8 tips for providing technical support in class

Provide help with language, not with technology

This is a "muddiest point" from my workshop last Friday. At the end of the session, someone asked:

Learning training: isn't it a lot to take on board for learners to become familiar with X, Y, Z apps? How do we "prepare" them for it? Any tips?

Nowadays, do you need to teach people how to use their smart phones? It does depend on age, but in my experience you don't, and especially you don't with anyone under the age of approx. 25.

My #1 tip would be…

  • DON'T you provide the technical support — that's NOT your job!

Other tips:

  • Do find out right at the start of term which of your learners are "good" with technology. Make sure they're on board and willing to help others (in English!), if the need arises
  • Do have a technically-savvy person in each group when you do groupwork
  • Do have people in the class listening for the alert "Technical!": when someone has a technical problem have them either work it with a partner or else call out "Technical!" and have other people, from other groups — not you — go and see if they can help
  • Don't constantly be asking people to download new apps, however cool they might be. Instead, get a lot out of a few — like Spreaker, for example, for podcasting; or get a lot out of something like Edmodo or Instagram, using it for a lot of different activities.
  • Do keep tasks simple! Don't waste time — yours or that of your learners — with things like editing sound or video. If that is necessary, rather than edit, re-record — that's so much better for language practice!
  • Do these things both with adults and with young learners. It's amazing what the latter know about technology — often instinctively, without you having to provide a step-by-step guide!
  • Do practise with the technology you are going to use before you have learners use it; but you're doing that not so that you'll be able to solve every difficulty that might arise but so that you'll feel more confident that it will work and, believe me, if you do feel confident, it will, especially if you don't intend to provide the technical assistance yourself

Vital, I think, is to remember this: you are there in class to provide help with language, not with Photoshop or PowerPoint or Prezi…

See also | This brilliant school-wide technical support project my son experienced.

Any other tips, anyone? Do add them in the comments!

6 generic, productive activites with YouTube

 

One learner watching, two listening

One YouTube clip (no sound) + one watcher and talker + two just listening and asking questions = so much language

In my workshop at IH Barcelona on Friday, I suggested the following generic activities to be done with YouTube clips.

I'm a huge fan of Kieran Donaghy's Film-English.com, with its brilliant selection of YouTube and Vimeo clips and accompanying lesson plans, but sometimes you just see other clips that look just so amazing for class — except that you don't have a lesson plan.

Below, generic ideas that lead to the production of a lot of language without your requiring any more material than the clip itself.

1 | Commentators and listeners
With this one, you put learners in 3s, and have two sit with their backs to the video (sound initially off) while their partner provides a running commentary, with as much detail as possible, as in the illustration, above. The example I gave:

Here's another Simon's Cat clip and a more detailed outline of such a lesson, with a similar activity here.

Look for videos (like Simon's Cat) which have plenty of action in them, the more bizarre the better (Mr Bean, someone suggested in the workshop), as in this crazy ad.

2 | Brainstorming a better list
Everyone loves lists, don't they? YouTube does too!

But before you get your learners to watch (and before you start typing up and photocopying a True/False exercise for them!),  give them the topic, and get them to (1) brainstorm their own list in small groups; then (2) watch and check off which things on their list are mentioned; if they then (3) list everything mentioned in the video they can then (4) compare lists: theirs, the video's, and those of other groups; and finally (5) discuss who produced the best list.

Here's the hilarious video I suggested as an example:

Here's another example, with a fuller outline of the lesson. Look for "how to" videos, or just about any video with a title starting "7 things…", "10 ways…" etc.

3 | Summarise and present
The brilliant Joe Hanson [ YouTube channel ] has lots of clips this idea will work with:

I suggest having the learners watch at home, with each group picking a different video (their choice), and working on their summary outside class (think Edmodo small groups, WhatsApp, shared Google Drive presentations, etc).

What they're then doing in class time is making the short oral presentations (I suggest 60-90 seconds, maximum 3 slides), with Q+A time at the end to ensure maximum participation of the whole class.

Look for videos with lots of information and/or presenting ideas, with TED being another site with videos this will work with.

4 | TED feedback
If you watch videos on TED, you're probably familiar with how their rating system works. If you choose to rate one of their talks, you get a pop-up window with a selection of adjectives you can use:

TED ffeedback

With any video — not necessarily from TED — you can do the same thing. It works particularly well with videos that divide opinion and reaction in your class (like this one, for example) and if you allow your learners to come up with their own adjectives to "rate" it.

If you then pool the adjectives they're come up with and have them pick which 3-5 best describe it, you've got the basis of a class debate.

5 | Video clips as storytelling prompts
One of the things apart from YouTube that we looked at in the workshop was digital storytelling. I'll return to that in a separate post, but mentioned that video clips that tell stories are great as writing (or speaking) prompts for kick starting ideas (and language) to be included in digital storytelling projects.

In Friday's workshop I suggested this Springsteen song but they tell me Taylor Swift is kind of more popular now ;-) :

The Taylor Swift song has worked well (thanks, Kim) with teens who (1) brainstormed a list of what they guessed would be in a Taylor Swift love song clip; (2) checked that off in a first watching (sound on); (3) listened to the lyrics on a second watching; (4) in 3s, used the song for a dictogloss activity, with their versions then being checked against the actual lyrics; (5) debated what exactly happens in the story — clip and lyrics; before (6) recycling the language that had come up in class into their own collaborative stories (some produced in text, some in audio form).

Look for song video clips that tell stories, which then also give you a text (the lyrics) you can then exploit in the usual ways.

Here's another brilliant song clip story, with an outline lesson, and another with Norah Jones.

6 | Football (etc.)
One not mentioned in the workshop, but football is always a winner in class, isn't it? My son (one of my key sources for video clips for class) showed me this amazing Facebook page with sports clips the other day.

Generic lesson plan? Pick the right clip (look for controversy!) and you probably don't need one! With certain learners, they'll talk endlessly (possibly not always intelligently ;-) ) on the subject…

Personally, out of choice, I'd dump my coursebook and just talk about football…!

See also

More from the workshop coming. See also these links.

Links from workshop session February 20th

Below, the links to the various tools mentioned in the workshop session this morning, with more to come in the next few days.

In alphabetical order:

We looked at the following "easy, fun, generic, productive tasks with technology", with the links below taking you to previous posts here on my blog on those topics:

Also of interest:

Coming next week, some of the actual tasks we looked at in the session…

Start your learners on independent mobile learning

Task using mobile apps for language learning

And finally here's the last of the tasks I suggested in my recent session at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference.

If we're not recommending our learners ways in which they could be using their smartphones to do some independent mobile learning, I'd suggest that we're short changing them: there's just so much out there that would improve their English and set on the right track to becoming autonomous, independent learners, no longer requiring our assistance.

In education, 21st century technology really ought to involve a lot of that, and a lot less of learners suffering death by their teacher's PowerPoint.

Among many such apps, I particularly like Memrise, which as well as being fun and addictive seems to have been built to tap into some of theory on how we learn, as well as being free. It's neat that it keeps reminding you to get your daily dose of recycled vocab and as a learner you do have those odd moments of the day (on the bus, queuing in the supermarket…) when you're probably not going to pull out a vocabulary notebook, but your phone you just might.

The original idea for the task here was for one learner (or pair, or small group…) to try it out and then present the app orally to classmates; in fact by the end of the week a number of others were asking if they could download it as well, and a month later some were actually still using it more or less daily (thanks Deb for feedback on that — using it with late teens/young adults learning French).

Neat also that the courses are user-generated: which means that you — or your learners! — could create their own course, a great way to revise the vocabulary they've seen over the course of, say, a term.

Other apps you could suggest:

If you can suggest others, do add them in the comments…

Podcasting: 60 seconds to save the world

Outline of task

Above, the fourth of the tasks I suggested in my talk at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference on February 7th.

One of the ways in which I believe that we're getting technology wrong in language teaching is to fail to progress beyond our own use of technology as a word processor; and one of the simple ways we could start to get it right would be to have our learners turn their mobile phones on and start using them for productive language learning tasks.

This task requires them to do just that with Spreaker being an excellent little app to enable them to rehearse and record audio.

In groups of 3-4, they need to:

  • Brainstorm and come up with an idea that would make a difference to the environment and/or climate change, one that could actually be put into practice in your school
  • Rehearse exactly what they are going to say, in class, getting it down to exactly 58-60 seconds,  and not a second longer
  • Record it (and if necessary re-record it), something which is probably — because of the noise — best done somewhere quiet, outside class time
  • Post the finished recording where the rest of the class can listen to it (Edmodo or a class blog are great alternatives), again something which can be done outside class
  • Comment on the recordings made by the other groups (to get the most language out of the task, a vital stage, missing from my slide, above).

Note that, though you might want to try out the technology involved first for yourself, as the teacher your job is to provide the language, including helping with pronunciation and intonation, as well as vocabulary, not to provide technical support.

You want to do the former in class, which will reduce the amount of subsequent correction that will be required, and leave any technical help required up to the learners. Believe me, they will be able to provide it!

A nice simple alternative to Spreaker and audio would be to use PowerPoint (or Prezi) and Present.me, with a webcam, which would give your learners video, though I'd recommend keeping it to three slides, and insisting on that maximum of 60 seconds.

Acknowledgements The idea came from the excellent BBC podcast Forum: 60 Second Idea to Improve the World, one that is well worth both you and your learners subscribing to.

Thanks also to Kate who, as ever, was willing to try the idea out and to my PodcastHERs group, who had so much fun doing something along these lines as a long-term project.