A crazy class in football crazy Barcelona

Football crazy

Here's one that was a one-off but a lot of fun (if a bit crazy!): an impromptu, unplanned, materials- and preparation-free class that came about when two students and I failed to find a bar (in the centre of Barcelona !!!) to watch the Manchester City vs Real Madrid Champions semi final and ended up following it via the text commentary on four different mobile devices, each connected to a different website — left to right, above, The Guardian, The BBC, Marca.com and (not shown) El Mundo Deportivo.

With the first beer, the conversation got on to which of the four would update first and which we could trust to give an unbiased account of the game and it just kind of developed from there — with a fair bit of translation being required (not necessary a bad thing, if you ask me); a lot of working out meaning from context; and lot of new vocabulary; a lot of wanting to understand the text(-s); a lot of fun, not to mention quite a lot of beer and patatas bravas!

You could do the same thing after the event, by painstakingly copying the commentaries and printing them out (etc) but your learners would probably already know the result and so there wouldn't be the excitement of that.

There were eventually four of us, two (myself included) self-confessed haters of all things football, and one who is (I quote) "proud to neither know nor care anything about football". Fun also, for the two fans to have to explain what was happening to her (and why they were getting so excited about it).

I'm not sure it would work in a larger group, but if you happen to have a private class that kicks off at 20.45 on a Champions night, with someone crazy about football, entertaining!

Gardening, cycling and life: a fun activity making lists

Miles of pain

Here's an idea that Andrew Wright suggested in his recently session at IATEFL: to, first, get your learners to list everything they know about gardening; and, then as a discussion activity, to talk about how that could be related to life.

As I live and work in Barcelona, where virtually no one has a garden, I picked cycling for the example (image, above) that I created to show to the group I tried this with. And I let them pick literally any of their own interests.

I instructed them to list, among other things, the slightly bizarre, slightly nerdy, slightly tongue-in-cheek things about their hobby (my example was that the only really good thing about cycling is the amount of food you get to eat!). I also asked them to make all the items on their lists impersonal — achieved in part by pairing them as far as possible so that two people were creating the list on a hobby they shared.

Probably best as a task for adults rather than my teenagers (could you relate painting Warhammer figures to life 😉 ?).

My idea was to get them to use their phones, and the pictures I was hoping they would have there, to illustrate the whole thing. The Over app would have been brilliant for adding captions but we didn't in the end get there.

We used pen and paper to create the list, but list.ly is a great alternative if you want to do activities with lists.

See also my article on OneStopEnglish for 10 fun tasks with lists (subscription or 30-day free trial required).

10 ways in which your language learners could be using their smartphones

Mobile phones in class
So much technology… Shouldn't we be finding ways to exploit it?

Check this next time you're in class: how many smart devices are there in the classroom? I suppose it's kind of sad, but most times when I ask that there are more smart devices than people.

That being the case, rather than turning all that amazing technology off and putting it away, and turning on a single computer and the projector, could we find ways in which we could exploit smart devices — ways which would lead to more language learning?

In our Friday workshop series, we have one this week (10.00-12.00, November 27th) which will look at 10 ways in which your language learners could be using their smartphones, some in class, some out of class.

Bring your phone!

Books and links of interest
For lots of ideas on practical tips, I can highly recommend two excellent books from DELTA Publishing. And here's a couple of useful links on the subject:

Mobile pedagogy for English language teaching: a guide for teachers

Tables and apps in your school

If you have a subscription to OneStopEnglish, you'll also find an article of mine there on using mobile phones for images, audio and video.

Previous posts on using mobile phones with learners

A wonderful idea that your learners could film

Here's a wonderful one from which Vanesa sent me with the suggestion that it looks as if it might be interesting for class, though she hadn't yet used it or come up with a lesson plan.

It looks brilliant for class, Vanesa, if you ask me (thanks so much 😉 ) !

With this one, however, I'm not so sure we actually want the usual sort of lesson plan, with pre-watching and while-watching activities and a follow-up and so on. I wonder if we couldn't actually get our learners to film something of their own along the same lines — especially if you happen to have classes with a huge range of ages.

You'd want someone in your classes (and I'll bet you've got lots!) adept with filming on a smartphone or other device and perhaps willing to do a little editing for us; you'd want scriptwriters, too (that could be everyone in the class); and learners willing to be filmed (not necessarily all of them). You want to start exploiting — for its opportunities for language learning — all that technology your learners are carrying around with them!

Or why not do it as a project shared across different classes: start with your youngest group and then work upwards…?

They wouldn't necessarily have to upload it to YouTube: a shared Google Drive folder makes a great alternative if you — or they — don't want the rest of the world to have access to it. You could also just watch what they film directly on their phones, if privacy is going to be an issue (and it is!).

You do also have privacy options on YouTube itself.

Vanesa suggested another wonderful film from Vimeo, about an old lady struggling to send a text message, also wonderful for class!

See also | Vimeo Staff Picks, a wonderful channel to watch for more great shorts (etc.) for class — like this one or this one, for example!

Start your Christmas project early this year

Random items photographed in the street

Christmas is still around 70 shopping days away but here's a fun, simple idea for project work that you probably want to start a couple of months before Christmas and — important! — not make any mention of Christmas when you do first start.

I'd suggest that you don't mention either that you have a longer, four-part project in mind. There's no worse way to begin the year than by telling learners how much work they're going to have to do 😉 !

That also means that if it doesn't turn out to be successful for you, you can drop it at any point and not continue.

Task #1: Totally random photos of whatever
Instructions given to learners:

Take 4-5 photos of totally random things [see examples above] that you see at home, in the street, in school, in the classroom… and share them with us [see below]. The more random, the better! You should say where the photo was taken but not what it is.

Optionally: using a free app like the amazing Pixlr Express (or the even more amazing Pixlr Editor) will improve many photos remarkably.

Sharing the photos
There are lots of ways the photos could be shared including the following:

The photos can be posted directly to any of the above. Alternatively, also saving the photos to a shared Google Drive folder is an interesting option (especially if the learners do it themselves, not you!). Having the photos there makes them handier for the later parts of the project — because we're going to be reusing the same photos later.

Using a shared digital space like these with learners is so much more 21st century than continuing to imagine that the fact that you use PowerPoint means that you're using technology.

One of the things I like about the project is that it's a nice simple way to start taking advantage of the amazing technology now in your learners' pockets (i.e. their smartphones). It's also a great, simple way to get them started using some of the brilliant shared digital spaces now available to us which you might then take advantage of for other projects.

I recommend picking a tool that you are going to use for other projects and highly recommend using a digital space like these with learners — it's so much more 21st century (and productive in terms of use of language!) than continuing to imagine that the fact that you use PowerPoint means that you're using technology.


  • Add your own random pictures, as examples of the sort of thing you want
  • Stress that they MUST take the photos themselves — they cannot just steal them from wherever on the internet or social media!

Task #2: Commenting on other learners' photos
To get the most out of shared spaces like Edmodo you want to get your learners (1) to add accompanying text to their photos and (2) to comment on what their peers are posting, either during or outside class time.

If the image is a personal belonging, the story behind it is sometimes interesting. With objects taken in the street, some indication of why the learner chose to photograph that gives them a short text to write. And if you encourage the photographer to include in the text a question for his/her peers (e.g. Does anyone remember these? Does anyone else own one?), then comments — and thus more language — will get generated.

With random images like these, you should also get (and should encourage!) a certain number of spontaneous comments. These could include guessing what the object in the image is if it's not otherwise clear but also things like questions and answers on how the photo was taken and edited.

You can also obtain comments by having your learners propose — via the comments — which images they think should get prizes for "Best Photo", "Best Editing", etc.

Note that I recommend not correcting errors in comments.

More opportunities for language use arise if you get learners to very briefly present some of the images, perhaps in the first or last 5 minutes of class. For that purpose, easy access to the photos in a shared Google Drive folder is also ideal.

Levels and ages
This looks like a project for young learners, but colleagues have also done it with adults and though originally it was designed for a B1-B2 level class, it has also worked below (and above) that level.

For Part 2 (and to see what this actually has to do with Christmas!), come back next week.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4