Two more wonderful starting points for digital storytelling

One I spotted on Twitter last month, where I keep an eye out for the excellent Vimeo Staff Picks

And one I tweeted earlier this week…

We have to assume, of course, that bunnies can either write or speak for this to work. Teachers sometimes say to me "My learners just aren't that creative", to which I always say "You have to ask them to be"; and the more you do, the more they will be.

Writing or speaking tasks
Whether this is to be a writing or a speaking task, I like to make such things collaborative efforts, with learners working together in pairs or groups of 3 and producing a single version of the story between them.

If it's to be a writing task, Google Drive documents that the learners (not you!) set up and share with you and everyone else are amazing (a class blog makes a great alternative) — but do make your learners deal with all the setting up: you're not in class as technical support!

And for a speaking task, my preferred tool is for the learners to record it using the excellent Spreaker Studio app.

Thanks to Amanda for trying the second story out and providing feedback.

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.

Fun activity with cats and dogs and a biro

In my session this coming weekend at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference (February 5 and 6), I'm going to be talking about how both teachers and learners can use simple drawings in some fun, language-rich activities.

Here's one that requires both you and your learners to be able to draw cats and/or dogs. If you don't think you could do that, here's a simple cat that you can quickly teach yourself to copy; you'll then find a simple dog at the foot of this post.

What you're really doing is not so much draw as represent

How to draw a simple cat
Below, you have a step-by-step for an easy cat. Key to lots of classroom drawings is to pick the right starting point: here, start with the face, and after that it should all fall into place.

Classroom cat

As with all classroom drawings (which used to be called "blackboard drawings" when I started out as a teacher), what you're really doing is not so much draw as represent. And, as Andrew Wright, suggested in his wonderful book, you're copying, not drawing.

The activity, step-by-step
Colleagues and I have tried the following at various time (some going back a long time!) from roughly A2 level up to and including C2 and it's one that has worked well with both teens and adults.

  1. Make sure everyone knows how to draw a cat and a dog, teaching them if necessary. Draw my examples for them, with appropriate explanations and running commentary and you've got a live listening comprehension activity.
  2. Get the class to divide themselves into 4 roughly equal groups, of dog-lovers, dog-haters, cat-lovers and cat-haters. Anyone who says they have no feelings one way or the other must be persuaded and recruited into one of the four groups. If the groups are not of approximately equal size, have the smaller groups try to persuade others to join them. (It doesn't actually really matter what size the groups are, or how disproportionate they are, but what we want as language teachers is discussion and use of language!)
  3. On a square piece of paper (square so that it can be easily Instagrammed afterwards, you understand 😉 !), each learner should draw a cat or a dog, depending on which group they now find themselves in. I like to limit drawing time to 60 seconds maximum. This is not an art class!
  4. They should then pair up, pick the "best" cat / dog and collaborate to add to the piece of paper everything which they know or think about cats or dogs — cat lovers and cat haters writing about cats, dog lovers and dog haters about dogs, for example:

    What's wrong with dogs
    I'm not a big fan of dogs, as you can see 😉 !

  5. Share the work produced — either by just showing it to other people (great for a "mingle" activity!), or by posting the pictures on a wall or by photographing them and sharing them via Instagram or an Edmodo or WhatsApp group etc.
  6. Comment on the drawings and on the ideas included, either orally or digitally (the latter possibly outside class time, not necessarily in real time)
  7. Discuss the topic of which make better pets, cats or dogs.
  8. Optionally, get the learners to produce a piece of discursive writing on the subject, of appropriate length.
  9. Optionally, have the learners make a very brief, collaborative, formal presentation to the class of their conclusions

What does drawing add?

The sharing makes your classroom a creative space in
which we generate things we then share together, which is terrific for group dynamics

You could of course do the activity without anyone drawing anything but requiring the drawing adds a lot:

  • it makes the activity way more fun
  • it seems to generate a whole lot more language ("What's that supposed to be?! / It's supposed to be…" often prove to be useful expressions!)
  • its seems to generate more ideas
  • it generate more creative, more original ideas
  • it leads to the creation of artwork
  • the artwork can then be shared and commented on afterwards, if you have some kind of shared, digital space where that can happen

It isn't artwork for the sake of artwork, and doesn't have to be of a standard to really merit the term "art" but the creating and the sharing makes your classroom a creative space in which we generate things we then share together, which is terrific for generating good group dynamics. I belong to this community because we drew cats and stuff together…

How to draw a simple dog
Here's simple dog step-by-step. It's fun because people inevitably have lots of scope for adding (often unintended) "personality" to their dog when they draw the face and/or proportion the body.

Classroom dog

As I'll be suggesting in my Conference session, what you need is not talent but practice. You're not really drawing, as I've suggested above, merely copying, and by copying the steps a few times your practice gives you the other vital ingredient to classroom drawing — namely, confidence.

As the title of my session ("Yes, we can: not drawing, merely representing") suggests, "Yes, YOU can!"


7 super simple things I do on an interactive whiteboard

IWB page

The results of an "interactive dictation" (see below) done on an IWB page, exported from there as an image file, then imported here

Last week I posted 10 good, productive uses of an interactive whiteboard (IWB), which included some of my all-time favourite activities with an IWB.

Here are seven more things I do regularly, shown above in the image, captured while I was demonstrating the IWB in a workshop, with further explanation below.

They are all things which you should learn to do fairly immediately if you have an IWB and are starting out learning to use it.

  • Interactive dictation (example in the image, above). For language classes, I love dictation — even old school ! — but by "interactive" dictation I mean that I dictate and my learners interact with me and vice versa. I have a short text, sometimes a list (as you can see in the image), which I dictate and get them to jot down. You didn't hear that? I repeat. You can't spell it? Here's how… Then they check with each other that they got the same thing, etc. It's not a test, I don't mark it: instead, it's not so much an interactive whiteboard as interactive listening and writing — and it works great on an IWB.
  • Dictogloss (which was also included last week) is such a great activity for language classes.  Dictogloss on an IWB works really well as it gives you interactive students and an inactive whiteboard, which as I suggested last week probably really ought to always be your objective
  • I display images on the IWB, often not more than one, and use them for a variety of different tasks. A favourite is hiding the image with the coversheet or spotlight tool (see below) and getting the learners to guess what (or who) is in the image. Another is to show the image for 3 seconds, turn off the projector and get the learners to talk to each other about what they think they saw (no, you don't really need an IWB to be able to do that!)
  • Download and import YouTube clips (I use KeepVid, and realise that strictly speaking I may be contravening YouTube's terms of service — for the purposes of education, you understand 😉 !). Here's a couple of YouTube clips that always work well used in conjunction with the IWB.
  • Have the learners create things on the IWB and then export them (to a class blog, Edmodo group, etc…), such as the results of brainstorming activities. Brainstorming (i.e. beginning with a single, totally blank IWB page) can then lead on to a ranking activity, both great for language classes. Here's an example of a brainstorming task that always seems to go down well in Barcelona 😉 ! And below, another example from way back, possibly the first use ever made of an IWB at IH Barcelona, to create an "A-Z of Love" (!!!) in a beginners Spanish class:

A-to-Z of Love

  • Import and go over a limited number of things, including errors, from students' work, possibly from blogs, etc. Your IWB has a "camera" tool which allows you to capture and import text from wherever in a question of seconds
  • Use some of the tools (camera, coversheet, spotlight, timer and stopwatch…). The coversheet and spotlight allow you to focus on things, such as a single paragraph of a longer text, or a grammar or lexical point in a text. You remember OHPs and how you could cover part of a slide with a sheet of paper? Well, your IWB has more sophisticated tools to do that. See below for an explanation of the timer.

Fun with your IWB timer
Here's a fun speaking activity for practically any sort of class, but perhaps especially for exam classes where you have to prepare learners to "speak for a minute" on a given topic in an oral exam. Your timer probably resides in the "gallery" of things you can pull in on to an IWB page.

You need to set up the activity as in the diagram below, with two speakers  with their backs to the board, unable to see the seconds counting down. When one runs out of something to say, they have 1 second to tag in the partner, like in tag wrestling:

Fun with the IWB timer

It makes a pretty boring task fun and gets people to really listen. Stop the clock when anyone "objects" to a possible repetition or hestitation and people get really into the game. It almost makes me wish I still taught First Certificate 😉 !

Note that you could do exactly the same thing with a browser timer (I use, free. Do you really need an IWB…?

Two other important things I don't do:

  • I don't use the IWB very much (don't have it on and in use for an hour, in other words)
  • I don't actually touch it myself, but get my learners to operate it

And one further "don't" I would add to that list: I don't spend hours creating material for IWBs.

If I did have something that was going to take me more than 10 minutes to prepare, I'd much rather have it in a shareable, cloud-stored Google Drive document — one I can access again from outside the classroom, one I know I'll be able to re-edit from any computer outside the classroom, which you won't find is the case with IWB software.

See also
Lisa Nielsen's Ten No Nos of Teaching with a Projector or Interactive Whiteboard

How to make your Interactive Whiteboard interactive

How not to see or use your IWB

What do you do (or not do) on your IWB?
Tell us, in the comments…

Wonderful images for easy speaking and creative writing tasks

Here's just a quick one with a couple of images that have worked well in class as the starting prompts for both speaking and writing tasks.

The first, above, posted on our Instagram account, was as you can see taken in the street outside.

It's the sort of image I think you want for class — as it seems to tell a story of some kind. Add to it a couple of imaginative questions (see the Instagram post for examples) and you've got the basis for a great, creative, materials-light task, one that is going to require collaboration and plenty of interaction if you get your learners to produce their stories, whether oral (and perhaps recorded) or written.

The second, below was found on Twitter, as you can see:

In this case, apart from things like where the photo might have been taken, you want something along the lines of who or what is up there on the star and what is it that they (or the man on the beach) are trying to communicate…?

Thanks, Kim, once again, for trying that second idea with learners.

See also: Great Twitter feeds for images for class

Hilarious if you teach kids who like things a bit gross

Escargore from Media Design School on Vimeo.

Here's one I found because I follow @ShortoftheWeek on Twitter and posted in our official IH Barcelona Twitter feed:

Personally, I find it hilariously funny, possibly because I have the same childish sense of humour that the three kids I teach in a private class have. It's good to take to class things you just know your learners will love (and that's not something you'll normally find in a coursebook 😉 !).

What to do with something so brilliant (especially as our next class is Saturday — Halloween!)?

I'm going to fall back on an old favourite — getting them to describe what's happening, possibly getting one of them to watch, two just to listen, and keep switching those roles.

Their level isn't that great (they wouldn't pass First Certificate) but they're always more than willing to attempt to say things beyond that, if the topic interests them — and that's where I earn my living, in providing them with that language. There's no set agenda: the language input is totally reactive, no photocopies, no "exercises", no lesson plan my DELTA tutors would ever have approved of.

What makes the short successful, what makes it funny (or not!), why does it appeal to my learners (or not!), is probably also going to generate some fruitful discussion.

There's also an interesting making-of video for a follow-up and a little more about the short here.

365 things on Twitter
I don't spend a lot of time on Twitter, posting a maximum of one thing a day (no cats!) but — provided you UNfollow lots of people — you can still find interesting stuff for class there.

Another one for Halloween