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

Posted on | November 16, 2014 | 2 Comments

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

Posted on | October 15, 2014 | No Comments

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

Posted on | October 8, 2014 | 4 Comments

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

The kind of image you want for class

Posted on | October 4, 2014 | 1 Comment

One I retweeted earlier, from the amazing 500px.com (on Twitter as @500px):

I never use Google Images to look for images to use in class, but see so many great images by following people like 500px on Twitter. If you "favourite" them on Twitter, you don't need to bother downloading them and can access them big! If you then display them with a projector rather than with an A4 photocopy, you'll get people to say so much more — because they can see it better.


Both for speaking and for writing activities, you want images that suggest multiple questions to the observer, images that suggest multiple possible, imaginable stories.

That's the kind of image that is worth 1,000 words — because it will then get your learners to actually say those thousands of words.

Fun warmer with 'would rather'

Posted on | October 3, 2014 | No Comments

Coke vs Pepsi

Here's an idea [content in Spanish] which my colleague Xavi Mula published on our Spanish teacher training blog earlier this week.

Xavi's idea was to get the learners to produce their own 'would rather' cards and bring them to class for a fun warmer/revision activity.

If you need some examples, you'll find lots in the link I posted on Twitter about a month ago:

If you had an Edmodo group or something similar (for adults I'd recommend a private G+ community), it could be a fun, on-going thing.

If you were using a WhatsApp group, it would work great there, too. Try challenging your learners: who can come up with the best 'would rather" — i.e. the one that produces the most replies?

12 tweets, links to 100s of ideas for class

Posted on | September 28, 2014 | No Comments

Having got to 365 tweets, I took a look back at what I've been posting and picked out a dozen things that I particularly liked for one reason or another.

In reverse chronological order…

#1 | Because, thanks to Twitter, I discovered a great blog for anyone teaching Young Learners:

#2 | Because getting learners to interact is so important; because if you're using web 2.0 tools but not getting learner to comment, then you're not exploiting them to their full potential, and because there's so much good advice here:

#3 | Because there are literally 100s of great ideas here:

#4 | Because if being on Twitter doesn't make you think, you probably shouldn't be there at all:

#5 | Because I think this is an absolutely key question we should ask ourselves as language teachers:

#6 | Because 1000+ Pictures for Teachers to Copy is such a brilliant book, the most useful I've ever come across in 35 years as teacher:

#7 Because I love good quotes (=make you think!):

#8 Because film-english.com has got to be among the very best sites for materials for lessons for English teachers:

#9 | Because infographics are great for class:

#10 | Because video is so great for class, especially so on Vimeo rather than on YouTube:

#11 | Because Edmodo is so great, provided you exploit it too the full (I mean, how would you feel about Facebook if all you got to do was read what your Mum posted?!)

#12 | Because I love creative writing digital storytelling: it's such fun — and so productive — to invent such stories in class; and because I highly recommend PhotoPrompts:

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.

Will an Apple watch lead to more learning?

Posted on | September 28, 2014 | No Comments

Just a couple of thoughts on this:

I'm a big fan of Edutopia (also their excellent Twitter feed), it's excellent for keeping yourself up-to-date with what's happening in technology and how advances there might be profitably used in education.

But this question, to which they have a sensible answer, is frankly daft (though possibly quite clever as link bait).

NO! It won't lead to more learning! NO technology ever leads to more learning!

It's only good use of technology by the learners — and good task design by the teacher — that leads to any learning at all, let alone more learning!

Incidentally, as well as being a big fan of Edutopia, I'm a self-confessed big hater of all things Apple, but perhaps it's best not to get into that…

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