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Pushing the Edge

Improving Worksheets and Building Speaking Skills with Seesaw

Screenshot of Seesaw functions along with a Pushing The Edge logo

How do we get beyond traditional teaching approaches when using tech? In this post, we’re improving worksheets and building speaking skills with Seesaw. We’re also thinking differently about our teaching.

This is the THIRD PART in my Using Seesaw in the adult English Language Learner Classroom series.

READ PART 1: How to Use Seesaw as Part of a Language Experience Approach (and Develop Photography Skills as well)

READ PART 2 :The Power of Video as a Language Learning Tool
(To Build Communicative Language Skills)

PART 3

Worksheets? Mmm, Not so Sure, Unless…

In a Preliminary adult English Language Learner class, Jim Shnookal and I tried out Seesaw for a few different purposes.

Initially we tried to replicate some class worksheets, where students labelled photos based on new vocabulary they’d been learning. 

However, we hit a few hurdles. Whilst students were able to type labels and affix them to the photo, by the end of the activity you couldn’t see the photo anymore and the labels were all covering each other. It was a real mess. 

There is the possibility of re-sizing labels and changing the font size within Seesaw (to make the page more readable) but this was particularly challenging for many of our students with their low-level computer skills. Here we learnt the value of having large photos and plenty of space for labels on worksheets. 

Another issue I’d suggest, is the limitations of a worksheet. If we’re keen to improve our students’ digital literacy, then I think we need to up the thinking and skill level required in the tasks that we design for them. With this photo labelling activity for example, we could:

  • ask students to video record themselves, pointing to each part of the photo and saying the appropriate word;
  • ask students to video record themselves in pairs, testing each other with the vocabulary, saying each word and spelling it.
    • Here we could teach them to ask the appropriate questions (What’s the name of this part?) or to give directions (Spell XXXX).
  • ask students to create a video teaching the new vocabulary to their peers;
  • role-play (where possible) the meanings of words. 

In adding these elements to the activity, it becomes much more of a speaking, listening and writing task. It becomes more interactive, communicative, and fun. 

Dialogues – Ah the Possibilities

With little pre-planning, we tried to use Seesaw for conversation practice. The results surprised us both. 

We put the students into groups of three. One of the students recorded the other two reciting a dialogue they’d been learning in class. 

As soon as filming began, there was a sudden transformation of the students. It was like they had switched into another mode, determined to speak clearly and with good intonation, and starting again if they made a mistake. 

Once recorded, students were keen to watch back their performance and to take on feedback from us. They then set about recording another iteration based on the feedback we’d given them. 

Later, I caught one student video-recording their video playing on the desktop computer. She was so excited to see herself in action. 

In terms of assessment, Seesaw enables you to print out a page containing a still photo from the video, with your comments, tags and a QR code so you can watch the video later. 

Key Learnings

Step It Up with Seesaw 

As an English Language teacher, I’m much more interested in how my students can use Seesaw as a vehicle to demonstrate their learning in action, where they’re actively using language in real-world communicative contexts.

I want to therefore use Seesaw to encourage higher order thinking and application. The SAMR Model (as discussed by Kathy Schrock) is a useful reference point here. A worksheet is a worksheet wherever it’s located. Substituting an online copy (of a worksheet) for a paper version isn’t stretching our students much.

INSTEAD, think how you can embed speaking and listening into the task to make it more communicative and interesting.   

Start Small and Build

The excitement of a new tech tool can sometimes entice us to try it out with the whole class at once. Here I’d suggest stepping back. Work with a small group while the rest of the class work on tasks they’re familiar with.

This small group teaching approach enables you to trial and trouble-shoot the new tool, finesse your teaching, and not get frazzled because everyone in the class needs your help (usually at the same time).

There’ll always be tech problems that emerge (this is normal). And what seemed like a solid way to teach something can go awry (this is normal too). So start small, work through the kinks, and experience success before stepping it up a little more. 

Seeing and Hearing is Key

So often in our English Language Learner classrooms, students are using their new language but they’re not actually seeing themselves do so.

Over and over, my students have worked with a fierce determination to improve their pronunciation, intonation and presentation skills because:

  • they’ve seen how they look and sound via the videos we’ve recorded;
  • they’ve received timely feedback;
  • they’ve been supported to improve or re-do their videos. 

This improvement in English language skills is also connected to having authentic purposes for communicating, and real-world audiences that actively engage with what is produced and created by students. 

Many of my students have been resistant to recording themselves and to then watching themselves. However, over time they’ve come to learn how integral critical reflection (along with feedback, practise and re-doing tasks) has been to their improvement in learning English.

Seesaw offers tremendous possibilities on the video and audio front for our English Language Learners. I’m looking forward to designing new projects that take full advantage of this functionality.

Building Speaking Skills with Seesaw and Other Tools

Building my students’ communicative skills has been a key focus within my adult English Language Learner classroom.

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