21st century editors don't use scissors and glue

Learners with scissors and glue class paper

At Encuentro Práctico, a conference for Spanish teachers, back in 2009, I showed the photograph above (here, distorted to protect the privacy of the people in it), in which the learners are admiring their work — a "class newspaper", which has involved a lot of use of scissors and glue.

Back then, as in my session I was demonstrating what could be done with an interactive whiteboard, I asked the question, "Couldn't this be done with technology — perhaps by using the IWB?"

Last Saturday, I found myself showing the same photograph again — in the very same room — at this year's edition of the IH Barcelona ELT Conference; but the question in 2015, six years on into the 21st century, really perhaps ought by now to be "Why isn't this being done with technology?"

I gave this second example, of work done by adults on a Spanish course, in which they've again been using scissors and glue to produce a piece of project work to illustrate what the world might be like in the year 3000 AD:

Project work on classroom wall

As I suggested, we don't know what the world is going to be like in the 31st century but I think it's a fairly safe bet that — barring an ecological catastrophe — adults won't be using scissors and glue to do collaborative project work.

Below, the first of the tasks I proposed in my presentation as an alternative to the one-issue only, scissors-and-glue class paper:

Proposal for 21st century language learning

To expand on the notes in the slide from my presentation (above), my suggestion (designed for B2 or above) was to:

  • Use a digital space like Blogger or Edmodo (great with teens) or a private G+ Community (possibly better with adults) to publish the "paper"
  • Have learners, in groups of 3 and on a rota basis, take turns to post 3 things (any three things!) they think will be of interest to their peers
  • Have them decide what to post, though a YouTube "video of the week" has always proved successful in the classes I've tried this with myself or have had friends and colleagues try it with
  • Have generating as many comments (and hence as much language) as possible from their peers as the editors' principal objective

I suggest two rules:

  • One of the posts has to be coursebook (CB) related, so that the language on the topic/s seen in class during the week gets recycled and added to
  • Only one of the posts can be about football (important, for the sake of variety, if you teach in somewhere as football mad as Barcelona!)

You might want to add a "no-bullying" rule and personally I like to have a "no stealing images" (or text) and have the editors also produce any artwork (including photos) necessary to illustrate the week's posts.

What do you and your learners get from it?
Among the possible advantages of "technology" over scissors and glue:

  • It's more "real world" — in the sense that, unless your learners are children, few of them ever now use scissors and glue, but many probably do use tools similar to those suggested
  • It enables the learner to add multimedia: you can have only text or images on paper but with digital your learners can add audio, video, animation…
  • It's therefore (to many) exciting and therefore motivating — precisely because it's "21st century"
  • It makes a second issue happen: with a paper and scissors edition, that's most unlikely!
  • It provides for ease of editing: glue something in the wrong place and your learners may find themselves starting over | see also: how I correct
  • It's ongoing, providing you with a platform not only for this project but with a place where other project work can be published, too — such as some of the other ideas suggested in my session
  • It allows for — and requirescomments from peers, taking advantage of the communicative possibilities of modern day technology and providing a platform on which that communication can take place and be practised
  • It's collaborative and creative — and who doesn't want that in their classroom?
  • It's "social", involving sharing and the creation of an end product to look back on (perhaps over the whole term — or year!) and be proud of
  • Above all, it leads to the use and practice of more language, which is why we're in the classroom in the first place

Alternatives | Another of the tools mentioned in the session was Tackk, which would work well if the technology available to you in your classroom is only (?!) the smart phones in your learners' pockets (thanks to Montse G. for feedback on that).

You could also make your class "paper" 100% a radio show and use some of the amazing podcasting tools and apps that are available — I particularly recommend the Spreaker app.

Thanks are also owed particularly to colleagues Alex, Don, Kim and Rachel, and to Kate, for feedback over the years on this idea.

How to get your learners to speak English

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!

Simon's Cat: fun listening, speaking and writing

Spider!

Here's one we saw in my technology session on a CELTA course last week.

When I first meet a class I get them to write their names on pieces of A4 pulled out of the recycle bin, fold them and hang them on the front of their chairs/tables so that we all start to learn each other's names.

I also like to get my learners to draw something in the first class — in this case, in the example above, I asked for "an animal or insect that you find in some way repulsive".

Doing that identifies who enjoys drawing and subsequently I like to group people with at least one budding artist per group and have my learners illustrate any project work with their own illustrations rather than things stolen from the evil empire (AKA Google Images).

In this particular case, the drawings also then led on to the video we were then to watch, suggested for levels B2 and above.

Here's the video:

Lesson plan
A rough outline of the lesson plan…

  1. From the drawings, talk about what animals and insects we find repulsive and why, providing any vocabulary help that might be required
  2. In pairs/threes, watch approx the first 0'45" of the video, with one person/two not watching, one providing a running commentary
  3. Stop and answer any "How do you say…?" vocabulary questions
  4. Ask (in open class) "What's going to happen next?"
  5. Swop roles and continue to 1'30"
  6. Answer any further "How do you say…?" questions
  7. Ask (in open class) "How is it going to end?"
  8. Have everyone watch the last 15 seconds of the video and see if they can explain exactly what happens

The running commentary idea works with lots of YouTube videos — with more examples here.

Follow-up
For the vocabulary taught to become vocabulary learned, it needs to be recycled. A few ideas for that:

  • Perhaps after class, discussion of what does in fact happen at the end (does the cat kill the spider…?), something which works great if you have an Edmodo group, where you can share the video and then have people comment
  • In pairs/threes, writing a script for Scary Legs II (possibly using a shared Google Drive document), which then has to be "sold" to the rest of the class (possibly via Edmodo), who are writing rival scripts
  • In pairs, telling the story of how one or other partner came to find the animal/insect drawn at the start of the lesson repugnant (and including the drawing made)

I like all writing activities to be collaborative — so that, for example, in the last suggestion there we're not writing individually and handing the piece in to the teacher, but producing one piece of writing between two and sharing that with everyone (for which Edmodo is again ideal), and hopefully commenting on each other's work as well.

The commenting on what others write is important, as it provides opportunities for further interaction and (re-)use of language but it actually needs to be built into the task and required of the learners. Having learners "buy" other people's scripts (as in the second suggestion above) and/or award each other "prizes" (best, funniest, corniest, etc., script) are just two of the ways you could ensure that.

See also
Video: How to draw Simon's Cat

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…

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!