Digital storytelling dolls and LegoMen

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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 😉  ).

Pictures of graffiti for fun and language

Here's one I tweeted yesterday, which worked well in class, the picture being one Kim took of graffiti here in the Barrio Gótico in Barcelona.

There just happened to be a class of adults next door to Kim's teens and, the adults' teacher arriving late (!), Kim sent half of her teens next door to ask them what they thought the correct answer was and then report back, while the other half of Kim's class discussed it together.

Fun — and productive, too!

Here's another one, also spotted in the street, which also worked well (also with teens), who had to incorporate the phrases "sad eyes" and "warm hands" into a story:

Having no technology available — no computer in the room, no wifi and no smartphones (!!!) — they used pen and paper, and what's wrong with that?

Great Twitter feeds for images for class

Twitter, for all its faults, is a great place to find images for class. Following the feeds below, just about every day I find myself favouriting more images than I could ever use in class. What I particularly keep an eye out for are single images that will kick-start creative writing projects (aka digital storytelling), often having to rely on friends and colleagues with more learners than I've got to try them out.

If you don't "do" creative writing, try the following just as speaking activities.

500px

500px.com (@500px) is a site not for ELT but for serious photographers, but nevertheless has some wonderful images for class. The photo above wasn't used for creative writing but Kim used it and the article it comes from to get teens into taking some pretty amazing, pretty scary selfies which they then shared and commented on via an Edmodo group (with a lot inevitably ending up on Facebook and Snapchat). A lot of fun, and a lot of language came from commenting – and class discussion – on how to look more scary!

See also PhotoFocus.com (@photofocus), a similar site and this previous post, with an example, for creative writing.

History in Pictures

History in Pictures (@HistoryInPics) is another great site to follow. This particular image would have worked great in a class of 18, with each member of the class writing the "story" for one of the people at the concert (if you had more, you could always have the four members of the band!)

Only having three students, each of mine got six characters (being teens they weren't too keen on that!) and had to – for each — come up with (1) biodata; (2) what their parents had to say about them going to a Beatles concert (we watched this video, and tried to get it into historical context); (3) what happened to them (long) afterwards; we then had some fun (4) inviting each other to go to the concert; and (5) altering and/or adding to the stories so that at least some of the characters knew each other in later life – with some marrying other characters also at the concert, though not necessarily the partners they went with!

Life.com

Life.com (@Life) is also excellent. With the photo above, Rachel did a similar writing activity, assigning each of the learners one of the characters, with any learner without a "kid" being one of the parents and one being the photographer.

They (1) made notes individually on biodata; (2) negotiated alterations; (3) took – a lot of – time out discussing the nature of happiness; (4) wrote drafts of what happened to the kids in the next 25 years (approx. 1950-1975), including historical content (the 60s, Woodstock, Vietnam…) and whether or not the characters were happy later on in life; (5) commented on each other's work – via Google Drive and suggested improvements; and (6) wrote "final" versions; and then (7) read those and commented further.

A lot of language from one image – which was the objective!

Life.com sends out an excellent weekly email with its top 10 galleries of the previous week, for anyone who detests Twitter.

The Telegraph

The Telegraph (@TelegraphPics) also tweets some excellent pictures for activities of this sort. The one above worked well with learners in threes — one the kid, one the polar bear, one a passenger on the train – brainstorming what they thought was happening; what each of the characters (including the bear!) was thinking; and then telling the story from the three different points of view, attempting to focus only on a maximum 24 hour period in the characters' lives.

I did it just as a speaking activity with my three teens; Kim did it but had the learners record their stories using the Speaker app and share them via an Edmodo group.

If you want great images for class, the site you don't go to is Google Images! These are the sort of images you want for language classes.

Also of interest
See this previous post if Twitter drives you crazy.

Going mobile? You should be!

There's another excellent book just out in DELTA Publishing's excellent teacher development series.

Like the others in the series, Going Mobile — by Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney — is short (120 pages), user-friendly and well-organized, and full of practical ideas that the teacher can take into class and try out, with good sections on some of the challenges and issues that are likely to arise.

If you are a language teacher who has never had your learners take out their smartphones and use them for a classroom activity, the book is conveniently organised from "simple to more demanding tasks".

I'd always suggest starting with easy tasks if you're never made much use of technology in a classroom — in fact I never do anything complicated: you want language-rich tasks, not technologically-complex ones.

To give one example from the book,"Talking trash" has the learners "take a photo of rubbish and record the story of how it got there" — to be done in pairs, thus ensuring that the interaction, the negotiation and the other language practice opportunities are as important as the technology.

Getting learners to photograph and share things via a WhatsApp group works so well (apart from anything else as it's so motivating) and if you — they! — start to look, it is amazing what people throw away. An example:

If there are privacy issues (and there are!), an alternative to WhatsApp would be to have learners use their phones to take the photographs, but share via another excellent app, Tackk.

All language teachers should surely by now — 15 years into the 21st century! — be taking advantage of the technology learners are carrying around with them in their pockets. Apps like WhatsApp and tasks like podcasting (for which I'd recommend Spreaker) afford so many opportunites for language practice and learning!

In my talk at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference (February 6-7), I'll be arguing that, in language teaching, we've got lost: we've ignored the signs of the times and blithely carried on making photocopies while our learners are making SnapChats. You want — and need — your learners to "go mobile", and this book will help you into that process.

Find out more about the book (contents, sample activities, videos, etc) on the publisher's site.

Also highly recommended, in same series: Teaching Online, which Nicky wrote with Lindsay Clandfield.

Also of interest

Less grammar, fewer photocopies and images

Above, something I'm 99% sure Michael Lewis said at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference back in 2008, though it isn't something to be found in the handout (.pdf) from the session.

In my own session for this year's event I'm going to be suggesting that in ELT we've got lost, at least as far as technology is concerned. In the session, I'm not going to deal with who's to blame but, for what it's worth, part of what has gone wrong is that in many schools we've provided teachers with unrestricted access to photocopiers, with the result that whilst the rest of the world has raced on into the 21st century, a significant proportion of language teachers (data in the session) are still waiting in the queue to waste rainforests.

I suppose what Michael Lewis said stuck in my head (I know I wrote it down somewhere!) and I realised the other day that I was paraphrasing him in a training session when I said this:

I've always wondered what effect having the photocopiers stolen would have on teaching in the various schools I either work in or have contact with. Assuming we did actually want to get new monsters, if they couldn't be installed for a week, or a month, and we assessed honestly at the end of that period (the longer the better), would we find that our teaching — and our learners' learning — had suffered, or gotten better in some way?

There are good reasons why we might in fact want to try going photocopyless (one of my favourite words, but only 3 results in Google!!!).

We could say the same for images:

The notion that "an image is worth 1000 words" is another of the things that, it seems to me, has led us astray. What we want is fewer, better images, ones that will produce more — and more meaningful, and more communicativelanguage from our learners.

Reason #1 to go to conferences and workshops: the little things you scribble down that then go on to make a difference to how and what you teach.