My top 12 sites for language teaching and learning

2 for the price of 1: song clips that tell stories…

These, in fairly random order, are a dozen of the sites I always recommend language teachers on pre-service courses like CELTA, and on others too.

They are sites I believe all language teachers should know about, though you'll notice that most are intended for the learners, rather than the teacher, to use.

  1. YouTube There's just so much brilliant material for language classes on YouTube (and see also Vimeo, in the next item below). Particularly great are song clips that tell stories [above and here's my favourite example], giving you 2 for the price of 1 — the song and the story (can your learners tell the story, explain and extend it?) | More ideas for using YouTube.
  2. FilmEnglish If you want lesson plans to go with your YouTube clips, then Kieran Donaghy's brilliant FilmEnglish is the best of a number of similar sites (see "Video lessons" in the sidebar, for more), partly because the choice of clips is always so inspired (many in fact don't come from YouTube but from the classier Vimeo).
  3. Google Drive Formerly known as Google Docs, Google Drive is brilliant because you will never ever again have to concern yourself with which is the right version of your document: there is only one version, up in the cloud, accessible from any device; brilliant because you can share documents with people (colleagues, students…); and brilliant because your learners can create the documents and collaborate within them, including in real time (in a chat window… oh, wow!). Absolutely amazing for creative, collaborative writing projects; great too if you have your learners make presentations. And all that without having to fork out for Micro$oft Office! | See also Getting started with Google Drive
  4. Edmodo | I just love Edmodo, and every class I know that's tried it has loved it too — provided the teacher has seen it for what it is: a kind of private Facebook group, one designed for education (and not for sharing every detail of your private life). An Edmodo group is for learners to do stuff, share it and comment on it; it doesn't work nearly as well if you see it as a place to provide the answers to "exercises" and little more. It gives your learners a digital space in which to do things. Welcome to the 21st century!  | More ideas for using Edmodo.
  5. Blogger For a more complex digital space than Edmodo, on which things can be kept looking more organised, a blog is a great option, with Blogger being easier than the very popular WordPress for anyone new to blogging. Fantastic for project work of all kinds | More ideas on blogging.
  6. WhatsApp Absolutely my favourite app for taking advantage of the technology learners come to class already equipped with — and with the app already downloaded, installed and familiar to them. Absolutely great, and addictive, for randomly sharing whatever, and great too for sharing photos on an agreed theme.
  7. SoundCloud | My second favourite app, Soundcloud turns your learners' mobile phones into audio recording devices (which they already are) for podcasting but also gives them somewhere in the cloud to store the files and do various other things with them (like commenting and linking). Podcasting I'd say is definitely one of the most successful uses I've ever had learners make of technology in language classes, though note that I don't recall ever having actually made a recording myself for use in class. | More ideas, information on podcasting.
  8. Twitter It took me a while to see the value of Twitter but I recommend it because it brings me ideas and materials (like the outstanding images on 500px); not to mention ELT job offers; and stuff (unrelated to work) that I just like and enjoy; because having learners "follow" someone — a celebrity of some kind — is a great way for them to get more, self-motivating reading practice; and because I've also seen it used a bit like an Edmodo or WhatsApp group, for sharing things between the members of a class , with one of the best examples being this project by Daniel Rodriguez (content in Spanish) | Me on Twitter (and check out who I follow for more ideas on who you could follow!)
  9. TeachingEnglish.org.uk Especially — but not exclusively — for newly qualified language teachers, Teaching English is a must-have favourite. Everything your CELTA course forgot to mention (and lots that it did) is there. Got a newbie question and you don't have a colleague at hand to turn to? Go there! If you're on Facebook, they also have a Facebook page that is well worth "liking".
  10. OneStopEnglish In many ways very like Teaching English, OneStopEnglish requires subscription (currently 42 GBP, or €53 pa) for full access, though if you're lucky, your school already has school access to it. Another great site to turn to when the DoS gives you classes (business English, exams…) that CELTA didn't prepare you for!
  11. Cambridge Exams And talking about exams, all teachers should know about them, acquire knowledge  of them and experience of teaching exam classes. In Europe, the Cambridge Exams are the most popular, and schools want teachers that have that knowledge and experience. Here's where to acquire at least the former, which is a definite plus to your CV.
  12. Tech ELT Blog I've left technology till last as I think it's the least important (but still vital) ingredient in a language classroom. I going to recommend my own blog here  (!!!) as a site to bookmark because — I hope — virtually everything here is (a) easy to put into practice in a language classroom; (b) interaction- and language-rich but technology-light, and not the other way round: and (c) involves learners rather than teachers using technology — which is as I think it should be. You want alternatives? Look at some of the "Blogs I learn from" (see sidebar).

What must-favourite sites for language learning do you think I've missed? Tell us in the comments…

All-time favourite listening comprehension activity

A few further comments on an idea I tweeted earlier today…

 

I've been doing this with classes since before the Internet (!!!), taking a radio (what?!) into class to play the BBC news bulletin to learners First Certificate (B2) and above.

A one-minute bulletin is great, especially great now that you can have it with video (and no static!) and the task involves learners (individually) first listening; then listening again and transcribing everything they can; then comparing notes with a partner; then listening again and attempting to fill in any gaps.

If you're lucky (and yes, it's a bit hit and miss!) there will be at least one news item that will then lead on to discussion and debate.

It works because it's topical; it's real and up-to-the-minute; it's materials and preparation "light" (I don't make a transcription) but language and interaction "rich"; and it satisfies the principal requirement of my one-man crusade against the photocopier: number of photocopies required — none.

Persuading your learners to listen and watch such things on their own every day (they don't have to transcribe, of course!) is also a good idea as it's such great, extra listening comprehension practice.

On Twitter (@Tom_IHBCN), I post only one thing a day (and quite frequently not even that), always and exclusively things I think will interest language teachers and/or their learners.

Great things found in 60 seconds on The Guardian

When I turn on my computer every morning, I spend about a minute scanning the front page of The Guardian. I am interested in the news but I really do it to see what I can spot that might be interesting for class.

For 60 seconds of my time, I get far more stuff than I could ever use, but from those 60 seconds I get hours and hours of interesting topics and materials for class. As a teacher, for any time you spend on preparing materials, a key question is what's your return on your investment? How many hours of language use and practice are you getting from how many minutes preparation time?

Things I spotted this week:

    • Friday These 10 true or false science facts might be fun as a team game, with 10 minutes to discuss and submit answers for 2 points each, and then a further 10 minutes to submit corrected answers — with the use of the internet for fact checking, for a further 1 point each.
    • This story about a bloke who tried to be 100% French ("only foods produced in France, eliminate contact with foreign-made goods…") might make for a way more interesting report for your learners to write than your average CAE writing paper report: can they report on what percentage are they whatever nationality they are?
    • Thursday Discussion topic: What's so great about this video that it went viral — in Germany. Would it work in your country?
    • The photo highlights of the day is always an interesting section, either for creative writing prompts or to view the photos without their captions (think interactive whiteboard for ease and speed of capture!) and see which pair or three can get closest to "explaining" the photos
    • Wednesday With a class of learners interested in cookery, the user-submitted photos of Your favourite comfort food is a great starting point for discussion and/or on-going project work: can they take and share (think Edmodo!) photos of their own comfort foods?
    • From the reports and user comments on the sports pages, Man Utd having lost 2-0 in the first leg of their Champions tie, with keen sports fans, you could get a lot of mileage from the question "What's wrong with Man Utd?"
    • Tuesday With adults, perhaps particularly anyone doing business English, the five questions Google asks job applicants might be interesting. Discussing and predicting the likely content prior to reading, from only the headline, is a format that works well with lots of articles.
    • Another one for lovers of cookery, possibly only in Spain, for discussion, research, reading and writing: What is the right way to make paella?
    • Monday Discussion topic: Is it OK to swear at football matches?
    • And finally, one for classes of teenagers: 10 things Australian teenagers really want. What do your teens really, really want?. Great as a discussion and writing project, brilliant as a video project, recorded on mobile phones!

I've been an English teacher for nearly 35 years now and I've always detested being saddled with a coursebook. Before I retire, I'd like — among other things — to teach (1) a class of teens using only the board game Catan or, alternatively, the now way too old videogame Age of Empires and (2) a class of adults using content only from the front page of The Guardian.

The course content would be so much easier to tailor to their interests and thus so much more interesting and motivating than any coursebook I've ever used.

PS I loved the photos of the model trains, and the story on Lego, too…! Oh, and the Lego infographic!

Great sources of images for class (not Google Images!)

In my session at IH Barcelona's ELT Conference next weekend, I'm going to mention the following as sources of images for use in language classes.

My aversion to Google Images comes at least in part from watching trainees on our CELTA courses waste countless hours there looking for pictures to take to class, and often coming away with images which it is frankly hard to see them getting a lot out of — and the point of my session is that if you're not getting a lot of language out of the image, it's a waste of time looking for it in the first place.

Creative writing tasks
A single image that jump starts the ideas for a piece of creative writing

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seems to me a much better, more productive use of images. One brilliant source of images for creative writing which I've discovered recently is 500px:

Finding that picture, and adding 6 or 7 lead-in questions to spark ideas, to be brainstormed in pairs or threes, is going to lead to more language and interaction than whatever you can steal from Google to illustrate a phrase like "the sun is shining" (which you could have just drawn anyway!).

In the image above, for example:

  • Who exactly is the person in the photo (name, age, sex, profession…?)
  • Is s/he alive or dead?
  • Where exactly is this?
  • What is the date?
  • Who else is involved in the story?
  • What exactly is the person in the photo thinking at this moment?
  • Who is s/he waiting for?

Here's another, similar example.

Great image sites
Apart from 500px, my other favourites include:

What distinguishes such sites from Google Images? Two things: (1) they don't steal their content from other people (an old-fashioned concern, perhaps?) and (2) they have a vested interest in the quality of the images on their sites, neither of which are of any concern to Google.

And not just photographs…
Images for class don't have to be photos. It's possible to get a lot out of infographics [example task], with three of my favourite infographics sites being these:

Two other excellent sites, particularly if you are interesting in writing tasks are these two, which also give you a single image (and text) as a starting point:

And finally there are videos. A picture might be worth a 1000 words (sadly often not the case to judge by the sort of images I see being prepared for class!), but an interesting YouTube clip — particularly if it comes with the idea for a lesson from a site like one of the following — can be worth (ie. produce from your learners) many 1000s more:

You can "follow" many of the above on Twitter or Facebook, though my preference is to use their RSS feeds and a tool like The Old Reader.

You want to use images in class? You could draw them yourself or have your learners take them on their phones but, failing that, do go somewhere decent to look for them if you want to get lots of language from them…

YouTube lesson plans for language teachers

Here's another wonderful clip and accompanying lesson plan recently posted on Kieran Donaghy's excellent Film English, one of the sites I always recommend trainees on CELTA courses at IH Barcelona.

I can also recommend two other similar video and lesson plan sites, LessonStream and Allatc (the latter particularly for more advanced learners) but what I particularly like about FilmEnglish is the choice of the clips: they so intrinsically interesting, as the materials for lessons really always ought to be.

And a couple more video sites: if you must turn everything, including YouTube material into grammar exercises, then Movie Segments to Assess Grammar Goals might be your thing, as might ESL Video, for creating your own exercises.

YouTube (not to mention other sites like Vimeo and Videojug) offers language teachers an amazing variety of materials but rather than immediately thinking "How can I turn this clip into an exercise?", think "How can I turn this into a lesson?" — particularly if it involves doing something more creative with YouTube.

The key question to getting the most from YouTube is probably to consider how active or passive the learners are going to be. If the clip gets them merely to check true/false boxes, they're passive; if it gets them to talk, then they're active.