Actively Learn


Using WEB 2.0 Tools in teaching reading


I work in a university in Turkey. For my action research project, I explored a tool called “Actively Learn” which is a web-based tool that enables teachers to enhance reading by adding comments, questions and other items into online texts. Teachers can customise instruction, provide real-time feedback, allow peers to collaborate, and get analytics on student performance. Reading is transformed from a passive activity to an active, collaborative one. I integrated this piece of technology within my classes that focused mainly on the teaching of reading skills.

I use many web-based tools such as “kahoot”, which is useful for practising and revising vocabulary and grammar. I also use tools for speaking, listening and writing; e.g. “quill”. Actively Learn, on the other hand, is the first web-based tool I used for reading. It is a thrill – at least for me – that students are doing something different to what they conventionally do on printed material. I used the tool with B2 level university students who are competent in using technology and willing to experiment with it in class. 16 students attended the classes.


I teach academic English to Foundations Year Programme (FDY) students ranging from CEFR A2 to C1. The students study a locally-produced book and read an average of 20 paragraph long academic texts about various subjects such as psychology, sociology, education, science and history. These texts can be demanding for students and can be challenging for the instructors themselves, too.

The students have the opportunity to use technology during their study at university. Students and instructors are given a free laptop. Newly admitted students are given training in using the technology available on the campus. In each classroom there is always a projector, a sound system (speakers), Ethernet cables and connections. Wireless Internet coverage is everywhere within the campus.

The Process

Most of my students are externally-motivated when it comes to reading long academic texts in class and they often express how boring and tiring this can be. My challenge in the project was to implement some sort of technology that would not only motivate but also engage my students in reading classes. Therefore, I started thinking about reading-related technological tools.

In using Actively Learn I had to first upload a text (see Figure 1).


Figure 1 Workspace


In one of the classes the text was about “The Silk Road” (Figure 2) so I found some informative short videos on YouTube that would reinforce the text. In Actively Learn you can embed YouTube videos and/or add multiple choice, true/false, or open-ended questions in any part of the text. These can be put between paragraphs and students cannot proceed with the rest of the text before they complete these tasks. In this instance I used comprehension questions. (See Figures 3 and 4).


Figure 2 The text


I realised that students perceived the task more like one that involves watching some videos and answering questions rather than a reading task. In this case, I had to find a way to balance the amount and type of tasks. Therefore, for a reading text I put one or two short YouTube videos and the rest of the tasks were comprehension questions.


Figure 3 True / False questions


Figure 4 Comprehension questions


I used Actively Learn with my students four times. Only four students experienced all four texts and the others fewer times, either because they were absent or forgot to bring their laptops and had to share with one of their peers.

At the end of the semester, I collected data anonymously via SurveyMonkey. I used five open-ended questions to find out about their experiences with Actively Learn.



I was aware that students are given so many questionnaires all the time and that I had to make sure that they would participate. Therefore, I waited until the end of semester and asked them to complete the survey in class. Unfortunately, this put extra stress on the project limiting the available time.

I wanted to hold interviews with some of the students but I realised I did not leave enough time because students had already left after they completed the survey at the end of the semester. I know that next time, I would complete everything in advance.

Secondly, in terms of findings, the project taught me not to have any expectations at all about the findings after research. As I have a highly positive feeling for technology use in class, I expected the students’ reactions to be all positive. What surprised me is that although many students reacted in a positive way saying that they found the tool very beneficial, three students showed very negative reaction. To me, this means that assuming all young people will like using technology in class is a false expectation. One participant stated that “it blunts your writing and scanning skills”. I presume what they meant is when doing tasks there is no actual writing with pen/pencil on paper. However, the same participant found copying and pasting answers as a useful feature. Another participant disliked the idea of reading on the screen but liked the feature that enables all students to see each other’s responses to tasks. Finally, another participant showed extremely negative reaction to the tool rejecting it completely without providing any justification.

In terms of positive responses, apart from the usual answers such as “yes, it’s very beneficial”, a prominent finding is that technology can contribute to student autonomy since using this tool they feel less dependence on the teacher as the response of one participant indicates: “dont run around the teacher for answers are correct or not”. Vocabulary learning, too, was mentioned in several responses. Students can highlight and right click on a word to see its dictionary definition. In addition, students can, as was mentioned in a participant’s response, study the text in chunks divided by tasks.  The participant found this to be a very effective and memorable way to study reading and used the following words to describe Actively Learn: “useful, clear, fun”.


During the project I learnt that the whole process of doing action research was in many ways very beneficial for me as I was given the opportunity to collaborate with other researchers in this project via Skype, Facebook, and other means. I was able to explore a tool, do research and get findings.

I learnt that teachers need to be careful when choosing technological tools for their learners. What I had in my mind and what the tool could offer were not the same. I was originally looking for a tool that would enable me to send questions to specific students at any time. I thought the tool called geddit would suit my need. Not only it did not but as of 2016, the tool also ceased to exist.

When I changed the technological tool I had selected to use in the project, I had to change my research question, too. It is in the nature of AR that one might have to change one’s research focus. Knowing that I could change it made me feel relaxed but I also became aware that a change of focus might put constraints on the timing of one’s project.

Students’ mixed reactions to the use of technology in reading classes helped me understand that not every student might appreciate it. Moreover, some students can be so much exam-oriented that they might find any method other than the traditional ones as a waste of time. However, I believe that there should be a fine line in terms of balancing the use of technology in class. For instance, if I use Actively Learn from time to time I believe I can spice up the reading classes. It is a powerful tool as it helps students interact with the text and read it in chunks – letting them have some break between long paragraphs. Therefore, I will keep using it.

Finally, I have learnt that doing research or at least collecting feedback after introducing students to a technological tool provides insights into how effective your teaching can be for students.


Pin on Back


This is an activity I made up having been inspired by another activity using strips of paper. I have always been interested in catering for the kinesthetic learner and this activity suits them perfectly. I called the activity “pin on back” because it requires the use of pins. This may sound strange and also pins can be dangerous so especially with young learners it’s better to use blue tack or sellotape instead. With adult learners, I have never encountered a problem. Pins are used merely as a tool to attach the strips of paper on the back of a student and an opportunity to joke saying “we’re going to play a game where you’ll pin your classmate when they get an answer wrong”. OK, let me take you through the activity now.


Pin on back is suitable for all sorts of contexts. That is to say, it can be used for any age groups, at any level, and for any skill (I have used it mostly for reading, grammar, vocabulary but I’m almost sure that all skills can be practiced). Pin on back is also suitable to use in general English, EAP, ESP, and YL.


Basically, you need a task either in soft or hard copy. Whether it’s soft or hard copy, you can edit it in a way so that you can cut strips of paper after printing. The idea is that there should be enough space for margins. The task could be multiple choice, T/F, gap fill, sentence completion, sentence/word transformation, or open ended questions, etc. Here is an example:

  1. Lisa and I ……….. to a match last night.

a) go          b) went         c) will go


Here are some videos where students and teachers enjoy my “pin on back” activity.

Gazi University ELT conference participants enjoying my “pin on back” activity


Terakki ELT conference participants


SLTEP participants


My students



  1. You need to be very careful with the instructions. You can use the instructions below as an example:


2. Your music should be ready to start the activity.

3. You need to have the answer key ready.

4. It’s a good idea to ask the participants to ready a piece of paper and pen/pencil before the activity starts.

5. You must emphasize that the participants must write the number of the items as they answer. Also, you can tell them that they do not need to answer the one on their back. (Alternatively, you can give them numbered paper.)

Goal Setting With Students


At the beginning of each semester, Foundations Year Program students at Sabanci University School of Languages have to attend a goal setting tutorial, which is among many other tutorials such as Learning Portfolio and writing. In this tutorial, as the name suggests, students are expected to come up with their goals and talk about them with their tutors.

I developed my own approach to goal setting in addition to the standard task sheet provided for the instructors. In a nutshell, I make a contract with my students. I give them a piece of paper and explain that I want them to write some sentences that start with “I will”. They need to know that the duration for fulfilling these goals. In my case, this is two months. I let them know that their statements can be considered as promises they make and that I would check in the middle and at the end of the allocated time period whether they keep their promises. To make it look serious I ask them to write their full name, date, and to sign the paper. We call it a “contract”.

Here are some points to consider:

  • Students need to know that they should only write attainable goals that they think they can manage, in other words, they should not promise anything they can’t keep.
  • Students need to be aware of the fact that their goals should be as realistic as possible.(For instance, one of my students today wanted to write that he would learn 200 words in one week. I told him that it makes 40 words a day. He agreed that it’s too much and accepted my suggestion to keep a vocabulary notebook instead.)
  • Students are not allowed to write sentences starting with “I will try…” as it doesn’t suggest a promise.
  • Students’ goals should be as specific as possible. Examples could be “I will watch 4-5 episodes of English series every week” or “I will read two intermediate level books in one month”.
  • Students are asked to take a photo of the “contract” (using their smart phones) so that they can keep their copy.

Here are a few examples from my “Route 2” students who are pre-intermediate level.


Web Based Activity on Common Cold


I’d like to share a web based material in this post. It’s best suitable for intermediate and above levels. Students will need to use, ideally, a laptop with the Internet connection. They can, however, use their mobile devices and in that case you may advice them to download one of these browser apps since the websites they will surf during the activity require flash player.

You can email the material or share it on a platform such as padlet, moodle, google drive, etc. Instructions are included in the material; however, you may inform your students that they will do a series of reading and some quizzes on the knowledge of common cold. Ask them to take notes because they will use their notes when preparing their posters as a follow-up activity.

web activity common cold (MS Word format – docx)

web activity common cold (PDF format)


Follow-up Activity

The follow-up activity is basically a poster presentation. I ask them to do it using their notes and MS PowerPoint; however, as well as paper poster you may ask them to use tools such as tackk, canva to prepare their posters. I show them the poster sample below and ask them to design their poster in a way that it should attract passing students/instructors that they would stop and look at the poster on the walls of the corridors of School of Languages. The fact that their posters are being displayed motivates them.

poster presentation sample

I also ask students to “save as” their PowerPoint files as “jpg, jpeg, or gif” file so that they can be color printed in A3 (preferably) or A4 format. The print outs then go on the corridor walls to be displayed.


3 Tools to Explore This May


In this post, I wanted to share some of the tools I made a shortlist of during May with a brief description and ideas for implementing in my teaching.


1. Spellup: This was introduced on May 13th as a new word game and Chrome experiment. I first tried it on my iPhone and I had to type instead of spell and some letters were behind some icons inaccessible. When I tried it on my laptop with Chrome, it worked best as it was described (also on Android and tablets.)

Ideas: I’m planning to first demonstrate it in class. After some time, I might devote one lesson for a spellup competition. I’ll use 3-4 laptops, placed in front of the class, with groups of three students. I’ll have to plug in and out the sound cable whenever it’s a groups turn. Each time one person from the group will come to the front and use their laptop to compete.

I’m not planning to use this game in class for individual work or for early finishers. Instead, I will recommend students to play this game outside the class.

quill_logo2. Quill: This is another tool I heard of in May. I think it’s not about writing skills but more to do with practicing grammar through typing. At first, I got excited presuming that I could upload students’ long writing assignments and get them correct their mistakes and get feedback. In reality, there are some Quill worksheets that you can assign to your students. Yet, this is extremely useful, because you can monitor students progress from your dashboard. You give your students a code so that they do not need to sign up.

Ideas: I think I will use quill for homework. Students can do these worksheets on their own and I can monitor their progress. In fact, I assigned them some worksheets to be finished in two days time about subject-verb agreement, which is a common problem amongst my students.


3. Chalkup: This is a nice tool to create and assign written tasks; check students’ papers and give them feedback and numerical grades. This is similar to Edmodo, which I personally don’t feel the need to use since we can assign written tasks and run them through turn-it-in using Moodle, which is more than enough. What really attracted me about this tool is the integration with Google Drive. We use Gmail at school so all teachers and students have easy access to Drive all the time. Plus, the annotator for feedback is something that Moodle lacks.

Ideas: I am planning to use chalkup for setting regular short writing tasks for my students.

Update for Chalkup: When I tried to sign up, I was asked to choose my school. There’s an “international” option but my school name was not listed. Send them an email and be patient, because the next day it’ll be there.

Scheduling emails to be sent later


Recently, I had a situation where I needed to attend to some official paper work the appointment of which was at the time I was teaching. I couldn’t estimate how long it would take so I was not sure whether to postpone the lesson, or ask my teaching partner to take over, or simply give them a task and return to class as soon as I am done. Since I thought it would not take long and maybe after the first lesson I could continue with teaching, I decided to go with the last option.

However, the problem was informing the students. If they were informed before the lesson, there’s a chance that they wouldn’t turn up. I had asked them to bring their laptops and the task I prepared for them was perfect for self-study individually or in pairs/groups. So, I started to search for sending scheduled emails. The first thing came up was “boomerang”. I didn’t have much time, so instead of exploring more, I installed the extension immediately. This gives you one month pro trial.

Soon, I found out that my school account on Gmail does not support this extension, so I had to use my alternative Gmail account. I copied and pasted the contacts and composed an email to be sent at 8:30 am, which is 10 minutes before the lesson starts. The email explained the situation and asked them to start working on the task attached. The task required them to search on the Internet about some endangered species, choose one from the list and prepare a PowerPoint presentation based on an outline provided. They had a lesson time to do the task which I assumed wouldn’t be enough for a proper task completion. Yet, keeping in mind that there could be early finishers, I composed another email scheduled to be sent at 9:30 am, which is the end of the first lesson. In the email, I asked them to first go to “geddit” and check in there, and to state whether they finished. I could see their check ins from my phone while dealing with the paper work. An early finisher task was also attached in the email scheduled to be sent at 9:40, which is after the break, and students were informed that this email would come in the previous email. This was preparing “kahoot” questions for the vocabulary for that lesson’s input. To take the attendance, in the email I asked them to go to the chat room I had opened in our section “moodle” and type that they were there. I also set the chat room to be visible at the end of the first lesson. My final email scheduled to be sent later at 10:30 am was just in case I was still not there. Since I arrived before that I deleted it.

In sum, using “boomerang” and with some extra arrangements, I could do a distant lesson. It required some prep work. Another situation could be that you might be on the move at a time you need to send en email, such as an exam result to students.

For scheduling emails another tool is “rightinbox“. Both boomerang and rightinbox are subscription based services and allow you to send limited number of scheduled emails per month for free. Also, if you are concerned about privacy, these are not very suitable for you since you grant them access to your inbox. An alternative idea I found on the Internet is using Google Sheets, which is explained in this post.

How to use “boomerang”

Go to and click on “install boomerang”. It’s explained well step-by-step. After the installation, compose and email as usual, you’ll see the following “send later” button:


When you are finished composing your email, click on “send later” and schedule your email:

2014-05-19_1204When you choose the time of the email and click on “confirm” you will see this message:


That’s it, you don’t need to do anything else. If you want to see and edit your scheduled emails, click on the “boomerang” icon and click on “manage scheduled messages”: