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Writing prompt: a photograph of me as a kid

Posted on | September 14, 2014 | No Comments

Photos of childhood

Photo: left, my brother; right, me

The photo on the right has amused entire generations of learners here in Barcelona when I've showed it to them: me, aged 3, wearing wellingtons and an ill-fitting Balaclava helmet that makes me look a lot like Action Man! Mum's can be so cruel!

It might actually later have been my Mum (also an English teacher) who suggested a photograph of yourself as a kid as a writing prompt, which is how I first used the accompanying photo in class — showing it to my learners as an example and then getting them to find their own, and write about the childhood memories it brought back.

If you're using something like an Edmodo group, or a G+ Community (make it private if you are), or WhatsApp with your learners, get them to share the photos there and see what memories they have in common. That's how you want to use digital spaces — i.e. socially, and not just for posting the homework, or answers to exercises (a sure-fired way to kill interest in your group!)

Photos like these — because of the powerful memories associated with them — are so much better for class than anything you or your learners will ever find on Google!

Really creative writing project: a series of dreams

Posted on | September 7, 2014 | No Comments

Here's an apparently crazy idea for a creative writing project but one that might work well with an imaginative, co-operative B2+ class, one that wouldn't be put off as soon as they realise it's Bob Dylan (!!!) singing it.

Could your learners produce something along similar lines, inspired by this? Working in groups of 4 or 5, perhaps they could each describe a crazy dream they've had at some time and then roll them into a single series.

One tool your learners could use for it would be the interactive whiteboard, as you can import things to it, and then juggle them around, though you'd perhaps want only one group of not more than 3 or 4 using the IWB as their medium, while the other groups use something else.

It might just work with Glogster (which I've always found works best with younger learners, as it seems to frustrate anyone beyond about the age of 25-30).

Prezi would probably work too.

To get text in, Wordle would work and Prezi and Wordle would probably make a neat combination.

But the best choice of tool would probably be video and there are some amazing mobile phone apps for making videos.  As the teacher, you probably don't want to make the choice of tool for the learners — make a few suggestions but then leave it up to them to make any technological decisions.

You might want, for example, to suggest that they create their own voiceover rather than stealing copyrighted music for a backing track. Soundcloud is terrific, as is Spreaker, if you want an app.

A second, equally crazy idea
Here's another similar idea…

"A Truncated Story of Infinity" – A Short by Paul Trillo from Paul Trillo on Vimeo.

If you asked your learners to be really creative, could they produce something of their own, inspired by this?

What sort of class would this be for?
I don't currently have a suitable class of my own in which to try either of these ideas out but among other things I'd want:

  • B2 or above
  • Excited about doing different things, and not expecting or wanting to do more grammar exercises
  • Possibly younger rather than older learners
  • Learners comfortable using mobile phone apps
  • A 2 (3?) minute time limit on their final products
  • A class that did all group work in English

Working together in English
To get the most language learning out of such ideas, you always want to devote as much class time as possible to brainstorming, speaking, providing language and discussing how the project is going to be done, rather than spending your precious class time just doing a lot of clicking. If you storyboard on paper in class, messing around with the phones and apps can be done outside class.

Having peers review and comment on each other's work-in-progress, as well as the finished product, is another way to create more opportunities for language practice.

Perhaps such things are best for summer courses — but wouldn't ELT in general be so much more interesting for both teachers and learners alike if more things like this got produced and we were less slaves to things like course books and exams syllabuses and programmes that had to be completed?

Creative writing with the monkey selfie story

Posted on | August 7, 2014 | 1 Comment

A little more on something I tweeted earlier today, having spotted it during my daily minute browsing The Guardian on my way to work…

The Guardian disagrees with what the Telegraph claimed about the monkey owning copyright (!).

Here's the video of the original theft:

I'm not that sure that I'm going to get a lot of language — always the objective — out of either the articles or the video, but it's the idea that I like: couldn't we get a lot of fun, a lot of interaction and language out of imagining we're the monkey and have actually learnt how to use Facebook and Instagram and so on?

IDEA #1 | The Facebook post and/or tweet
So we have the picture (though, how many of my teens can themselves pull great monkey faces, and use their own images…?), how about our learners write the Facebook post and/or 140-character tweet that the monkey would upload to their new account?

We want to get the interaction that will produce more language so each learner (or pair of learners) has to be (a) the monkey that stole the camera and then (b) another jealous — or not — monkey without the camera and has to respond to the post, which would need to go on something like an Edmodo group. You could use a Facebook group (or with adults a private G+ Community), but I'm all for the greater, ad-free privacy that Edmodo offers.

No technology? You could use pieces of (scrap!) paper and "post" on your classroom walls…

IDEA #2 | Give me my phone back!
Alternatively, again if you have an Edmodo group, how about dividing your class up and have them negotiate recovery of the phone?

  • One of the learners is the monkey
  • Others are other monkeys, who also want the phone and/or have stolen other phones
  • One of the learners is the tourist, the original owner of the phone
  • The rest are other tourists, who could also have had their phones stolen

To keep your Edmodo stream a little under control, I'd recommend no more than about a third of your learners as monkeys, and only monkeys being allowed to post new "notes" — people are only allowed to "respond" to notes. You probably also want to take email "alerts" off for the duration of the activity (!).

Twitter might also be a fun way to do the same activity.

On Twitter (@Tom_IHBCN), I post only one thing a day (frequently not even that), always and exclusively things I think will interest language teachers and/or their learners.

Simon's Cat: fun listening, speaking and writing

Posted on | July 28, 2014 | 1 Comment

Spider!

Here's one we saw in my technology session on a CELTA course last week.

When I first meet a class I get them to write their names on pieces of A4 pulled out of the recycle bin, fold them and hang them on the front of their chairs/tables so that we all start to learn each other's names.

I also like to get my learners to draw something in the first class — in this case, in the example above, I asked for "an animal or insect that you find in some way repulsive".

Doing that identifies who enjoys drawing and subsequently I like to group people with at least one budding artist per group and have my learners illustrate any project work with their own illustrations rather than things stolen from the evil empire (AKA Google Images).

In this particular case, the drawings also then led on to the video we were then to watch, suggested for levels B2 and above.

Here's the video:

Lesson plan
A rough outline of the lesson plan…

  1. From the drawings, talk about what animals and insects we find repulsive and why, providing any vocabulary help that might be required
  2. In pairs/threes, watch approx the first 0'45" of the video, with one person/two not watching, one providing a running commentary
  3. Stop and answer any "How do you say…?" vocabulary questions
  4. Ask (in open class) "What's going to happen next?"
  5. Swop roles and continue to 1'30"
  6. Answer any further "How do you say…?" questions
  7. Ask (in open class) "How is it going to end?"
  8. Have everyone watch the last 15 seconds of the video and see if they can explain exactly what happens

The running commentary idea works with lots of YouTube videos — with more examples here.

Follow-up
For the vocabulary taught to become vocabulary learned, it needs to be recycled. A few ideas for that:

  • Perhaps after class, discussion of what does in fact happen at the end (does the cat kill the spider…?), something which works great if you have an Edmodo group, where you can share the video and then have people comment
  • In pairs/threes, writing a script for Scary Legs II (possibly using a shared Google Drive document), which then has to be "sold" to the rest of the class (possibly via Edmodo), who are writing rival scripts
  • In pairs, telling the story of how one or other partner came to find the animal/insect drawn at the start of the lesson repugnant (and including the drawing made)

I like all writing activities to be collaborative — so that, for example, in the last suggestion there we're not writing individually and handing the piece in to the teacher, but producing one piece of writing between two and sharing that with everyone (for which Edmodo is again ideal), and hopefully commenting on each other's work as well.

The commenting on what others write is important, as it provides opportunities for further interaction and (re-)use of language but it actually needs to be built into the task and required of the learners. Having learners "buy" other people's scripts (as in the second suggestion above) and/or award each other "prizes" (best, funniest, corniest, etc., script) are just two of the ways you could ensure that.

See also
Video: How to draw Simon's Cat

Get your students to talk, listen and draw

Posted on | June 27, 2014 | No Comments

Walking Barcelona

If you're familiar with Barcelona, you should (just about!) recognise what the illustration above is supposed to represent. It came from morning break last week in the staffroom, where there was some disagreement about whether or not you can get learners to draw things.

I think you can — and should — no matter how little artistic talent you have or your learners think they have. It isn't a question of being artistic: in a language classroom, it's a question of getting people to talk and if their drawings are so poor (?!) that they require asking for and receiving explanation, great!

Instead of the teacher finding, printing and photocopying images of Barcelona for them to then describe a walk through the city (which was the activity we were disagreeing over), get your learners to do this:

  • Imagine an interesting walk in your city
  • Make a few notes on what you'll see on the walk, with any language help being provided by the teacher
  • Describe the walk to a partner… who then has to draw it (check the recycling bin, there's scrap paper, right?)
  • In collaboration with your partner, label the drawing (see example, above), omitting (important!) any place names
  • Switch roles and repeat with your partner
  • Pin the work up on the wall and walk round the "gallery" (remember drawing pins?). How many of the walks can you identify?
  • Optionally, as a class, actually go on the walk (take some drawing paper and cameras/phones with you!)

If there is ready access to a scanner, send a "volunteer" off to scan the illustrations, and if you have an Edmodo group or a class blog, they can then be shared and commented on (the latter being particularly important, for taking maximum advantage of the opportunities technology offers for further interaction and use of language).

The illustration above — a quick doodle, which is what you want, rather than "art" — is from the staffroom, with a little editing afterwards.

Essential reading for any teacher 1000+ pictures for teachers to copy

Athletes don't eat photocopies before competition!

Posted on | June 15, 2014 | 1 Comment

This one came from the amazing BuzzFeed, where I probably spend more of my free time than I should, but find some real fun material for class in doing so, with the video above being an example.

Such things are great because for the 60 seconds it takes you to spot them (OK, maybe I was there a bit longer!) you've got a ready-made lesson, because it comes with a ready-made question that is doing to generate 60 minutes of lesson, and quite possibly more.

They're also great because the video is your material: you really don't need anything else, and instead of wasting time producing material (and this is a strictly no-photocopies lesson!), any preparation time can be spent on how to squeeze the maximum amount of interaction and language out of it.

A very rough lesson outline for just about any level B1 or above:

  • Pyramid discussion on "What athletes eat before they compete"
  • In small groups, brainstorm and then rank the top 10 resulting ideas
  • Agree as a class on a top 10
  • Then (and only then) watch the video, with no note taking
  • With a partner, note everything you recall being mentioned, and attempt to produce the top 10 from the video
  • Watch again to see if we were "right"
  • Assign one meal to each pair (or let them pick the most interesting, most weird…) and have them investigate the science (or lack of!) behind what the athlete eats, with mobile phones providing an ideal, in-class research tool
  • Report back, in small groups, probably in the next class, as a presentation (think shared Google Drive documents or Prezi) and/or in an Edmodo group or on a class blog/wiki
  • Optionally, if your learners are also athletes (or have been, at whatever level, including school), have them — or one group — research and report on what they eat

You can get so many great lessons out of  brainstorm > watch/read > compare > research > report/present, because it generates so much interaction and therefore language.

If you have an interactive whiteboard, if you keep stopping the video (you'll need to be quick!), you can easily screen capture the different meals, import them into your IWB software, and then export them as a series of images.

Better still, have one of your learners do that for you. (You'll never have to deal with fast finishers again ;-) !)

Footnote
I've added a new category to my blog: Smash the photocopier! With the exception of banning Google Images, and possibly the mandatory use of smartphones in all classes, that's possibly the one thing that would most transform English language teaching, IMHO…

My top 12 sites for language teaching and learning

Posted on | June 13, 2014 | 3 Comments

2 for the price of 1: song clips that tell stories…

These, in fairly random order, are a dozen of the sites I always recommend language teachers on pre-service courses like CELTA, and on others too.

They are sites I believe all language teachers should know about, though you'll notice that most are intended for the learners, rather than the teacher, to use.

  1. YouTube There's just so much brilliant material for language classes on YouTube (and see also Vimeo, in the next item below). Particularly great are song clips that tell stories [above and here's my favourite example], giving you 2 for the price of 1 — the song and the story (can your learners tell the story, explain and extend it?) | More ideas for using YouTube.
  2. FilmEnglish If you want lesson plans to go with your YouTube clips, then Kieran Donaghy's brilliant FilmEnglish is the best of a number of similar sites (see "Video lessons" in the sidebar, for more), partly because the choice of clips is always so inspired (many in fact don't come from YouTube but from the classier Vimeo).
  3. Google Drive Formerly known as Google Docs, Google Drive is brilliant because you will never ever again have to concern yourself with which is the right version of your document: there is only one version, up in the cloud, accessible from any device; brilliant because you can share documents with people (colleagues, students…); and brilliant because your learners can create the documents and collaborate within them, including in real time (in a chat window… oh, wow!). Absolutely amazing for creative, collaborative writing projects; great too if you have your learners make presentations. And all that without having to fork out for Micro$oft Office! | See also Getting started with Google Drive
  4. Edmodo | I just love Edmodo, and every class I know that's tried it has loved it too — provided the teacher has seen it for what it is: a kind of private Facebook group, one designed for education (and not for sharing every detail of your private life). An Edmodo group is for learners to do stuff, share it and comment on it; it doesn't work nearly as well if you see it as a place to provide the answers to "exercises" and little more. It gives your learners a digital space in which to do things. Welcome to the 21st century!  | More ideas for using Edmodo.
  5. Blogger For a more complex digital space than Edmodo, on which things can be kept looking more organised, a blog is a great option, with Blogger being easier than the very popular WordPress for anyone new to blogging. Fantastic for project work of all kinds | More ideas on blogging.
  6. WhatsApp Absolutely my favourite app for taking advantage of the technology learners come to class already equipped with — and with the app already downloaded, installed and familiar to them. Absolutely great, and addictive, for randomly sharing whatever, and great too for sharing photos on an agreed theme.
  7. SoundCloud | My second favourite app, Soundcloud turns your learners' mobile phones into audio recording devices (which they already are) for podcasting but also gives them somewhere in the cloud to store the files and do various other things with them (like commenting and linking). Podcasting I'd say is definitely one of the most successful uses I've ever had learners make of technology in language classes, though note that I don't recall ever having actually made a recording myself for use in class. | More ideas, information on podcasting.
  8. Twitter It took me a while to see the value of Twitter but I recommend it because it brings me ideas and materials (like the outstanding images on 500px); not to mention ELT job offers; and stuff (unrelated to work) that I just like and enjoy; because having learners "follow" someone — a celebrity of some kind — is a great way for them to get more, self-motivating reading practice; and because I've also seen it used a bit like an Edmodo or WhatsApp group, for sharing things between the members of a class , with one of the best examples being this project by Daniel Rodriguez (content in Spanish) | Me on Twitter (and check out who I follow for more ideas on who you could follow!)
  9. TeachingEnglish.org.uk Especially — but not exclusively — for newly qualified language teachers, Teaching English is a must-have favourite. Everything your CELTA course forgot to mention (and lots that it did) is there. Got a newbie question and you don't have a colleague at hand to turn to? Go there! If you're on Facebook, they also have a Facebook page that is well worth "liking".
  10. OneStopEnglish In many ways very like Teaching English, OneStopEnglish requires subscription (currently 42 GBP, or €53 pa) for full access, though if you're lucky, your school already has school access to it. Another great site to turn to when the DoS gives you classes (business English, exams…) that CELTA didn't prepare you for!
  11. Cambridge Exams And talking about exams, all teachers should know about them, acquire knowledge  of them and experience of teaching exam classes. In Europe, the Cambridge Exams are the most popular, and schools want teachers that have that knowledge and experience. Here's where to acquire at least the former, which is a definite plus to your CV.
  12. Tech ELT Blog I've left technology till last as I think it's the least important (but still vital) ingredient in a language classroom. I going to recommend my own blog here  (!!!) as a site to bookmark because — I hope — virtually everything here is (a) easy to put into practice in a language classroom; (b) interaction- and language-rich but technology-light, and not the other way round: and (c) involves learners rather than teachers using technology — which is as I think it should be. You want alternatives? Look at some of the "Blogs I learn from" (see sidebar).

What must-favourite sites for language learning do you think I've missed? Tell us in the comments…

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