Practical Teaching Ideas

Peer Grading in a Speech Class using Google Forms

2015-01-22 11.03.18A simple way to increase student involvement during a speech class is to have listeners fill out a form answering questions about the speech content. Another idea is to engage students in peer assessment. This can reinforce the skills being taught and reduce the burden on the teacher for a fair assessment of the speakers[cite num=”1″].

As an example, I often use the textbook Speaking of Speech[cite num=”2″]. The text is fairly straightforward, and the skills taught are universally useful. I have created a Google Form based on the skills taught in the text which I use for peer assessment. I share it with my students using a QR code. A template can be found here. All that remains is to add a list of the students names in the first drop-down list.

Grading based on this form can be done in Google Sheets using basic formulas such as:


peer assessment sheets

Additionally, results can be sent to a chart and shared back with students.


Also, a summary of responses can be had from within the from creation app.

peer assessment sheets

A look at the summary of responses from one class grading session can show major trends. This can help to pinpoint areas which may need additional attention in a course.

summary of responses

In conclusion, Google Forms can be used to increase students involvement with the course through peer assessment. It can also provide useful metrics for both students and their teachers to assess progress.


  1. [cite num=”1″ return=TRUE]Toping, K. (1998). Peer Assessment Between Students in Colleges and Universities. Review of Educational Research, 68(3), 249-276. Retrieved from
  2. [cite num=”2″ return=TRUE]Harrington, D., & LeBeau, C. (2009). Speaking of Speech. MacMillan.
Practical Teaching Ideas

Teaching Digital Literacy with Inanimate Alice


An extremely useful and engaging resource for teaching and learning about digital literacy, ICT, and language, is the interactive multimodal fiction series Inanimate Alice. Some have declared that, “there is nothing else like it on the net,” and I tend to agree.

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The main Inanimate Alice website <> allows students to interact with each of the multimodal episodes where user interaction is required to advance each story. The website also contains:

  • A gallery of student and teacher created content, which students are encouraged to contribute to.
  • A series of interactive travel journals which follow Alice, aged 18, during her gap year in Indonesia and Japan. The journals contain a mix of audio, visuals, films and interactive word games.
  • Links to associated sites where students can download templates, images and sound effects in order to create their own Alice adventures, for example:
  • A link to the development blog for the latest Alice episode so that students can provide input and ask questions.

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Most educators are extremely familiar with the teaching and learning goals of language and ICT. However, many are not as confident when it comes to the idea of ‘digital literacy’. Digital literacy does not replace traditional forms of literacy, “it builds upon the foundation of traditional forms of literacy”. It is much more than just the combination of the terms, digital and literacy. A digitally literate person possess a range of digital skills, they have the ability to engage in online communities and social networks, they possess critical thinking skills, and perhaps most important of all, they are able to find, capture, evaluate, and interpret information. To follow is a short practical guide for how to use Inanimate Alice in an EFL or ESL context.

Some important things to keep in mind before teaching with Inanimate Alice include:

  • Most episodes have been translated into Japanese, Indonesia, Italian, Spanish, French, and German. These translations are easily accessed and give teachers and students the opportunity to move between the student’s first language and the one which is being learnt.
  • There is plenty of support for teachers that wish to use Inanimate Alice which includes a Facebook page, various classroom blogs, various teachers’ wiki sites, and educator packs which are available from the official Inanimate Alice website. Examples of these links include: Facebook, university sites (here, and here), ICT and educational reviews, and school blogs.
  • There are currently five episodes completed, with a sixth in production, and a plan to make a further four. The episodes span Alice’s life from the age of eight through to her early twenties. The stories become more complex and more interactive as the episodes progress.
  • There are many approaches that can be taken with this resource, which include: literature and narrative study, developing English language skills, development of reading skills, creative writing, group discussion and collaboration, digital literacy, social studies, and personal development.

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One approach that I have employed is to use Alice as a way of introducing students to digital literacy, while at the same time developing their English language skills, reading skills and discussion skills. Whenever possible, I try to use a class blog or wiki as the means by which students complete work during a teaching sequence involving Alice. My teaching sequence usually follows the following plan, with each session being between one to five lessons long.

Session 1: Introduce the print version of Inanimate Alice.

  • Discuss the title of the story – Inanimate Alice. What does the title mean? Do students recognize any words, or parts of words? What information can we obtain from the dictionary? What do we think the story will be about?
  • Read one-third of the print version as a whole class. Have the students generate questions and ideas (T-chart) about the story as each part is read. Model questions and ideas as necessary (think aloud).
  • Have students read the remaining two-thirds of the story in groups and allow them to discuss and share their ideas. Groups are asked to write down three important questions and three important ideas from the remaining two-thirds and post these on the class blog.
  • Reflect on the work produced. Discuss inference and ‘reading between the lines’.


Session 2: Introduce the digital version of Inanimate Alice.

  • Watch Episode 1 of Inanimate Alice using a Smartboard or data projector with the whole. I generally prefer to watch it first with no sound, and then a second time with sound. This enables me to discuss the different elements, and how the visuals and audio add/create different ideas and feelings.
  • As a whole class compare and contrast the print version and the digital version.(T-chart, or through blog entries)
  • Have students reflect on the various strategies they used to make sense of the two different versions.

2015-12-05 (8)From here, depending on how much time I have, I usually continue with sessions such as; Session 3: Narratives and the structure of stories, Session 4: Inference and reading between the lines, Session 5: Creative writing and writing an episode of Inanimate Alice, and Session 6: Making our episode digital. For ideas about how to expand these latter sessions, or for other approaches to Alice, I would strongly suggest looking at the two educator packs that are available for Inanimate Alice: Pack 1and Pack 2 These packs will aid you if you seek to use Inanimate Alice to teach digital literacy, character development, making connections, building schema, to teach critical thinking and evaluation.

The first pack contains resources and lesson plans, focusing on the development of digital literacy. There are four lesson plans in this resource, addressing:

  1. Connections between story and medium
  2. Linking narration and autobiography with sound effects and music
  3. Multimodality and autobiography
  4. Character development and progression

Each of these plans is supported by a number of ready-to-use student resources.

The second pack contains a additional four lesson plans supported by ready-to-use student resources. These cover:

  1. Exploring character development and paragraph structure
  2. Appreciating difference; cultural differences, oral stories and podcasting
  3. Adolescent and young adult issues, for example: peer pressure, friends and school
  4. Life skills; focus on transportation

I strongly recommend that you and your students take the time to interact with Inanimate Alice by visiting

Practical Teaching Ideas

Netflix for Extensive Listening

With Netflix now available in Japan, at ¥650 a month (¥950 for HD), one should consider recommending it to students for extensive listening. One of the highest and simplest correlations for language learning is time of exposure to the target language. With a wealth of material, Netflix allows for plenty of listening time and choice.


As teachers, it would be wise to give some specific recommendations, depending on the students. Master of None is the hottest new television show in the US. It Aziz Ansari, previously in the hit comedy Parks and Recreation, is a 20-something Brooklyn resident with parents from India. It deals with race and human relations in a sweet and funny way, without making fun of people. It does, however have some rough language and a few sexual innuendos, which would be advisable to warn people about if they are sensitive to such things. Best, though, to show students how to read reviews of the TV shows so they are aware of the content before they watch. They could use Netflix, or IMDB, or Common Sense for parents, or choose from another 10 sites. You could even contrast reviews with sites like Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.

The best TV series in the last 10 years is Black Mirror. Netflix allows people to watch many episodes in a row (called “binge watching”) without commercials. Not recommended for Black Mirror as it is so intense, a series of near-future science fiction dystopias. But for something light, a sitcom like the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, one could watch the 20-minute episodes alone or in a bunch. Netflix allows you to watch on your desktop, laptop, mobile.  With an adaptor like Google Chromecast or Apple TV, you can watch on your regular TV.

Language support is in the form of English Closed Caption subtitles, and for most foreign content, Japanese subtitles. Sadly there are few English subtitles for Japanese content for those learning Japanese.

There are also thousands of movies available. This could conceivably entice students away from their traditional two hours a night of Japanese prime time TV, the quality of which we are all aware.



A teacher could even start a movie discussion group by buying a class set (Premium Subscriptions can be used by 4 people at the same time. See above.) for a short time (minimum 1 month, but you can quit any time), and giving the student the login information. You might think of using a release form or other to protect yourself from accidental exposure of material to sensitive students.