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

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

Brilliant video for sparking class discussion

Hellion – (Official 2012 Sundance Film Festival) from Kat Candler on Vimeo.

Here's a wonderful short (later made into a full-length movie) for class discussion, which I spotted this morning on Twitter from Vimeo.

The best videos for class are often those with a twist to them — and this one has two! They come at around 3m 40s and then at 5m 30s and, to get the most out of this, you probably want to stop right before them and discuss what's been seen up to that point. If you then show your learners the twist, you can get a huge amount more debate (and thus language) from the same clip.

I'd break this one down roughly as follows:

  • Before watching, have the learners find out from their partners/groups what younger and/or older siblings they have and how they treated each other as kids
  • Watch to 3m40s. To avoid everyone spending all that time in silence, I like to pair my learners and encourage them to talk to each other about what they're seeing on the screen while watching
  • Stop at that point and then discuss what happens; why; what the Dad is doing right/wrong; what you/your parents would do/did
  • Play to 4m 30s and then stop there (a) to check understanding, if necessary playing that section again; and (b) to see if we still think what we've previously said about the Dad, etc.
  • Play to 5m 30s and stop and discuss again
  • Play to the end and discuss further

If you like to take great shorts to class, keep an eye out for Vimeo's Staff Picks. For an English teacher, I'd say it's worth being on Twitter only to follow Vimeo!

Best practice: have your learners use smartphones to make video

Flipped learning: technology is not about the teacher does with it!

Here's on I posted on Twitter this week:

The project and competition is here (you have only until 1st June to get your learners to complete it, so hurry!) and the book is this one, Film in Action, by Kieran Donaghy, who produces the ideas for using film clips in language teaching on the brilliant Film-English.com website.

Go to any language teaching conference nowadays and you're all but guaranteed to hear someone speaking about flipped learning and how it's the Next Big Thing. I'm sorry, I just don't buy it, not for language teaching. In ELT, I don't think we're paid anywhere near enough to be producing video content, no matter how easy smartphones have made that. Now getting learners to produce the videos — as in the competition — that's surely the way to go!

Here's another brilliant example of the sort of thing learners could produce, which I also tweeted this week, from Mike Harrison:

Can your learners — not you, your learners!!! — tell a video story in 6 seconds (or 15 if you use Instagram)?

A tweet from the Innovate ELT Conference this weekend quoting Ceri Jones suggested that we should "Ask not what your tool can do, ask what it can help you to do". IH Barcelona replied:

It seems to me that real innovation, revolution if you like, isn't going to come from tinkering with what teachers do or don't do, or from what teachers do with technology, but from what teachers get learners to do with technology.

Recommended | The other titles from Delta Publishing are well worth exploring. See also two excellent ones on technology — Going Mobile (Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney) and Teaching Online (Nicky Hockly and Lindsay Clandfield).

On Twitter, as @Tom_IHBCN, I post a maximum of one thing a day which I think will be of interest to language teachers and/or learners.

Amazing video on how to (not) motivate people

Here's a video of a TED Talk my daughter Isabel was telling me about.

The issues of motivation it raises are perhaps not directly related to language learning, though perhaps there is a connection between what is said and how you respond to what your learners say. If you don't respond to it at all, not even nod, perhaps you're suggesting (unintentionally!) that what the learner had to say was of zero interest to you…? And what effect will that have on their motivation?

With a fairly advanced class of adults (say, above FCE?), though, it might make for an interesting class discussion, which you might start by getting your learners to summarise and present what Dan Ariely is saying in his talk.

The talk is also interesting, I think, from a language teacher's point of view. How is our performance evaluated, by who, and what effect does that have on our motivation?