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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…

How good do teachers need to be with technology?

Posted on | September 25, 2014 | 1 Comment

For reasons I won't get into now, I needed to remind myself how to create a presentation using Prezi, the zooming, "bold reinvention of presentation software".

To do so, I took one idea that had seemed to go down well when scribbled on a whiteboard in a recent workshop and put it into Prezi (without doing too much zooming, which is the way to prevent Death by Prezi).

What do you think?
As teachers, as 21st century educators, do we need to be experts with technology, a bit geeky, people who know how to operate technology in all shapes and forms?

Or can we get away with being frankly a bit "hopeless" with it — technologically challenged, if you prefer?

Please, do leave your comments…

365 tweets: how to stop Twitter driving you insane

Posted on | September 19, 2014 | No Comments

455 days ago (according to MetricSpot.com), I started tweeting a maximum once a day (an average of 0.80 tweets/day). When I reached 100 tweets, I lost a small bet to Kate, and have now lost a second by failing to get to 365 within 450 days ("Damn it", as Jack Bauer would say!).

Twitter activity

I am, however,  on Twitter several times a day, and recommend it as one of my favourite tools for teachers. When I did so the other day, someone said Twitter drives her "completely potty" so, for what it's worth, here are 10 newbie tips for using Twitter and retaining your sanity.

  1. Follow something important to you Find some subject or issue that really interests or concerns you and "follow" and engage with that — whatever it is. Two of my big interests outside work are photography and street art and it was when I started following various people on those subjects, ones that mattered to me, that I first thought, "Wow! Twitter is great!"
  2. Twitter is great for images For class, I detest seeing trainees and colleagues using Google-is-Evil Images, as the results — the pictures they take from there — are rarely worth their time, in terms of how much language they are going to get from the images. But following people like @500px or @HistoryInPics or @Life or even @TelegraphPics will bring you brilliant photographs for creative writing, apart from anything else, from which you're going to get so much more language.
  3. It's good for jobs alerts A significant percentage of the people on teacher training courses here at IH Barcelona are taking CELTA courses (or the Spanish teacher training equivalent) and are going to be looking for ELT jobs: if that's your case, even if you followed no one else, following @tefldotcom or @ESLjobfeed, among others, would make it worth your while to be on Twitter.
  4. Favourite things I tend to go on to Twitter on my phone, over breakfast, over a coffee, on the Metro, occasionally at traffic lights; I "favourite" a lot stuff to come back to and read at length, when I have more time…
  5. … and unfavourite things And then I go back and skim-read the articles and so on linked to, unfavouriting if it disappointed, but keeping the really interesting, useful things, so that my favourites are, to some extent, a bank of materials I can turn to for class.
  6. Who follows who Who other people follow is interesting (often who they follow are way more interesting!). It sometimes repays to, for example, go and check out the author (A) of a really interesting tweet that someone you already follow (B) has retweeted — as Person A sometimes turns out to be much more interesting than Person B. You want to "follow" B, you want to follow interesting people!
  7. Who you unfollow is as, if not more, important as who you follow, and you want to start to unfollow people if they start to irritate you, quite possibly with the sheer volume of their tweets and/or the fact that none of what they post ever interests you. Ditch them!
  8. Create your own "unfollow" rules It's actually quite fun to create "unfollow" rules: mine include instantly unfollowing anyone who ever mentions politics, posts a photo of a cat or of coffee, or boasts where they are in the world — whoever they are, including friends and family. With the referendum in Scotland yesterday and another coming up in Barcelona, I've been able to slash the number of people I follow dramatically!
  9. You need to learn to tweet There's a certain amount of "learning to tweet" involved but fortunately Twitter itself is a good place to learn things — like the (unofficial!) rules of engagement.
  10. 365 is a great idea If you're learning something, anything, but it applies particular to using technology, you want to use it regularly, and obliging yourself to use it once a day — whether it's a new camera, or an interactive whiteboard, Google Drive or a piece of new software — is a great way to go about it. I've learnt so much from 365 photography, sketching and writing projects I've been involved in and am happy to say that it got me hooked on Twitter, while my other 9 tips helped me retain at least a degree of sanity!

Coming next, my 10 favourite tweets, of which this is one:


Who's the captain of that ship? I've got so much in class by starting with that image, and that question!

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.

How to get your learners to speak English

Posted on | September 18, 2014 | 2 Comments

Union Jack

I'd better publish this one today, before Scotland votes "yes" and the Union Jack disappears for ever…

If you've got learners doing things like digital storytelling or project work or groupwork of any kind, it's so important (and so difficult, at times!) to get them to speak English.

Here's an idea a friend and ex-colleague, Rachel, has been trying out at her school in France, which seems to have worked well.

The learners (mostly 12 to 16) made themselves Union Jacks, which one in 3 has to wear, but are only allowed to continue to wear so long as they continue to speak English. If they speak French, their badges are unceremoniously taken off them by their classmates (and, yes, some of them deliberately try to trick the "Brits" into saying things in French!).

Whatever group work continues, but we get both a "winner" — the last Brit standing — and a record, which I believe is currently somewhere in excess of 24 hours (!!!) without speaking a word of French.

They started off using post-its, but a convenient box of unused conference badges (see photo, above) has turned out to be much more durable.

Try it, it's fun… or if you have other, better ideas, do leave them in the comments!

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?

keep looking »


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