about themselves and we’d simply swap them.  Rosie’s class filmed some fabulous videos using green screen whereas my class decided to show our Omani friends our school and our town through the use of 360 photography . Our work was added to bookcreator app and once complete, exchanged.


The mere mention of 360 photography or video is often followed by groans from educators around the world as it is seen as extremely costly.  The cheapest 360 video cameras come in around £300 and most school simply can’t afford to have sets of them in their classrooms but working with 360 photography needn’t be expensive and  it can still provide those wow moments for students.

When my students made their 360 photos they used 2 tools;

  1. Google street view app
  2. storyspheres.com

Making 360 photos using street view is very easy. Open the app and tap the big yellow camera. Next select camera; a white circle appears on the screen move your screen until the white circle aligns with a yellow dot, once aligned a portion of the 360 photo is taken.  Continue to do this whilst moving around in a circle; don’t forget to look up and look down so that you get a full 360 experience.  Once you have taken your photo it appears at the bottom of your screen, tap it and then tap the export button.  Select share privately and add the photo to your camera roll.

Now it’s time to add the photo to storyspheres.com

At this point I should like to point out that like all the best ideas, this one is ‘stolen’ When I say stolen, what I mean is that someone far more experienced and knowledgable pointed me in the right direction with easy VR for the classroom.  I’m lucky enough to be able to call her my friend and she is undoubtedly the person to follow on twitter for any help or advice regarding VR in the classroom so, stop reading for a moment and start following @virtualsarahj and tell her I sent you 🙂

Storyspheres allows you to upload 360 photos and add a sound file to go with your photo – which makes it perfect for use in the languages classroom.  You need to make an account then follow the simple steps and upload your photos and sound files.  Now that you have your story in storysheres you can share the link.

For our project with Rosie’s class we didn’t add a sound file as the children were adding voice recordings in the Bookcreator app. In order to share our photos the students took a still photo for each 360 photo and we used this in Bookcreator to link to our 360 photos in Storyspheres.  Rosie tweeted me yesterday to say that all she could hear in her class when her pupils opened the photos was ‘wow this is so cool!’ it enabled our Omani friends to become immersed in our world. They could stand on Ramsey beach or at the harbour or in out assembly hall and get a really good idea of what our town and school are like.  360 photos and VR can help to build empathy and understanding and help us to cross cultural divides.

Here are some of our 360 images made using Street View and uploaded to Storyspheres

School Playing fields

Mooragh Park, Ramsey

Ramsey Harbour

Ramsey Beach

Some of my students have never left the Isle of Man so projects like ours with the British School Muscat help to open their eyes to a whole world, one that they could never previously conceive and although VR is no substitute for the real thing it’s certainly one step closer than a still photograph or a film.

If you are interested in using VR in your classroom. There are a number of resources that are well worth a look at.  YouTube now supports 360 videos and there are  numerous videos worthy of a look.  Street view meanwhile, will show you how many 360 photos there are in any particular area.  So, you could look up the Eiffel tower and tap on a 360 photo and be taken there.  Google Expeditions ,a new kid on the block but brilliant for use in class.  This free app allows you to lead your class on an expeditions pointing things out as you go.

If you’d prefer your students to create rather than consume take a look at cospaces.io Here,  students can create 360  virtual worlds which they can then ‘walk’ through using the cospaces app.  Please note that students have to create using a desktop or laptop but they can add sound and labels. I have yet to use it with a class but it has great potential and I have booked our computer suite this week so that Y8 can give it a try another blog post will no doubt follow…

In the meantime enjoy throwing the windows and doors open on the world with your students using VR let me know how you get on!

Know knows and unknown knowns


I have always wondered if it’s possible for students to teach themselves a modern foreign language.  My concern has always been that it would be so tricky for students to find their way around the complexities of language learning without becoming frustrated or despondent.  Moreover, I always wondered how they would cope with trying to pronounce words that they had never come across before. With all this in mind,  I set about a little experiment.  I have 2 Y8 (students aged 12-13) classes.  I decided I would allow one class to teach themselves with guidance from me for one lesson and the other class would be taught by me.  It was hardly the most scientific of experiments but I was keen to see what would happen.

Prior to the lesson:

Each class had revised how to form regular -er verbs.  I felt that had they not had this grammar knowledge the task could have become overbearing for those that were ‘teaching themselves’

The lesson:

Objective: to be able to say where members of your family work and what job they do.

The class that were not having the traditional language teacher imput were given specific things to find out.

How to say he works/ she works as

How to say she is/ he is

How to say he works/she works in

How to say 10 places of work

The class could use whatever materials they needed.  I left them to it.

My classroom is set up with tables in groups of 4.  The class soon got to work looking for ways to discover the words required for the task.  Many used iPads but others rather more cannily selected text books and in a large number of cases traditional French dictionaries were used.  Inevitably some students declared the task to be easy and went straight to Google Translate.

After 5 – 10 minutes I started to discuss each group’s findings with them.  Most groups struggled with the tasks that included a verb (note to self, more verb work needed) but the discussion that ensued was really fruitful.  How do we work out each element of a regular verb?  What do we need first?  Where will we find the infinitive? All of this reinforcing work that we had previously done in class  and all very valuable.

When it came to the nouns questions arose about gender and how to find out if a word was a noun in the first place (further note to self more dictionary work required!) Some groups looked words up using an online dictionary and then double checked using a paper dictionary.  This gave them confidence that the words they had found were correct.  Google translate user largely found (mainly because I told them) that what they had written was nonsense.  Google translate was soon sidelined by most groups – this was a good lesson to learn!!

Pronunciation was the tricky bit, as predicted, for all groups.  The French word to work is travailler and is reasonably hard to pronounce. Most students tried to rely on their knowledge of French to get them through this element of the task some students used the accessibility feature voice on the iPad that enables text to be read out to the user.  Text to voice has come a long way and although the French accent isn’t perfect it’s pretty good. Try it out for yourself. In my view, students would need much more time with this tool in order to perfect the pronunciation.  In fact, activities would be required to help students achieve the pronunciation required and one asks oneself whether it would be worth giving up the required time to achieve this when it could be achieved in more efficient ways.


Is it possible for students to ‘teach themselves’ French? Yes it is.  I say this with the caveat that pronunciation undoubtedly suffers.  The class that I taught in the traditional way have a better grasp of the pronunciation than the independent learner group.  Both groups of students retained the information well but I think the independent learners have shown better recall overall of all elements of the task especially the grammar aspects.  As a teacher, I enjoyed having the time to have the conversation with students and being able to push them in certain directions without giving them the answers, I think some really strong learning took place at these points in the lesson and I need to find more ways to ensure that this happens more regularly in class. The independent learners worked at a much slower pace and there’s nothing wrong with this, in fact I applaud this but the curriculum is packed an we have to get through ‘stuff’ in order that students can sit tests, exams and all the other usual education nonsense.

Would I switch to this method of working from now on? No, not all the time but it clearly does have value and I will continue to incorporate it into my planning from time to time. I enjoyed the discussions with students and they enjoyed the discovery element of the task but the poor pronunciation from the independent learners concerned me a little.  One thing this has made me consider more strongly is the idea of flipping my classroom which will enable the discussions but should cut out some of my concerns about pronunciation so, watch this space.



Super simple apps for speaking practice


Using technology in your classroom does not need to be tricky.  The number 1 thing to get to grips with is a workflow.  If you use iOS devices look no further than iTunesU or the rather fabulous Showbie. If you operate in a mixed economy and are a GAFE school Google classroom is without doubt, the answer or failing that Google Drive.

Tablets and iPad are the perfect companion to any MFL lesson. It’s like having your own personal language lab all squeezed into aluminium and glass. Many teachers find using tech overwhelming but it doesn’t need to be, there are many ways that tech can very simply enhance the work of the MFL teacher and his/her students.

Speaking is a big deal in MFL, we ask our students to do a lot of it although some of them positively hate it or are embarrassed to engage.  Moreover, it’s difficult, as the teacher, to get round every student and hear then speak in the foreign language in one lesson.  Tech can help you overcome all of these difficulties.  There are many recording apps out there that are simple to use and can slot perfectly into a lesson without taking up lots of time.  A large number of these apps allow students to ‘hide’ behind the technology or make new personas for themselves thus resulting in confident speaking performances rather than the whispers that you might get from them in whole class speaking tasks.

Here are a few of my favourites:

VR pro Voice record pro

is a simple recording app which integrates with Google Drive and drop box plus many others.  You can easily trim your recordings within the app should you need to.  I use this app to record all my GCSE exam speaking tasks.  It’s a super stable app and very easy for both a teacher and students to use and thanks to Drive integration easy to share too.

Yakit icon Yakit kids

I have written about this app before and it’s a firm favourite with my students plus it’s quick and easy to use.  Using this app students can make inanimate objects talk or even make photos of their favourite teen idols speak!  The great thing about this app is that two objects can be animated on the screen at one time which allows students to create paired speaking tasks.  The resultant videos can be saved to camera roll and uploaded to your chosen workflow system.


This is a relative newcomer.  It enables students to put filters over their faces in order to ‘become’ someone different just like the filters in Snapchat.  Some of the filters can be a bit scary so check out this app before using with younger students.  The app allows you to record short videos and download them to your camera roll.  It’s a very straightforward app to use and will definitely encourage some of your more reluctant speakers to speak.

Voices-icon Adobe Voice

I love the super simple interface of Adobe Voice however,   In order to use this app you need to sign in.  I have created my own account and all students sign in on this account, this is how Adobe recommend you manage the use of the app.  Adobe voice allows students to tell stories using simple icons (from the noun project) and voice recording.  My students can create a recording in 5-10 mins and upload it to our Google Classroom no fuss, no faff!


My favourite of favourite apps.  Incredibly simple to use.  You can make beautiful text books or the students can show their learning in book format.  You can combine books to make a whole class book and you can use this app together with other apps to make incredible interactive books.  At its most simple, this app allows students to make books or single pages using photos, videos text or voice. These can be downloaded in epub, pdf or video format ready for sharing.  Please note that if shared in pdf format the interactive elements will not work thus defeating the object of your speaking task!

Explain_Everything_Interactive_Whiteboard_Icon-1024 Last but by no means least is the app to end all apps Explain Everything.  There is nothing you can’t do with this app.  Sadly it’s iOS only.  I use this app in class for many, many things but in terms of speaking activities students use it to create simple animations or even simpler still they can record their voice and write the key phrases on the screen in the target language.  I also use the app to demonstrate pronunciation I then share my video with my students so that they then have a record of how to pronounce some of the trickier words in French.  The app also allows me to highlight the silent letters and point out French diphthongs and triphthongs.  All resultant videos can be saved to camera roll or directly into Google Drive, Drop Box, You Tube and many more. The sky is your limit with this app!

All of the aforementioned apps have been tried and tested with a variety of students in my classroom.  They work well and enable the student to focus on the learning not the technology.  Of course none of the above will work well if you have not considered why you are going to use them in your lesson.  Pedagogy first, technology second; ALWAYS.

Edtech enables


It was half term so, a battering for edtech from those who have never used it in their classrooms was well overdue. 

I can only speak from experience as an MFL teacher but I have some questions for the detractors…

Can you listen to every child in your classroom speak in the foreign language every lesson and have a clear understanding of how good their accent is? I can.

Can you easily correct the pronunciation of each child giving them audio materials of how they can improve & give them exercises to support? I can.

Can your students listen to authentic French materials and have control of when to pause and rewind the dialogue so that they can try to understand it more clearly? Mine can.

Can you set work in any of the 4 skill areas and watch as the students’ results arrive thus giving you instant feedback and allowing you to change your teaching there and then to support their needs? I can.

Can your SEND students easily express their thoughts and ideas without having to actually type or write thereby giving you a very, very clear idea of what they are actually capable of because the thing that holds them back has been removed?  My students can.

Can you keep a constant flow of work available for students who are off with a long term illness thus making their return to school that much easier? I can.

How long’s your feedback loop?  I guess a week at best.  Mine’s usually 3 days but it could be a matter of hours.

Can you create text books specific to your student’s needs? I can.

Can you share your student’s work with the whole world?  I can.

Can you mark your students’ work from anywhere in the world?  Provide feedback and also view the responses from students?  I can.

Technology in my classroom facilitates learning within the 4 walls of that room and out with them.  It is not the be all and end all, it is a tool which I decide when to deploy to best effect.

As an aside, I am an ADE but I don’t get paid by Apple and I was using technology to support the students in my class long before I became an ADE.  I regularly look at other forms of technology which I think will be useful in class but for the moment, in my opinion, iPad is the best on the market for use in education and yet there are elements of the Apple ecosystem that I really don’t like.  I work in a GAFE establishment (Google apps for education) this suite of apps is fabulous and I readily recommend its use to anyone. I am not a Google Certified Educator.

Using iOS accessibility features in the MFL classroom

IMG_1341The iPad is an amazing tool however, some of the native apps and features are often overlooked as we all head to the app store to download the latest must have app.

The iOS accessibility features are incredible and they are of course designed to enable those with disabilities the chance to enjoy all the fun and function of an iPad/iPhone.  As teachers and especially as linguists we can tap into some of these features and use them to increase independence and confidence with our foreign language learners.

Speech function.

The speech function, when enabled will read out selected text for the user.  Good news for linguists – it will do this in any number of languages!

Here’s a quick video showing you how to enable the speech function

NB. if students are listening to a text from a Google doc.  The document must be in edit mode for speak selection to work.  A doc is in edit mode when you tap the blue pencil in the bottom left hand corner of your screen!

Ideas for use of speech selection in class

  • Rather than using a keynote or power point presentation students can use speak selection to introduce them to new vocabulary
  • if students are unsure how to pronounce something speak selection can be used to help them. Great for if you, the teacher, is busy or if they are working at home.
  • Students can also slow the speech rate down in order to fully comprehend how a word or sentence is pronounced.  Be warned if they slow the rate down too much it can have a detrimental effect.
  • Students can listen to a text as it is read out to them. Great for improving the link between the written and the spoken word especially in languages like French with so many silent letters!


Another great iOS accessibility function is the speech to text function.

On the keyboard you will see a microphone symbol.  When you tap on this you can simply speak into your iPad and it will convert your speech to text.  If you want the iPad to type in French please ensure that the French keyboard is enabled.



Ideas for using speech to text in class

  • Great for practicing pronunciation.  Is the text on the screen showing what the student has said into the microphone? Students can then repeat the phrase until the iPad correctly types it. Try it yourself with a really anglicised French/Spanish/German accent and you’ll see what I mean!
  • Checking for mistakes.  An iPad is a computer and is no substitute for the human brain.  Once students have spoken the word or phrases get them to check the text over and correct it if required!

These are just a few ideas. Let me know if you think of any more.