Emails with Great Unintended Benefits 電子郵件意外得到的好處

For the past two weeks, students have been using the Autosum function in Microsoft Excel to add numbers. We first did this in class to calculate the total number of bronze, silver, gold medals some of the countries won at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Then, the students went “shopping” and created a chart that showed the total cost of items they selected from the Toys R Us website. For the final task, students visited and designed a chart that showed items that they chose for their parents and came up with the grand total. Here is what their final product looks like:

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So how could this lesson be used to promote writing skills?

Although I’m no longer a homeroom teacher, I try to seek ways to incorporate literacy into my IT lessons.  I thought our unit on Excel would be a great opportunity for students to email their parents to share what they have been learning. Although blogs, screencasts and videos are fancier tools for students to share snapshots of their school life via technology, I still find a simple email to be an intimate and personal way for students to communicate with their parents.

For this particular Excel task, I instructed students to write a descriptive yet concise email to their Dads on what they’ve been learning in IT class.  They were reminded of the rules around email conventions. They were then asked to recount their experiences of using Excel whereby they had to explain their task and give a brief set of instructions of how they created their work.  Finally, they described what they thought was tricky about Excel and gave suggestions on how Excel could be used at home.

Here is an example of a student’s email:



The end result showed emails of affection and intimacy in nature, reflective and thoughtful in the way the Excel task was described.  In comparison to students simply updating tell their parents about their IT class at home, this email exercise brought on greater complexity and critical thinking because it led to “more time for reflection and permanence of the written words”

After going through my students’ emails and their dad’s respective responses (being cc’d on the emails),  I realised the benefit of this task was much more than just a mere writing exercise.  Interestingly, students were excited to write emails to their Dads whom they don’t get to spend a lot of time with.  Research has shown that email communications foster psychological comfort, expression of personal ideas, opinions and emotions (as cited in ChanMin 2008). Although there was a clear objective to this emailing task, students were encouraged to begin with warm greetings, and add any personal messages to their dads.  Students took this to heart, and came up with nice openings such as “Hi Dad, how is your morning so far” or “Hi Dad, I didn’t get to eat breakfast with you this morning.”   The end result showed emails of affection and intimacy in nature, reflective and thoughtful in the way the Excel task was described.  In comparison to students simply updating tell their parents about their IT class at home, this email exercise brought on greater complexity and critical thinking because it led to “more time for reflection and permanence of the written words”

Therefore, teachers could make use of emails to assess students on their learning progress and depth of reflection.  I found the students’ writing is better when it grips them personally. More than that though, I am surprised how students are willing to write to someone other than their teacher.  I found their writing to be filled with voice, emotion and authenticity – naturally because they know the recipient is someone that truly cares about them.

Reply from student’s dad:




Work Cited:

ChanMin, K. (2008). Using email to enable e3 (effective, efficient, and engaging) learning. Distance Education29(2), 187-198. doi:10.1080/01587910802154988





過去的兩個星期,學生在學習使用Microsoft Excel中的“自動求和”公式把數字加起來。我們第一次練習用Excel,是在課堂上計算各個國家在索契冬季奧運會拿到的銅牌,銀牌,金牌總數。



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翻看學生與父親之間的電子郵件來往,我意識到這項任務的好處不僅是一個寫作練習。有趣的是,學生都為寫電子郵件給平常沒太多時間見面的爸爸感到興奮。有研究表明,電子郵件通訊人感到安慰,及促進個人的想法,意見和情緒的表達(2008年ChanMin )。

在學生編寫電子郵件時,除了報告他們用Excel的經歷,必須用一段親切的問候開頭,並可添加私人的信息到在郵件裡面。有些學生並寫了:“嗨,爸,你早上過的很好嗎?”或 “爸爸你好,我吃早餐的時候沒看到你。 ”


因此,教師可以利用電子郵件,以評估他們的學習進度和思考深度。我發現students writing is better when it grips them personally。更重要的是,原來他們寫給他們關心的人的時候,他們的寫作會充滿情感和真實性的。







Going beyond flashcards – personalized learning (Quizlet單字清單-個人化學習)

在學習詞彙時, 人們會對經常遇到的生詞有較深刻的印象,從而更容易地領略到它們的意思。不過,對在語言學院學習或自修外語的學生來說,因為沒有合適的語言環境,必須融合以學習詞彙為中心的學習方法來提高詞彙學習水平。

語言學習者(學生)會利用Quizlet熟念生詞。他們通常會把要背的單詞放在一列,詞義放在另一列, 加以練習。不過對高階學習者來說,學習語言的挑戰不僅僅是提高詞彙量,還必須能夠把詞彙應用在生活中。

當我使用日語溝通時, 我發現難以流暢地交流的主要原因是因為不熟悉詞彙的用法。根據研究指出,一種可以幫助學習詞彙的好方法是列出可應用在不同情境中的例句。所以背單詞時應把例句放在旁邊。

以下是我幫三年級老師設立的詞彙清單 (還可發聲的!):


這一個是我個人用來學習的 :

英語中所謂的“句子挖掘” 是指通過收集,保存和回顧句子的方式來學習語言。 相對於純碎地背單詞,這是一個更有代表性的學習方法。學生可以從電視劇或雜誌中收集句子並儲存在 Quizlet裏。

此外,Google其實是一個很好的工具,可以用來查找單字地常見搭配“搭配詞” (collocation). 在學習第二語言時,常見搭配的重要性是不可忽略地。它可以讓學生說話更加流利自然,使他們想表達的內容更容易理解。


語言學習者應該利用Google這個“世界上最大的語言資料庫”來搜索並記錄常用語,常用搭配和常用例句 。我相信用Quizlet來收集地道的用法會讓你的學習過程變得更有意義。

When learning vocabulary, the more one encounters with words in the language input, the more likely the meaning of the word would be acquired.  However, this is difficult to achieve if you are studying at a language institution or learning on your own where you are isolated from the targeted language environment.  With limited exposure to authentic language input, explicit vocabulary-focused instruction could be incorporated to maximize vocabulary learning.

Though many language learners are familiar with Quizlet, most use it strictly for understanding vocabulary. Typically, they put a word on one column and the definition on the other. They would then use Quizlet to memorize and practice the target vocabulary.

However for advanced language learners, the challenge isn’t solely to strengthen vocabulary, but also to be equipped to apply them in meaningful context.

As a learner of advanced Japanese, and having gone beyond the beginner/intermediate levels, I find that focusing on key vocabulary and not being well versed in the variety of its uses has been holding me back from going deeper and furthering my conversations.

According to some research, one method for promoting vocabulary learning is to present each word in a variety of situational and contextual format.  Instead of using pairing vocabulary with definition on Quizlet, sample sentences should be used for more effective learning.

For instance, I below is a list of vocabulary and its usage I prepared for my school’s Grade 3 team on a Chinese lesson.  If you play this on your mobile device, the words will be automatically read out:

“Sentence mining” is a non-academic term for studying a language by collecting, saving, and reviewing sentences. This is in contrast to a more typical approach of memorizing words individually. Learners could create flashcards using the sentence mining techniques where they extract sentences from TV dramas or magazines and accumulate them on Quizlet。

In addition, Google is a great resource and can be used to find word collocations (words that commonly come together). The importance of collocation knowledge in second language competence is evident. Stylistically, it enables the learners to speak more fluently, makes their speech more understandable and helps them to write or sound more native (as cited in Ahranjani & Shadi 2012)

This blog provides a great overview of how one could use Google to search for collocation

Language learners should make use of this “world’s largest corpus” to search and record phrases, collocations and sentences.  I believe a personal collection of such authentic application of language use would make one’s Quizlet experience more meaningful, as well as the learning language experience more practical.


Ahranjani, A., & Shadi, M. (2012). INPUT ENHANCEMENT AND EFL LEARNERS’ COLLOCATION ACQUISITION. International Journal Of Academic Research4(1), 96-101.

Promoting Reading & Writing with QR Code


QR code or Quick Response code is a great way for younger learners to watch a video, look at a website and listen to an audio without the hassle of typing the URL, opening up browsers, etc.  Teachers can simply link a QR code to any of those media and post the QR codes around the classroom (see picture below). The idea is that during the day, students could simply scan the QR codes with their devices and listen to or watch the work of others (see picture below). Also, you can link QR codes to websites and songs so that students could just scan and get access. It provides an easy and hassle-free way to engage students. There are some resources on the HOW-TO’s of QR codes on my own website:

As for language learners, I thought what could be useful is to record the students while they read out stories on an online audio platform such as

Here is a tutorial video on how you could record using soundcloud:

How to link a QR code to a soundclip from on Vimeo.



After turning the sound clip into a QR code, the teacher can then print and paste the QR code into their notebook and send them home.  This is a great way to share the students’ oral reading progress with parents and for students to listen to their own speech in a very easy manner.

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Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 10.15.46 AM Here is what another teacher did with QR code: book talk “I print out the QR code and students attach the code to the book they’re recommending.  When students shop for a book during independent reading, they can scan the QR and hear the book recommendation their peer created using  Book reviews created by students, for students are empowering for my young readers as they are excited to hear what books their peers suggest.  As early childhood educators have long known, students are capable of comprehending and telling much more than what they may be able to express in writing; this is evident as we depart from the traditional book review and provide opportunities for creating these audio book talks.  These audio book reviews create energy for reading and a book “buzz” for what’s hot right now in 1st grade.  In addition, they help readers find “just right” text and foster independence as kids have tools and strategies for locating the perfect read”

If students are not motivated to read in the target language, this could easily be done by other students to promote reading with effective and interest generating tools.

Edmodo vs Schoology vs Moodle vs Weebly vs Google site Part 1

There are so many different platforms out there where teachers can set up a learning community and students can access course materials, share their work, collaborate and engage in discussions, but the question is, how does a teacher decide on which platform to use, and should school specify what teachers should use as a school-wide IT initiation?

I am at a small technology gathering at Shekou International School and attending a workshop on the differences between Edmodo and Schoology.

I decided to set up an account on Edmodo and go over some features introduced by the speakers.  I like how the interface resembles Facebook, and if you are a Chinese teacher, you could encourage students to connect with each other in an informal way.  Teachers can easily post videos or links that are relevant to students’ learning, and this is a great way to generate discussions in the target language.

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I think it’s something that I could potentially use for my IT class, but as my school is rolling out Google apps, I am already using Google site as a class blog.  At the same time, Moodle will also be also be used as a primary and secondary virtual learning environment, so it seems more logical if all teachers use a single platform instead of various ones for different teachers, different subjects.

What do you all think?

Please see my later reflections on