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.

10 towns: no preparation, no materials, no technology

Bilbao

Bilbao | Photo: Tom Walton

Here's an old activity (probably best for B2 or above) I last did with learners a long time ago but which I happened to come across when doing the spring cleaning.  I'm fairly sure the idea was the result of a conversation with my colleague Susana Ortiz one day in the staffroom…

Ten towns, outline
Individually:

  • Learners jot down on a piece of paper a list of 10 or more towns or cities they've been to
  • For 10 of them, they should then write down one thing they vividly remember doing in each
  • Mentally note which city is most important to them personally

If the things they remember are personal or appear trivial, that's not a problem — in fact it's probably going to be more interesting (provided of course they're not too personal!). They don't have to be things like visiting famous moments, but do have to be things vividly remembered.

In a group of three or four:

  • Swop and read your partners' lists and discover which cities some or all of you have been to
  • Also talk to them about anything on the list you don't understand as well as anything else that you find interesting or want to know more about
  • See if you can guess which town, from what you are told, is most important to each of your partners

Examples
It's probably best to give at least a couple of examples. Here are 4 of mine:

  • Bilbao (where I could no longer find the city I once knew)
  • Paris (where I didn't find La Maga)
  • Valladolid (where I understood a Bruce Springsteen song)
  • A small town in the Pyrenees whose name I've now forgotten

As you can see, mine are short and rather enigmatic — but that's actually perfect for then jump-starting natural conversation, which is what we are after. As I remember it, the idea sprang from a coursebook unit on "Cities", but it also worked great as an ice-breaking getting-to-know-each-other activity with a new class.

Optional extra
Illustrate your list with a couple of quick doodles — like this example:

In the Pyrenees

With technology
The original was definitely for this to be "no technology" but another colleague (Kate? Rachel…?) then tried the idea on an Edmodo group, where each member of the class posted their individual lists and then all participated in the subsequent commenting, in class time, using a computer room. A lot of fun!

Preparation time: 0
Photocopies required: 0
Other materials required: 0

The kind of image you want for class

One I retweeted earlier, from the amazing 500px.com (on Twitter as @500px):

I never use Google Images to look for images to use in class, but see so many great images by following people like 500px on Twitter. If you "favourite" them on Twitter, you don't need to bother downloading them and can access them big! If you then display them with a projector rather than with an A4 photocopy, you'll get people to say so much more — because they can see it better.


Both for speaking and for writing activities, you want images that suggest multiple questions to the observer, images that suggest multiple possible, imaginable stories.

That's the kind of image that is worth 1,000 words — because it will then get your learners to actually say those thousands of words.

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.

Get your students to talk, listen and draw

Walking Barcelona

If you're familiar with Barcelona, you should (just about!) recognise what the illustration above is supposed to represent. It came from morning break last week in the staffroom, where there was some disagreement about whether or not you can get learners to draw things.

I think you can — and should — no matter how little artistic talent you have or your learners think they have. It isn't a question of being artistic: in a language classroom, it's a question of getting people to talk and if their drawings are so poor (?!) that they require asking for and receiving explanation, great!

Instead of the teacher finding, printing and photocopying images of Barcelona for them to then describe a walk through the city (which was the activity we were disagreeing over), get your learners to do this:

  • Imagine an interesting walk in your city
  • Make a few notes on what you'll see on the walk, with any language help being provided by the teacher
  • Describe the walk to a partner… who then has to draw it (check the recycling bin, there's scrap paper, right?)
  • In collaboration with your partner, label the drawing (see example, above), omitting (important!) any place names
  • Switch roles and repeat with your partner
  • Pin the work up on the wall and walk round the "gallery" (remember drawing pins?). How many of the walks can you identify?
  • Optionally, as a class, actually go on the walk (take some drawing paper and cameras/phones with you!)

If there is ready access to a scanner, send a "volunteer" off to scan the illustrations, and if you have an Edmodo group or a class blog, they can then be shared and commented on (the latter being particularly important, for taking maximum advantage of the opportunities technology offers for further interaction and use of language).

The illustration above — a quick doodle, which is what you want, rather than "art" — is from the staffroom, with a little editing afterwards.

Essential reading for any teacher 1000+ pictures for teachers to copy