How do you control what learners are up to?

Learners using mobiles

Learners using mobiles: or are they just WhatsApping their friends…?

Another question raised in the workshop I gave last Friday:

How do you control whether or not your learners are doing the task you set on their mobiles? How do you know they're not using them for something else the moment you turn your back?

It's probably an issue that arises more with young learners than it does with adults, but if you've ever used a computer room with teens you'll know that it's also a danger with desktops, not just with mobile phones.

My best advice would be this, which a teacher on a summer course with me once said when another teacher raised the same question:

If my students start going to Facebook instead of doing the task I've set them, I don't blame them; I blame myself — for not making my task interesting enough to them.

Set a really interesting, creative task, in other words, and the problem is less likely to arise. It's perhaps less a question of controlling than one of motivating.

To that, I'd add the following tips:

  • Set a strictly limited amount of time spent on phones/computers in class (a 5-minute alarm set on your phone, or with a browser countdown / the one on your IWB, works well, but remember to turn the volume up 😉 !
  • Set that time slightly under what you think they'll need
  • Always specify something else for your fast-finishers to get on with
  • Always do everything in pairs, with one computer/phone between each pair — there's more communication, more use of language (provided it's in English!), and less temptation, or possibility, of taking a sneak peek at Facebook

Any other ideas? Do add them in the comments…

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.

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.

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!

Really creative writing project: a series of dreams

Here's an apparently crazy idea for a creative writing project but one that might work well with an imaginative, co-operative B2+ class, one that wouldn't be put off as soon as they realise it's Bob Dylan (!!!) singing it.

Could your learners produce something along similar lines, inspired by this? Working in groups of 4 or 5, perhaps they could each describe a crazy dream they've had at some time and then roll them into a single series.

One tool your learners could use for it would be the interactive whiteboard, as you can import things to it, and then juggle them around, though you'd perhaps want only one group of not more than 3 or 4 using the IWB as their medium, while the other groups use something else.

It might just work with Glogster (which I've always found works best with younger learners, as it seems to frustrate anyone beyond about the age of 25-30).

Prezi would probably work too.

To get text in, Wordle would work and Prezi and Wordle would probably make a neat combination.

But the best choice of tool would probably be video and there are some amazing mobile phone apps for making videos.  As the teacher, you probably don't want to make the choice of tool for the learners — make a few suggestions but then leave it up to them to make any technological decisions.

You might want, for example, to suggest that they create their own voiceover rather than stealing copyrighted music for a backing track. Soundcloud is terrific, as is Spreaker, if you want an app.

A second, equally crazy idea
Here's another similar idea…

"A Truncated Story of Infinity" – A Short by Paul Trillo from Paul Trillo on Vimeo.

If you asked your learners to be really creative, could they produce something of their own, inspired by this?

What sort of class would this be for?
I don't currently have a suitable class of my own in which to try either of these ideas out but among other things I'd want:

  • B2 or above
  • Excited about doing different things, and not expecting or wanting to do more grammar exercises
  • Possibly younger rather than older learners
  • Learners comfortable using mobile phone apps
  • A 2 (3?) minute time limit on their final products
  • A class that did all group work in English

Working together in English
To get the most language learning out of such ideas, you always want to devote as much class time as possible to brainstorming, speaking, providing language and discussing how the project is going to be done, rather than spending your precious class time just doing a lot of clicking. If you storyboard on paper in class, messing around with the phones and apps can be done outside class.

Having peers review and comment on each other's work-in-progress, as well as the finished product, is another way to create more opportunities for language practice.

Perhaps such things are best for summer courses — but wouldn't ELT in general be so much more interesting for both teachers and learners alike if more things like this got produced and we were less slaves to things like course books and exams syllabuses and programmes that had to be completed?