Popplet and the Learning Power of Song

Humans have been treading the earth for around 200,000 – 300,00 years. We developed the ability to speak to each other some 50,000 years ago. As the human voice is considered to be the very first musical instrument, most evolutionary biologists believe that speaking and singing are inseparable. This makes song a deeply innate instinct, and a powerful learning tool.

Most parents begin singing to their children in the first weeks of life and infants usually learn to sing songs before they develop intelligible speech. Through song and music, children first experience and learn about letters, numbers, colors, animals, and everyday objects and events Using songs as a part of learning activities outside of the music classroom for teenage learners is rare. Perhaps teachers believe that music and song are the realm of the music classroom, or that the songs they choose might not interest the students, but songs are as universal as language and can, therefore, be used to develop skills in a wide range of subjects.

  • Literacy: songs can teach vocabulary, improve reading skills, highlight idiomatic language in context, clarify complex ideas with reverse learning filtering through to a student’s writing.
  • Language learning: songs have become a language classroom staple.
  • Structure: songs are poems and they follow set patterns. Essential skills can be learned from studying songs and applied universally.
  • History: almost all periods of modern history have songs attached to them. Romantic, patriotic, rebellious…whatever the subject, the songs are memorable and evoke strong emotions and leave a record of the time.
  • Social commentary: popular songs document significant current affairs and issues are popular and can form the basis for discussions and projects.
  • Emotional intelligence and self-awareness: learners often identify strongly with certain songs. Exploring why can lead to a better understanding of ourselves and others.
  • Songs are fun and generate activities that are naturally collaborative. Some learners might respond better to song-based learning activities than more traditional ones.

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Popplet ESL Activities: Vocabulary Building (2)

Popplet is a mind-mapping app, which offers a limitless canvas that lets users capture ideas then organize and connect them in a multitude of ways. It’s no surprise that vocabulary building and Popplet are such a good fit. A language might consist of millions of words – a daunting prospect for the language learner. Fortunately, getting to know each and every word is not how vocabulary building works. The key to understanding a lexicon is to navigate its vastness through its connections. Popplet is the perfect tool for this.

In our previous article, we introduced some ways to teach language learners vocabulary by employing Popplet’s user-friendly features. We hope we gave some indication of Popplet’s potential as an adaptable, effective application for the ESL classroom. Next, we are going to examine more vocabulary building strategies by focussing on:

Let’s begin with the words that every English language student loves to hate: phrasal verbs!

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Popplet ESL Activities: Vocabulary Building (1)

English teachers know what words are. Of course, we do! If we don’t, then we might as well all pack up and go home. We might need to read up on our grammar from time to time, but words – we are good with words. In fact, everybody over a certain age knows what words are, so as ESL educators, we should probably know a little more than the average. Consider this question, however: “How many words does an English Language Learner (ELL) need to know to achieve Proficiency Level?”.  The answer is not so straightforward, and English teachers know why.

Does knowing the plural of a word count as one word or two? Should we count the comparative forms of adjectives or the various verb tense inflections as separate words? Well, yes we could, but language experts and those who teach and study English rarely do when answering questions like the one above. They understand that a lexicon is a fluid, dense, organic network, made up of a world of connections. Embracing this complexity and this connectedness is the key to success in vocabulary building.

The mind-mapping application Popplet, a user-friendly graphic organizer, has a set of powerful features: text, images, video, connections, URLs, formatting, and collaboration. All of these, combined with an infinite, multi-dimensional canvas make it a formidable tool for exploring vocabulary in the English classroom.

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Popplet ESL Activities: Grammar

Few areas have produced more debate in the field of English language learning than that of grammar instruction. What most language teachers agree on is that at some point language learners fare far better if they develop a firm grasp of the working rules that govern the use of the English language.

Where language professionals might differ is in “how” to teach grammar. Traditional methods initially used to teach Latin and Greek, consisted of learning grammar tables and rules by rote, and included a lot of painful repetition, which students rarely remember fondly. As for their effectiveness, since 17th & 18th-century learners were never expected to actually speak these ancient languages, it’s hard to say. Most would certainly remember verb conjugations for the rest of their lives!

With the popularity of modern languages such as English and the possibility of actually being able to speak the language being learned, methods gradually changed, albeit surprisingly slowly. Nowadays, a more communicative approach is favored in most language learning classrooms, and the emphasis on a precise knowledge of grammar is much more relaxed.

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Popplet ESL Activities: Irregular Verb Flash Cards

For learners of English, there’s no getting past the past simple and irregular verb forms. Learning and confidently reproducing the most frequently used forms such as went, made, got, have… is something that English teachers should strive for early in a learner’s development. Shortly after, comes the introduction of the perfect tenses and irregular past participles, which students must also learn.

Irregular verbs can and should be studied contextually, however, learners will also benefit from studying this vocabulary by rote, and flashcards are a tried and tested method of doing this. Traditional paper/cardboard flashcards work well, however, digital flashcards created in Popplet have some advantages:

  • Less teacher time investment – students make the flashcards!
  • They are permanent so don’t get a tatty over time
  • They don’t “get lost” and end up incomplete
  • You can create a Master Popplet, and this will serve all levels – there’s no need to shuffle or use a separate pack for different levels
  • They live in your device
  • Students learn a new and useful technology – Popplet

So, unless you’re unlucky enough to lose your iPad or laptop, it’s all good – even then, your flashcards will be safe and sound until you get your device back!  Here’s what you need to do to create Irregular Verb Flashcards with Popplet

The List

With irregular verbs, there’s always a list, and you will need one before you begin to create Popplet Flash Cards. Irregular verb lists are as common as clouds, and a simple Google search will yield many. Any decent coursebook will contain an irregular verb list in its reference material, or you can create your own. The only advice is that the verbs should match the learner’s needs and level: Advanced students tend to have longer lists than Pre-intermediate students for example.

Creating a Verb Flashcard Popplet

The teacher can do this, but I prefer my students to do it for themselves because as they engage with Popplet, they also engage with the target language. They will also end up with their own copies of the flashcards for revision.

  • First, demonstrate how to create an Irregular Verb Popplet. It should start to look something like this:


  • Then, give the completed list to the students and have them create their own Verb Popplets making sure they add you as a collaborator. (Alternatively, the teacher could begin the Popplet, make templates, and add students as collaborators.)
  • Finally, check the completed Popplets for errors.

Larger verb lists are more difficult to format and are best split into two or even three column groups. To help with this, or simply to create more elegant Popplets, refer your students to the Popplet Formatting tutorials.

Adding Comments

When your students have their Irregular Verb Popplets, with corrections made and formatted to their satisfaction, you might want to add the translations of the verbs in the learner’s native language. I do this by using Popplet Comments. The translations will not show in the main popplet board but are always handy for checking when a student is stuck. To add or view a comment, click on the speech bubble in the top right-hand corner of the popple:


Using the Flashcards in Class

Popplet has two presentation modes and both can be used to present the verbs:

  1. Presentation Mode  – which allows individual popples containing a single word to be displayed full size in a predetermined order.
  2. Presentation Mode 2 – which lets you display groups of popples and good for displaying the past simple and past participle on the same slide.

I have found that the first presentation mode is the most effective for drilling irregular verb forms:

Preparing a Popplet Presentation

  • Access the Popplet, click the cog menu, select view, then choose presentation mode:screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-16-54-32
  • Select record from the pop-up, number the popples in the order you want them to appear by first selecting add:screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-16-56-10
  • Select present to display the verbs one by one:screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-16-59-14

Drilling the Verbs

  • In class: devices off, books closed, make sure all the students can see your irregular verb popplet
  • Show students the first verb, say it, and ask them to repeat it:
  • Next, ask the students to pronounce the past simple and the past participle, if they do it incorrectly, give them a chance to try again
  • Finally, toggle to the past simple and past participle and have the students repeat the verbs, then move on to the next infinitive and repeat until you reach the end of the list:screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-16-49-20

When students are studying the Past Simple or the Present Perfect, they should repeat this exercise at the beginning of each class, when they aren’t, once a week is usually enough. If you like, you can use Presentation Mode 2 to show the Past Simple and the Past Perfect together at the same time. The list can be divided, students can focus on 10 verbs each class.

Another advantage of Popplet Flashcards is that students can study them on their devices, using Popplet Presentation mode as they do in class, at home. Of course, flashcards can be created in Popplet for any topic.

Popplet is available on the web, and new users receive five popplet boards for when they sign up for a free account.  If you find you need more than five popplet boards, you can simply delete existing ones, or you can sign up for the full version of Popplet at the iTunes store. There is a free version of the iPad app: Popplet Lite, available from the iTunes Store. School and Class group subscriptions are available.

Check out the other artcicles in the Popplet ESL series:

Popplet Ideas for ESL Teaching

Popplet ESL Activities: An Introduction to Pronunciation

Popplet ESL Activities: An Introduction to Pronunciation

Popplet is a favorite tool of literacy teachers, especially those who work with younger learners. Reading, writing, spelling, and the other key elements that children need to solve the language puzzle are particularly significant in the early years since this early progress has a universal impact on their development. The methods they use closely resemble some of those employed by language teachers.

Phonics, or one of its variants, is the method most used by school teachers to teach children how to read. In English language instruction, we combine phonics and phonetics, along with other linguistic concepts and label this key area of English language tuition, Pronunciation.

First steps with Popplet and Pronunciation – a lesson

  1. A brief presentation about English pronunciation, with constant student feedback.
  2. Students carry out research related to the lesson and create popplets to show their results.
  3. Class discussion.

I like to introduce Popplet and pronunciation at the same time in my classes. There is no increase in difficulty, since, like any good tool, Popplet adds value to the student’s experience. More significantly, visualizing their experiences by creating a Popplet board about what they learn, enhances their learning and leaves them a visual record for revision.

All of your students will know about pronunciation. Some will have seen IPA symbols before, a few might understand them. Others will groan at the prospect a subject that has not been highly regarded these last years and may even resist. The majority, however, will be curious the moment you write Pronunciation on the board, and that is always the best place to begin a class.


Explain to the students that they are going to learn about pronunciation, and explain to them why it is important for them to study it, answering any questions that arise.

  • Begin by talking about the different types of English that exist, explain how they vary and why the often used term Standard English may forever be an elusive concept. Be sure to mention which dialect you belong to, or favor.
  • Then, Illustrate with some popular examples:

British vs American English’s legendary “tomahto” /təˈmɑːtəʊ/, “tomayto” /təˈmeɪtoʊ/, or

How the Canadian pronunciation of “about” /əˈbaʊt/, “aboot” tickles their US neighbors

  • Focus on UK Received Pronunciation (RP), the language of the Queen of England, her family, and a few other people in the world. Highlight some of the ways it differs from Scottish English or American English, for example.
  • Amaze your students by explaining that words like car /ka:/. chair /’tʃeə/, and where /’weə/ are maybe not pronounced as they might imagine. If they don’t believe you, provide more examples.
  • Introduce the class to the schwa /ə/, and reveal why this particular sound is so popular with English speakers by modeling the words chocolate /’tʃɒkələt/ and vegetable /’vedʒtəbl/. Introduce sentence stress.
  • Finally, at the risk of overwhelming your students with what they will have come to believe is the entirely illogical nature of the English language, bring up words that contain silent letters such as know /nəʊ/, walk /wɔ:k/ and talk /tɔ:k/.

Popplet Activities & Discussion

  • Research the countries where English is spoken worldwide. How many people speak English as a first language or second language? Contrast the results with other widely spoken languages like Mandarin or Spanish, Create a Popplet containing your results and add appropriate images such as charts or geographical identifiers -flags! Different groups or students could do the different languages.


  • Research the countries/places in the world where Engish is the first language or widely spoken. Which countries have the most English speakers? Create a Popplet with your results and add appropriate images.
  • Collate results, displaying the best popplets for the whole class to see, using the results to initiate a class discussion on what English pronunciation might sound like fifty years from now.

If your students can access the internet on their devices in class, they can do this activity there and then. If not, set this as a homework exercise. If set as a group exercise, students can collaborate on their work.

Students will very quickly get the hang of Popplet.if they appear hesitant or have any questions direct them to the slideshow demo, which can be accessed by clicking on try it out on the Popplet home page.  In no time at all ,students will be eagerly creating impressive visuals. Avoid lecturing on the use of Popplet, let the students discover what it can do.

By the end of the lesson, the class will be well versed in the basics of Pronunciation and Popplet creation. They will want to know more.

Popplet is available on the web, and new users receive five popplet boards for when they sign up for a free account.  If you find you need more than five popplet boards, you can simply delete existing ones, or you can sign up for the full version of Popplet at the iTunes store. There is a free version of the iPad app: Popplet Lite, also available from the iTunes Store. School and Class group subscriptions are also available.

If you find this idea useful, or if you are already using Popplet in your ESL classes then please let us know by sharing your ideas with the Popplet community on Twitter, and our Facebook page. To sign up for a free account, visit the Popplet home page.



Popplet Ideas for English Language Teaching

Popplet is a user-friendly tech tool that is popular with teachers and students of all ages and disciplines.  Imagine a mind-mapping application for the iPad and the web that lets you capture and organize your ideas – that’s Popplet. Versatile, with an easy to use interface and a comfortable level of functionality, but with robust features that are especially suited to learning environments.

With Popplet you can instantly add editable text, links, images, colors, and drawings to bubbles called popples and connect them to create visually informative landscapes of information. Teachers and students can collaborate in real-time and finished work can be presented using one of Popplet’s Presentation modes.

 Popplet has steadily been gaining traction with English Language Teachers and language teachers in general. It’s hands-on, visual nature lets students create connections between facts and ideas in various ways. Dynamic and fun, Popplet makes even the dryest of grammar points much more palatable – students become a lot more interested in the finer points of the Reported Speech if they get to make a Popplet about it on their iPads or laptops!

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