How to use Twitter to improve your English, 5 mins a day

Here's one that we posted on our Spanish Teacher Training blog last week, with other ideas in the same post for learning vocabulary independently [content in Spanish], outside class.

I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter but recommend it as a useful tool both to language teachers and to language learners.

As shown in the video, above, I suggest to my learners that they "follow" people of personal interest to them (celebrities, singers, footballers, street artists, whoever…) and see how much language they can learn from them.

Instead of following celebrities, following particular issues or interests like the environment or news stories is an alternative.

The language a learner should look for on Twitter
What I'm looking for in the tweets I read (5 minutes a day, waiting for the bus or wherever…):

  • words or phrases (especially the latter!) that I recognise and vaguely remember (for learners perhaps language we've seen in class)
  • new language that I can work out from context
  • link to articles that interest me to give myself some reading comprehension practise (and improve my vocabulary further, see previous two items)
  • videos so as to get some listening practice
  • words or phrases — or entire tweets — I don't understand at all

Yes, there's lots of French that is going to puzzle me on Twitter and lots of English that will puzzle my learners. They need a certain level (I'd suggest B1 or above) but being puzzled by language is a good thing — especially if they favourite* what they're interested in but don't understand, and then go back to their favourites and work out meaning, perhaps with the aid of an online dictionary.

Wanting to know what words and phrases mean, and wanting to understand someone — isn't that one of the keys to language learning?

And yes, it's true: people don't write gram. (?!) correct, perfect model sentences on Twitter, and abbrev. (?!) whatever they can.

No, it doesn't bother me.

Not if my learners are actually motivated and learning.

See also How to keep your account private on Twitter

Footnote ||| *On Twitter, "favourites" are now, ridiculously, called "likes", aren't they? For language learners, calling them "Puzzles" would be so much better 😉 !

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!

3 brilliant videos to share and comment on via social media

In a session last week on one of our Spanish teacher training courses, we were talking about using tools  such as Edmodo or a Google+ Community or other social media — and the question was raised on what you should do if learners start sharing things that have nothing to do with what you've been doing in class.

My answer to the question would be "Brilliant!" — for two reasons: (1) that's exactly what I want to happen with shared digital spaces used with learners — I want them to take charge of running it, rather than me doing all the work; and (2) if it leads to more interaction and use of language, fantastic! That's why we're on social media with language learners!

An example would be the video above, shared by a learner in an Edmodo group being used by a colleague, Esther, who then shared it with me.

Here's another example, one I posted on Twitter the other day, which I shared with the teenagers I have in a small private class which meets only once a week, sometimes not even that — circumstances crying out for a digital space in which to share and comment on such things:

These things can be a bit hit-and-miss: I thought I'd got zero response (!) on this one, as none of them "replied", but face-to-face it turned out that they had  all watched it and they found such a lot to say about it!

And while we're on the subject of great videos for class, here's another TED talk that looks great material if you teach adults B1 or above who spend any amount of time attending meetings:

You might try this generic activity with it, and then talk about whether or not they think the idea would work in their company and why/why not.

If you don't have a lot of learners doing that kind of job, it's still a brilliant one to share with them — both for the listening practice and for any discussion it might generate. It won't always do the latter but that's not going to stop me posting such stuff!

See also this video on how (not) to motivate people, great for discussion with adults.

A class blog would also make a perfect platform for such things.

Next question: How do you correct all the errors learners then make?

Great BBC podcast series to recommend to your learners

One that I posted on Twitter last week, BBC Learning English Drama, which is an excellent BBC podcast series:

In weekly episodes of 6-10 minutes, they are retelling both classics and stories specially written for the series, with Jamiaca Inn the current story. Probably suited for B2 (or a good B1) and above.

As a language teacher, what more vital role do you have than getting your learners started on independent mobile learning?

Podcasts that they will enjoy and learn from are a great way to achieve just that and you want to be recommending that kind of thing!

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?