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.

The kind of image you want for class

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.

12 tweets, links to 100s of ideas for class

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.

365 tweets: how to stop Twitter driving you insane

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.

Writing prompt: a photograph of me as a kid

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!