Archive | April 2014

Storytelling with Puppet Pals HD on the iPad

As many other EFL teachers do, I encourage my students to participate in storytelling to practise the narrative tenses.  Some students don’t find it easy to let their imagination run wild.  This may be due to the limitations of their English language skills, or a personality trait; perhaps they’re shy, or it may be down to their cultural background.  To help students overcome these obstacles I like to give them prompts.  These will usually be photos or pictures taken from one of the many EFL resource books or cut out of a magazine or newspaper, for example. I ask the students to work in small groups and to find a way to connect the pictures to create a story.  This first part of the task is strictly oral.  I encourage them to let their imaginations run wild and to work together to come up with an interesting story.  Of course, I also encourage them to think about which tenses they should be using, but I prefer to encourage fluency rather than accuracy at this stage.

Once they have worked through their story, I ask them to appoint a ‘secretary’.  The others in the group use the pictures to remind themselves of the story they came up with and narrate it for the secretary to write down.  This is when accuracy comes in to play.  Students are encouraged to help each other use the correct tenses when telling the story, and I monitor and help with the grammar.

The text then becomes the script for the Grand Production!

Puppet Pals HD is a great app for creating animations of your students’ stories.  There is a free version and a paid version.  Of course, you can do more with the paid version but the free one will suffice.

So, what can you do with the free version? This version includes seven fairy-tale characters and three backdrops. You choose the characters you want and the backdrops, and then you press ‘record’, move the characters around and bring them to life by telling your story!

The paid version has more characters and backdrops, on different themes. It also allows you to make characters and backdrops from your own photos. So much more flexibility. If your department has a budget for student apps, it’s worth adding this one to the list. There is lots of fun speaking practice in it! If not, as I said, you can still work with the free version.

My students got very creative and had a lot of fun. They even added a soundtrack to the story by playing music in the background on another iPad!

The finished productions were then shown on the big screen (interactive whiteboard!) for all the class to enjoy!


Puppet Pals




©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.

Project-based learning on the iPad

I wanted to give my students a ‘real-life’ task to do to develop their English language skills; reading, writing, listening and speaking, and also their critical thinking skills.  Planning a holiday is something which many people, in developed countries, do at some time in their lives. So, this is the task which I set.

I used Pages ( to outline and describe the task, and sent a link to the document to my students so that they would each have a copy to refer to.

The task was aimed at Pre-intermediate level (CEFR B1, and above.  The amount of guidance and support needed would, of course, depend on the particular group of students.

The outline included:

  • A description of the family who wanted to go on holiday.
  • The areas they were interested in visiting.
  • Their budget.

The students were then given prompts as to what they would need to think about and organize:

  • Destination and duration
  • Type of holiday; adventure, city, beach, etc.
  • Preparation; vaccinations, visas, etc.
  • Modes of transport; hotel transfers, etc.
  • Accommodation type
  • Activities and excursions
  • Spending money; food, souvenirs, etc.

Students were told that they must stay within the allocated budget.

The whole project needed to be completed on their iPads, so suggested apps were: Safari for finding out information or photos/videos, Google Maps for deciding on destination, and Notes for collecting and organizing their findings.  Students were, though, free to use other apps if they wished.

The students worked in small groups and, generally, shared out the work between them.  They were free to organise the work in any way they wanted.  Cloud storage apps such as Box or Dropbox are great for students to share work and build projects together remotely.

The project culminated in the students presenting their planned holidays to the rest of the class using Keynote (  Students were encouraged to make their presentations visually stimulating by including pictures/photos and videos.  We discussed referencing in some detail.  The students I worked with at the time were not particularly good at making their own videos or taking their own pictures, so they tended to just find them on Google!  This is something to watch for.  Some students can be very imaginative and creative, and will develop their own multimedia, but, if not, they need to be made aware of copyright issues when taking things from the internet.

How much class time is spent on this project depends on you, the teacher.  After the initial introduction, discussion and clarification, students should be able to work alone. Just make sure you set a time limit, and date for the presentation!

The students were very motivated by and interested in this project. I caught one girl on the phone in class.  When I asked her who she was speaking to she said she was speaking to a travel agent about flight costs!  Everyone loves a holiday!

Buddha beach c                            cocktail c


Beach cafe c





©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.



More campo meanderings

Another beautiful day, so we decided to wander a little further on our morning walk with the dogs.  Of course, it meant walking up a very big hill!

The path began gently…



We saw some bee hives…





We stopped for refreshments…



and enjoyed the warmth of the sun…before the real ascent began!



I was far too hot and out of breath to take photos while we were climbing!


We arrived!



And our reward was the views!

View3 View4


We had a little picnic breakfast while we were up there, and we discovered a discontinued marble quarry…

289 317


There was lots of wild lavender up top, and a thousand bees were enjoying it!



The dogs had a great time investigating the brush and hunting out lizards!



And much later, when we were back home, there was a beautiful sunset…





©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.


Vocabulary on the iPad for EFL learners

Soon after we launched the iPad as a sole tool for teaching and learning, my supervisor, at that time, asked me to present at the upcoming iPad conference being hosted by the college.  Much to my relief, as I had never presented at an academic conference before, the presentation was to be short, only 15 minutes.  There would be various presentations happening simultaneously, giving conference attendees the opportunity to see something different every 15 minutes.

At that point, I had not used an iPad in the classroom.  We had all be given iPads a couple of weeks previously, and most of us, having never used one before, were still learning all that it could do.  So, I was more than a little nervous about standing up and telling fellow professionals how to use one successfully in the classroom – in at the deep end…and all of that!

I needed to decide on an idea which would prove useful to EFL teachers, but was fairly simple to put into practice.  We were working on the assumption that conference attendees would all be new to using iPads in the classroom.

Flashboard  is a free app, which I had been introduced to by a colleague.  I had played around with it, and decided that I liked it!  It is simple to use, and useful for students learning and practising vocabulary.  So, I decided that my presentation would show how Flashboard could be used to learn and practise vocabulary, in the classroom…or anywhere else!

Flashboard is, basically, an app which allows you to create flash cards, and, as we all know, flash cards are a great way of learning and practising new vocabulary.

As I said, it’s simple to use, so I won’t go into the mechanics of it here.  Simply put – you/the students can create original flash cards within the app itself, or, you/the students can import pre-made flash cards from or Google Docs.  Students are able to get creative and design their very own flash cards in whichever way they want.  Just through the creation of the cards they are learning the vocabulary!

The flash cards can have a variety of combinations: a picture on one side and word(s) on the other, pictures on both sides, word(s) on both sides, etc.  The cards ‘flip’ and swipe.  It’s great for revision on the go!

My favourite thing about this app is that it has a ‘memory match game’ function.  You can turn any of your ‘decks’ into a game of Pelmanism!

How did my presentation go?  It went very well, thank you!

iCelebrate 2012

The following semester I used Flashboard with my students.  The majority of them loved it and got very creative.  By the time assessments came around, they had several decks covering different topics and units of the course, and were able to use them to revise.

Have you used Flashboard?  Can you share any creative ways of using it for teaching and learning?

Do you have any questions?  Please leave a comment!



©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.


A walk in the campo

There’s nothing better on a spring morning than a walk in the campo. Here, in the Sierra de las Estancias, there is almond blossom on the trees, and wild flowers are starting to spring up from underfoot. It’s a little gusty here today and the gusts are icy, but the sun is shining! It really is good for the soul!


The remains of a Moorish fort…





©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.


iPads for Teaching and Learning – an opinion

Tablets, smartphones and other technological gadgetry definitely have a place in the modern-day classroom (please remember that I’m speaking from an English Language teacher’s point of view!).  If you want to engage today’s young people (how old do I sound?), these gadgets need to play a part in your classroom.

I once had to teach a complete semester with just an iPad.  No paper, pencils, pens or text books, etc were allowed!  Nothing, except the iPad, for both teacher and students.  It can be done.  Both myself and my colleagues did it.  But, I believed then and I still believe that this is no way to teach the English language, or any other language.  It is not pedagogically sound.

Why do we learn a language?  Primarily, it’s to communicate with other people.  So, I like my students to communicate both with each other and with me.  The iPad promotes insularism.  Yes, I know you can communicate through social media and email, etc, and that is one area where the iPad can be useful in the classroom…for practising, certain types of, writing.  It can also be used to encourage discussion in a variety of ways.  However, the classroom provides the opportunity for students to communicate face to face and to develop their spoken language, which is especially important if they are in a country where English is not an official language and they will have little, if any, opportunity to practise outside the classroom.

It is extremely limiting, and creativity is stifled if teachers and students are not permitted to be eclectic in the classroom.

Teachers teach in different ways.  Students learn in different ways.  And we can all get bored without sufficient stimulation.  What happens when you get bored and tired?  You switch off.  You stop learning.  Your brain goes to sleep!  Diversity is key!  Providing a variety of tasks, activities and learning opportunities, using a variety of resources and methodologies keeps teachers and students on their toes!

You probably think that I hate the iPad!  I don’t.  I love my iPad!  I wouldn’t be without it now.  I also believe that it has a place in the classroom, and can provide variety and stimulation for specific tasks, but it must be used in a controlled and carefully planned manner.

Of course, during that and subsequent semesters, I learned a great deal about using the iPad in the classroom.  The different applications can be used in so many different ways.  Set things up correctly and you can keep tabs on what your students are (or aren’t!) doing.  You can set up cloud storage to easily share documents and videos, etc with your students, and they with you.  But more of that later…

What are your thoughts on iPads in the classroom?



©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucía with appropriate links to the source material.