One idea, one list, so many classes

Here's an idea that I tweeted earlier this week, which I picked up from MakeUseOf (either on their Twitter feed (@makeuseof) or by following their RSS feed using TheOldReader*).

MakeUseOf is one of those many, many places churning out "lists". Having your learners, in small groups, (1) brainstorm what they think should be on such a list; then (2) reading; then (3) comparing; then (4) debating which is the best list (theirs, or that of another group, or that posted somewhere on the internet) and (5) commenting on and discussing other lists, generates so much language and interaction, which is what we want, after all.

It's a generic idea for lessons that will provide you with so many fun classes, for so little effort — just a few minutes a day "following" such sites (try also BuzzFeed or Mashable) — and requiring so little material… and NO photocopies!

Note that BuzzFeed has some content you might consider NSFC — not safe for class!

Your learners might also like List.ly, as a place to create and share and comment on their lists. Commenting on what their peers produce is something you should always include in your task design if your learners are using technology and you want to get the most out of it!

*Footnote If you're not fond of Twitter, either (a) stop following so many people or (b) use TheOldReader instead. For grumpy old men like myself, The OldReader is so much more organised ;-) !

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.

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.