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!

Pictures taken by learners, shared via WhatsApp

Photos taken by learners
Photos taken by learners on mobile phones

Another one from my IH Barcelona ELT Conference session earlier this month, both ideas tried out by two former colleagues, Kate and Rachel, with teens.

Left, above, the idea was taking photos of anything at all of interest found in shop windows; right, the idea was to photograph anything on the theme of Halloween, with learners competing to produce "the best" photo.

To share the photos taken for these and other photo sharing projects, WhatsApp (hugely popular in Spain) and Edmodo were used (though quite a lot also ended up on the learners' Facebook pages).

What we saw was that the amount of English produced was often a little limited, which was disappointing. "Cool!", "Wow!" and "Yuck!" were probably the most frequent comments produced, though Edmodo seemed to produce rather longer, more careful interventions.

On the other hand, sharing the photos they'd taken themselves really got people excited and helped "gel" the groups back in September when most of the kids didn't know each other.

learnerpix14b
Example created to demo to learners what they had to produce

Above, a different project which did seem to produce a lot more in the way of language (surely any language teacher's #1 objective!).

As seen in the example, the learners (in small groups of 3 or 4) had to produce a series of images of one or more of them pulling silly faces, and link them together in some way in the captions.

The pictures were shared first via an Edmodo group and commented on by peers (who suggested what the expressions on the faces were supposed to be); the captions were then written and put together, with the pictures on a single PowerPoint slide, as in the example.

Lots of fun — and lots of language, too, provided you insist on the group work as well as any "photography" all being done in English.

Thanks, again, Kate and Rachel.

Bucket lists: an idea for just about any age

Here's a wonderful video made in support of a noble cause, Water is Life, which I saw on the excellent TeachThought site.

Apart from what you could do with the video itself, no matter what age your learners are, they could also write their own bucket list [ definition ], either thinking back to when they were kids or else at their current age.

It's always fascinating to share such things (think "class blog", or Edmodo, etc., possibly even Twitter) and draw conclusions from them (what do the list tell us about teens today, for example?); and to collaborate on brainstorming, agreeing on, creating and perhaps illustrating a single bucket list for the class.

The subject of "Water is Life", particularly with reference to the Third World, is also one that it might be interesting to research and present on (I hesitate to use the word webquest!)

What I learnt from my first 100 tweets

My first 100 twees

I lost a bet on this one (I owe you Kate!): I really didn't think I was going to get to 100 tweets. They were supposed to be one a day but it in fact took me 123 days to get there (stats shown were gathered with metricspot).

The figures shown must have been calculated on the first 99 for some reason. There are more details below but you can see that I probably didn't enter into nearly enough conversations (only 5% of my tweets were "replies") to fully appreciate that interesting Twitter avenue.

What the people I follow tweet
This is actually my second go with Twitter and, though I got to 100 (and beyond!), I'm still not convinced.

Occasionally there's something that makes you stop and think:

And occasionally, amongst all the chatter, there are practical ideas which are actually useful, like this:

 

And jobs! For anyone job-seeking, Twitter does seem useful, with sites like TEFL.com being worth following (see @tefldotcom).

What I tweeted
You can see below what I tweeted most. Apart from posts on my own blog (!), things on TeachThought were most common: what I like about it is that it makes you think about what you're doing in the classroom, particularly with regard to how technology is being used.

Next was The Guardian: I scan it every morning, not because I agree with its politics but for things that might make good materials for class (I loved the idea of learners creating something like this or this for example).

What I tweeted

Among the "mentions" I made, two of my favourite sources of materials for class: Kieran Donaghy's wonderful Film English and Luke Neff's brilliant Writing Prompts.

Twitter with learners
But what I was really interested in when I began back in June is discovering ways in which learners could use Twitter. Getting them to "follow" celebrities Kate tells me "works" for some but by no means all learners, with a big drop in interest after a week to ten days. There were several other projects we came up with but in the end — due to considerations of privacy (we're talking teens) — used Edmodo for them.

One that has worked really well (though again not with all): having teens "follow" feeds pumping out "inspirational quotes" (like @DavidRoads, for example), which really got learners — especially the girls — interested in reading (albeit in 140 character lots… or less!). Thanks to Sandy for trying that idea out.

And this idea for creative writing with Twitter is one I like a lot.

100 tweets later…
So, all in all, I'm surprised that — despite the appalling amount of frankly pretty pointless tweeting that goes on — Twitter actually can be useful; I am going to continue my one-a-day tweets (@Tom_IHBCN); but still think an RSS reader (I've been using theoldreader, since the demise of Google Reader) is way more organised and more useful.

Halloween photos on mobile phones


Image: Barcelona tobacconist's window, taken to show students as an example

Here's a project that seems to be going down well: having teens compete to see who can take the best Halloween themed pictures on their mobile phones.

They're sharing them in lots of places (Facebook, Twitter, via WhatsApp…) though where they're supposed to be 😉 sharing and commenting on them is on the Edmodo group set up for the class. 25 people have so far posted 47, which is great, though the amount of commenting has been a bit disappointing so far (perhaps we needed to insist on it more?).

After next weekend (when lots are going to Halloween parties where they're supposed to take more photos), the idea is for the learners to discuss and award prizes for the funniest, scariest, cutest… etc,

Thanks to Kate for trying the idea out!

See also
More Halloween ideas