Project work: the books on our shelves

Books on my shelf

My bookshelf: pride of place to the novels and short stories of Julio Cortázar

I'm doing the spring cleaning here on my blog, and either trashing or publishing some old posts that I had previously not got round to publishing.

This was originally an idea on The Guardian, which had readers photographing their bookshelves and describing what was on them, and what the contents say about them.

I took the photo of one of my own bookshelves and, before showing it to a group of adults, got them to guess what they thought I'd have on my shelf. Now that was fun! We then compared their ideas with what was actually in the photo — and they then had to go away, take photos of their own bookshelves on their phones and bring them back to class the next day and got people to talk about what it said about them.

If I was going to do it again — and it was a lot of fun, and productive of language — I'd probably get them to share the photos via either WhatsApp or a (private) Google+ Community, or possibly Instagram if whatever class I was doing it with were Instagram users.

Probably also a lot of fun to do if you had one of the learners collect all the photos and share them with everyone else in the class without revealing the names, so that no one knew whose shelf they were looking at and discussing.

See also a similar idea using photos of shoes, which used Edmodo.

Digital storytelling dolls and LegoMen

dolls0315

You've taken and shared the photos, now tell the story… | Photos: Esther and Class 3D

Esther tells me she had a lot of fun with this idea, which started out with teens using their smartphones to take photos of dolls, LegoMen, PlayMobil figures (hugely popular in Spain), Action Men, teddy bears or whatever they could find either at home or in shop windows.

Esther says:

Once we had lots of photos, we pooled them and I let the students pick whichever "characters" they wanted. The photos were all over the place, including on phones and Facebook but eventually one student had access to them all and put them in a PowerPoint for us all to see.

Once we had that, I let them pick whatever characters they wanted and then, in pairs, they incorporated the characters into "stories". I've got this tremendous mix of levels in the same group so I gave them a lot of freedom: some of the "stories" were just simple dialogues, others much more complex, including several PowerPoint stories, one a Prezi (probably not a good idea).

The "Cinderella" dolls [see image] were the most popular and produced some amazing stories!

Collecting the photos took about 10 days, which included two weekends (but note that it wasn't Esther doing that!) and the learners had a week in which to present the finished story in some form, with some being printed, some being shared digitally.

For a mixed ability group (and possibly for any group), allowing the learners leeway on their choice of tools and the actual format of the story — dialogue, poem, "proper" story, etc. — is a great idea.

A single place to post the photos to would probably have been a good idea (that was my fault, Esther ;-)  ).

Too much information, too little attention

We have way too much information coming at us, don't we? Here's a quotation I came across the other day (thanks Jackie!) and liked:

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it | Herbert A. Simon

I love quotations! Why, I've even given entire workshops based on quotations. This one came from the quotations page on lingholic.com, which turned up on Twitter, where I get (and dispense!) an overdose of information myself.

It's probably worth being on Twitter (for the images, if for no other reason) — but one of the secrets of staying sane on Twitter is this: what matters is not who you follow or how many people you follow but who you unfollow and how few people you follow. Stop following anyone who is boring you! Move away from them as you would at a party!

The other thing I always recommend is RSS, for which you'll require an RSS reader like The Old Reader. At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy again, it's so much more organised than all this newfangled social media nonsense ;-) !

One for your learners
Lingholic is a site you might like to recommend to your learners as (a) there's lots of good advice there for language learners and (b) you want independent learners!

On Twitter I'm @Tom_IHBCN and add to the information overload myself, with one little thing a day (max.) that is hopefully of interest to language teachers.

Roleplay lesson from supermarket receipts

Can you justify what's on your supermarket receipt?

How much of a lesson can you get out of a supermarket receipt…?

Here's one that might sound a bit weird but seemed to work quite well when Kim tried it out in an adults post-First Certificate class, who had been doing a coursebook unit in which various "enviroment" themes had come up.

It required the learners to keep any supermarket receipts (!) and bring them to a subsequent class: They then had to defend what they'd purchased, from an environmental point of view, in a mock trial (I told you it might seem a bit weird ;-) !)

Rough outline of the lesson
Class one (Friday)

  • Learners were asked to keep and bring to class any supermarket receipts

As "homework"

  • Discussion and photos, and comments on what they were buying and how "ecological" it was, via a WhatsApp group

Class two (the following Friday)

  • Preparation time (15 mins): preparing the questions (amount of packaging…? how much meat…? how far the food had traveled from source…? etc), some of which had already come up in earlier classes and/or in the WhatsApp discussion; in order to  have a "case" and a "defence" ready for "the trial"
  • Role play the trial (10 mins): Team A = 2 defendants plus 2 lawyers vs Team B = 1 judge; 1 prosecution lawyer; 1 assistant prosecutor; 1 star witness
  • Role play 2 (10 mins), with the roles reversed
  • Sentencing (5 mins)
  • Discussion (15 mins)

Ideally, of course, you'd have the receipts in English, but Kim got round that one by having the prosecutors requiring the defendants to provide the translations during questioning.

No technology whatsoever involved in the actual class but fun, and not a photocopy in sight!

How to get the maximum from an online course

E-learning

We have 5-week online teacher development courses starting April 13, although my own Technology for Language Learning course lasts a week longer.

I have fairly extensive experience as an online learner, as a tutor and as technical support and one of the questions that always seems to come up is how to copy and save everything that has been said on the forums.

While doing the spring cleaning, I've just come across my answer to that on the support forum on the previous edition of the technology course:

From experience as an online learner I'd suggest that:

  • Copying and pasting everything said on the forums is a waste of time. Inevitably, a lot of what gets said isn't going to be particularly valuable afterwards. By "valuable" I mean what you take away from the course — the things that you'll really use afterwards in your classes
  • What is worth doing is selecting and saving (only) the most interesting things somewhere (in a Word document, a Google Drive document or on a blog, which could be a private one). Sometimes they're only little things — ideas, questions, not whole messages or paragraphs; sometimes they're things the tutor has said, sometimes things your peers have said (and perhaps even things you said yourself ;-) !)
  • The important thing is that process of selection: not copying and pasting everything but copying and pasting and editing — because that's where you start to construct knowledge
  • Vital also is to participate fully on the forums: don't just lurk, participate! And don't expect the tutor to tell you everything: a good online course shouldn't just be a lecture, it should be a dialogue, an ongoing conversation
  • Apart from what is said on the forums, it's also a great idea to save the most interesting links somewhere (my personal favourite tool for that is Diigo)

To get the most out an online course you probably want to start doing all that from Day 1: do it during the course, not afterwards, when it will quite possibly have become a mammoth, impossible task.

The other thing I really recommend is writing a "learner diary" blog, which can be either totally private or else shared with classmates. I've never been convinced by them for language learners, but as learner diaries for language teachers they can be great.

Copy and paste the "important bits" there, and reflect on them. You don't need to write a lot!