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Hi, and welcome to our blog. This space is designed to share ideas and methodologies that we use to teach Turkish teenagers. In particular, there is a strong focus on ICT-ELT, which means if you like visual and technological support for your style of teaching, this blog is for you. My colleague, Brentson Ramsey, has been working alongside me for three years. He is also a big proponent of the ICT-ELT Paradigm, which means he will also be posting from his own teaching perspective on the blog.

2010 was the beginning of this new journey, and although there is no definitive ICT-ELT road map available for everyone to follow, it is exciting to explore the technological means to make teaching more fun and affective for students. Our main message is for teachers to ADOPT & ADAPT the paradigm shift for their own needs, and remember that

Wednesday, 19 February 2014


When working with teenage Turkish EFL students in a private high school, Academic Writing is a very important aspect of the teaching/learning process.  Certificates like the European Driving Licence, although good for adults wishing to relocate to an English speaking country for work, it simply doesn't get students to the appropriate level for university should they wish to study abroad in places like UK, USA, AU, NZ, SA. etc...So, the duty of all EFL/ESL high school teachers is to teach ( not expect!) their students how to write essay-types from various genres in each of the four years of high school.  This should start at running personal narratives leading to mini-opinion pieces at the end of seventh grade, and then moving on to simple organisational models for academic writing that include discourse markers (for writing), expected norms of syntax and phraseology; but never too restrictive to remove the creative process and autonomous nature of personal writing.

Before I share the activity, I must vent a little about this subject.  Unfortunately too many of the teachers I have met in my double-decade here believe that students come to them equipped with the necessary tools to write well-organized essays. However, and naturally so, THAT IS NOT THE CASE!  The majority of, if not all, EFL students, and teenage native-speakers for that matter, have to be taught and shown how to organize their essay writing, and this takes a lot of time, plus great patience (on the part of teachers), as it is NOT an easy thing to do (for either party). So teachers, please stop just assuming that your young teenage students can write an organized essay for an assignment or exam, when they arrive in your class at the beginning of the year. It simply is not the case for most, and they need to have extensive feedback (preferably on more than one draft and with Video Feedback to boot) over a month for each piece of writing, and...oops, my vent is turning into a rant. 
I will stop here and get on with the activity that I want to share with you for now...

I am aware that what I am about to share with you is generally my answer for everything "engaging": VIDEO PROMPTS.  But, that is because I have found that it does offer a pseudo-solution to lethargic, bored and uninterested teenage students, and lead them into classroom-activity engagement.  So, although I can hear many of you thinking, "oh not again; not another video prompt; give them a story any time, it's better etc etc," please take a look at this short film from the mid-70s, which is based on Jack & the Beanstalk & is titled: This is the House that Jack Built.  

Please watch it below.  The lesson activity will follow..


The thematic considerations of this short movie-fairy-tale are obvious to even the most unassertive and lethargic EFL-student.  The themes are, but not restricted to:


Depending on how vocal your students are, you can further scaffold the Writing Activity that follows, by having a discussion with the themes stated above, or have the students group-discuss the themes they, themselves, have identified.


The myriad types of essay organization, used in academia, have been well documented. The choice of the "5-paragraph essay" for teaching purposes by many teachers, school-boards and examination-committees, has in my opinion offered many EFL/ESL students the opportunity for a standardized organizational model.  It has both opponents and proponents; especially from those teachers and students who hate to be constricted by external forces.  However, the framework does offer up the opportunity for students to understand that all good academic writing must be well organized.  It is the expected norm that students' opinions and/or findings can never usually hold up unless coherence and cohesion are shown to be well understood.  Thus, I provide this basic structure as a strong model for my students, then start moving out of the framework and expanding on their ideas as the main focus for assessment.

For this activity I have organised the writing response around a 4-PARAGRAPH organizational model as seen below:





We gave this organization-exemplar and model for the students to write their own responses on the weekend using Penzu Classroom, our writing journal cloud.  However, unfortunately, only one student from the whole class was able to recall this framework when they left for the weekend break.  Even though we posted the       BLENDSPACE TUTORIAL on Edmodo for them to flip the instructions and work with at home.

So, the results were really weak, and both my colleague and I felt disheartened. However, the perfectionist in me, and the OCD-nature of Brentson, kicked in and we thought of another strategy to try and get them interested and engaged in the writing process: A Group-Google-Doc.
But, before that, rather than railing into them, which falls on deaf ears in any case, I prepared a simple reflective Blendspace that asks the students what they need to do...

We intended on focusing this further piece of scaffolding as one that only looked at organization & cohesion of the 4-paragraph essay/response.  

Since we have our (new) classroom organized for management and group work already, it was an obvious next phase of the writing process scaffolding we have found ourselves in. FIVE Groups with either 3 or 4 students in each one.  Their task was to watch another video, and prepare an ICT-supported Group-Google-Doc.  

Here is the second video:

Now, being that these are 14-15 year olds, and Amnesty International is not known to them, the reason this works is by having the post-watching focus on the power of a person's signature, which is the thread that supports the main theme of human rights abuses running through the video.  We also gave the Thesis Statement that they would have to work around, plus 2 Essential questions for the main body paragraphs.  

I am aware that we give them a lot of scaffolded support at every turn, but that is exactly what I am referring two in my rant (in red) at the beginning of this post.  As teachers, we really need to focus on many aspects of writing before assuming they "get it."  It is difficult for teenagers of 14-15 to write effectively in their mother-tongue, let alone in a second or third language.

The Thesis Statement we provided was:

                                "If WE don't approach our responsibilities to others 
                                 with seriousness, people will never take US seriously." 

EQ 1                     "Why are our signatures so important?"

EQ 2                     "Do you think that all humans, no matter which country they live in,                          should have the same rights?"

Now the students were set up, and all they had to do was confer, delegate who would write each paragraph, and fill in the 4-Paragraph order.  ABRACADABRA & HEY PRESTO, we got some really great responses.  So, we opened up the Google-Docs this morning and did a 30-minute reflective lesson, with the whole class looking at the others' Doc via the SmartTV.  We believe in this transparency for such an activity, even though some students can get embarrassed, since it is a group activity and  they have the opportunity to see that everyone is in the same boat when it comes to this academic writing activity. 

ROLL ON ONE WEEK after two intense workshop-lessons on the Writing process, planning and organization of students for their own academic writing.

Here is an example of one student from the class, Sinan, who went onto his computer (unprompted) to make his plan.  There are a couple of grammar issues, but that is certainly NOT a problem. He has the idea and the plan is concrete. Well done young man! It appears that this week's (essential due to little or no effort last week) has had some effect. We shall see on Sunday, but if Sinan's plan is anything to go by, it all looks extremely promising.  
I would just like to add a thanks to my colleague, Brentson, who helped make this week a great one for Hisar Hazirlik.

                                                                                                       Sinan Orhun, 2014.

So, as I close this latest edu-post, you can be safe in the mind-set that I have not given up (yet) on my attempts to introduce different response-types within the Academic Writing Process to my Turkish teenage-students.  It does beg the question of how much scaffolding students need though, and it is a lesson to learn from this experience.  No group of students are fundamentally the same in any respects.  We need to always be aware of that fact when we needs assess and reflect on what and how we approach lessons.  I will endeavour to keep this in my tool bag from now on as we go forward.

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