One idea, one list, so many classes

Here's an idea that I tweeted earlier this week, which I picked up from MakeUseOf (either on their Twitter feed (@makeuseof) or by following their RSS feed using TheOldReader*).

MakeUseOf is one of those many, many places churning out "lists". Having your learners, in small groups, (1) brainstorm what they think should be on such a list; then (2) reading; then (3) comparing; then (4) debating which is the best list (theirs, or that of another group, or that posted somewhere on the internet) and (5) commenting on and discussing other lists, generates so much language and interaction, which is what we want, after all.

It's a generic idea for lessons that will provide you with so many fun classes, for so little effort — just a few minutes a day "following" such sites (try also BuzzFeed or Mashable) — and requiring so little material… and NO photocopies!

Note that BuzzFeed has some content you might consider NSFC — not safe for class!

Your learners might also like List.ly, as a place to create and share and comment on their lists. Commenting on what their peers produce is something you should always include in your task design if your learners are using technology and you want to get the most out of it!

*Footnote If you're not fond of Twitter, either (a) stop following so many people or (b) use TheOldReader instead. For grumpy old men like myself, The OldReader is so much more organised ;-) !

On Twitter (@Tom_IHBCN), I post no more than one thing a day, always and exclusively things that I think will interest language teachers and/or their learners.

The rain forest wept! Stop doing this, now!

Computer, laptop, MP3 players, mobile, CD
What you see in the image above has come out of the printer that I sit next to around 25 hours a week, and has been printed by a trainee on a pre-service course (probably CELTA), who is probably about to ask to borrow my scissors to cut the words up.

In this example, we have a list of words; often it's sentences, each word of which has been printed at font size 100 or so, also to be sliced up, so that the sentence can be BluTacked to the wall or lain out on the floor (possibly first having been photocopied into identical sets), after which the students "mingle" and put the sentence back together again.

Photocopy of mobile phone
Sometimes it's images of every day objects — like Metro tickets and mp3 players and mobile phones, as you see above — that could so easily have been drawn or pointed to instead, but which have been printed under the absurd notion that an image is worth 1000 words, when often it really isn't!

The other day, we had someone printing single phonetic symbols (!!!), as huge as possible, each on a separate piece of paper, then to be magnified further via the photocopier.

This  happens all day, every day, whether the trainees are on CELTA or Spanish teacher training courses, and I suspect that someone somewhere (a coursebook writer…?) must have come up with this "idea", and people on teacher training courses must now be taught that this is a great (???) "activity" or "task", or whatever they call it.

It has to stop.

Now!

I say that partly as further promotion for my one-man, entirely unsuccessful campaign to smash the photocopier in all language schools around the world and I say it for these three reasons:

  1. It's unsustainable environmentally. If every sound (not word, sound!!!) we ever taught language learners needed to printed, how long would it take us to wipe out the rainforests? This matters! Even if you still refuse to believe the evidence of global warming (video).
  2. It's an absurd waste of the trainee's/teacher's time. Do you really need to go and find a computer and print and photocopy the term mobile phone (or find an image of one) when there's a mobile phone in everyone's pocket and they already know the word anyway?
  3. It's so 20th century. As course tutors we need to stop recommending this activity. It encourages trainees to continue backwards into the 20th century, to imagine that PC+projector, together with printer+photocopier is technology, when in fact the world has kind of slightly moved on from that, and it may well be that those four "P"s are things the learners only ever encounter in the time warp they enter when they set foot in a language classroom.

When was the last time a trainee doing teaching practice on a CELTA course got the learners to use an app? Perhaps, just perhaps, they should be doing that…

Single word get printed out
Get? The rain forest wept! You don't need to print the word get!

Writing prompt: what is in this man's dreams?

Here's one I posted to Twitter earlier this week, with the photo one I'd taken of street art in the district of Poble Nou, here in Barcelona.

I don't get to teach English these days as I often as I'd like to, so I was grateful to Kim for lending me her class for an hour to try this out.

Keeping materials to a minimum, with an image that suggests multiple possible stories, plus a couple of lead-in questions (see tweet, above), always seems to work with no matter what age and in all levels above approx. B1.

With this particularly group (teens B1/B2), the original idea was to get them to write the stories, but I went instead with Kim's advice: doing it all orally and then recording the "finished" stories (we used the Spreaker app, on Kim's phone).

The learners looked at the photo above, plus another which showed the whole body (most probably intended to be of a homeless person sleeping on a bench or on the pavement); noted the questions; and they then had 6m 21s to produce a first draft — because that was how long this piece of music lasts…

Recommended.

Why teachers need to be on social media

G Plus CommunityFor our 1,500-member post-CELTA support group, which has been using a private Yahoo Group since it was first set up in August 2004, we're gradually moving on to private G+ communities (logo, right), which has generated a number of concerns about privacy.

A G+ Community (very like a Facebook group if you aren't familiar with G+) can be either public or private, a choice you have to make on set-up and cannot then change. Privacy issues ought to be among the first concern of teachers considering using technology and, with a private Community, what is posted there stays there, and is shared only with members of the community — so that "Private" is the choice I've made for all the Communities I run, no matter who the community has been for, teachers or for language learners.

For anyone reluctant to join our new group (open only to people who take their CELTA course at IH Barcelona) — or concerned about using social media in general, for that matter — I've put forward the same arguments I've used with language learners:

  • By being on the internet at all, you've already surrendered a certain amount of your privacy
  • We have, nevertheless, done what is possible to make our community private
  • You do need to concern yourself with what you share with whom…
  • But, in the 21st century, you probably do want a professional digital footprint on the internet

A professional digital footprint
In the world of work — which, after all, English language teaching is part of — you probably do want to hide certain things. Who can access what on your Facebook page, for example…? Can a potential employer…? What photos can other people find and see, not just on Facebook but elsewhere, too…? Picassa, for example, is a site where I discovered I was unwittingly "sharing" photos I never meant to.

Unknown userBut you probably do want to be on LinkedIn, for example, with a carefully crafted profile and an attractive profile picture — for the job offers you can obtain through it and so that recruiters can take a good look at you. And yes, for that reason, you want a profile image, not some faceless default image (see example, right).

Somewhere like about.me is another quite good place to post your curriculum (and a good place to link to in your paper or digital CV). Here, to provide an example, is my about.me page — still a work in progress and note that I'm not looking for a job as an English teacher: if I were, I'd most definitely change things there.

Being able to show examples of what your learners have done is also interesting, perhaps work that they posted online (and again, you'd want to concern yourself with privacy and obtain their permission to make use of it). If it's not posted publicly, screen captures on paper in a portfolio would be one way to go.

And you probably do want to be "on" social media, with a blog and/or a Twitter account that you can also show to potential employers (always assuming that what you're posting isn't going to immediately put them off you as a candidate!).

By following other people on Twitter or on blogs or via RSS (my tool of choice: TheOldReader), you (1) get yourself some informal, ongoing social learning — which has got to have a positive effect on the classes you teach — and (2) arm yourself with an immediate answer to the question I'd personally put to all candidates for jobs in education today: "Describe your PLN to me…"

Coming next | Why teachers should use social media with learners

10 towns: no preparation, no materials, no technology

Bilbao

Bilbao | Photo: Tom Walton

Here's an old activity (probably best for B2 or above) I last did with learners a long time ago but which I happened to come across when doing the spring cleaning.  I'm fairly sure the idea was the result of a conversation with my colleague Susana Ortiz one day in the staffroom…

Ten towns, outline
Individually:

  • Learners jot down on a piece of paper a list of 10 or more towns or cities they've been to
  • For 10 of them, they should then write down one thing they vividly remember doing in each
  • Mentally note which city is most important to them personally

If the things they remember are personal or appear trivial, that's not a problem — in fact it's probably going to be more interesting (provided of course they're not too personal!). They don't have to be things like visiting famous moments, but do have to be things vividly remembered.

In a group of three or four:

  • Swop and read your partners' lists and discover which cities some or all of you have been to
  • Also talk to them about anything on the list you don't understand as well as anything else that you find interesting or want to know more about
  • See if you can guess which town, from what you are told, is most important to each of your partners

Examples
It's probably best to give at least a couple of examples. Here are 4 of mine:

  • Bilbao (where I could no longer find the city I once knew)
  • Paris (where I didn't find La Maga)
  • Valladolid (where I understood a Bruce Springsteen song)
  • A small town in the Pyrenees whose name I've now forgotten

As you can see, mine are short and rather enigmatic — but that's actually perfect for then jump-starting natural conversation, which is what we are after. As I remember it, the idea sprang from a coursebook unit on "Cities", but it also worked great as an ice-breaking getting-to-know-each-other activity with a new class.

Optional extra
Illustrate your list with a couple of quick doodles — like this example:

In the Pyrenees

With technology
The original was definitely for this to be "no technology" but another colleague (Kate? Rachel…?) then tried the idea on an Edmodo group, where each member of the class posted their individual lists and then all participated in the subsequent commenting, in class time, using a computer room. A lot of fun!

Preparation time: 0
Photocopies required: 0
Other materials required: 0