Two more wonderful starting points for digital storytelling

One I spotted on Twitter last month, where I keep an eye out for the excellent Vimeo Staff Picks

And one I tweeted earlier this week…

We have to assume, of course, that bunnies can either write or speak for this to work. Teachers sometimes say to me "My learners just aren't that creative", to which I always say "You have to ask them to be"; and the more you do, the more they will be.

Writing or speaking tasks
Whether this is to be a writing or a speaking task, I like to make such things collaborative efforts, with learners working together in pairs or groups of 3 and producing a single version of the story between them.

If it's to be a writing task, Google Drive documents that the learners (not you!) set up and share with you and everyone else are amazing (a class blog makes a great alternative) — but do make your learners deal with all the setting up: you're not in class as technical support!

And for a speaking task, my preferred tool is for the learners to record it using the excellent Spreaker Studio app.

Thanks to Amanda for trying the second story out and providing feedback.

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.

One cool photo for one fun, collaborative digital story

Above, an idea posted on IH Barcelona's Instagram feed.

The retro toys, photographed in a shop window, to be found all over Barcelona, are real fun as collaborative writing prompts with small groups of learners creating the stories of their drivers and passengers.

I've used these several times before ("What? Again?" a learner asked the last time I repeated the idea 😉 !) but really like the idea of a single suitable prompt and a couple of juicy brainstorming questions as the basis for a materials-light, language-rich classroom activity.

See these two previous posts for further information and what we did with this last time:

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

Project work (4): Writing "thank you" letters

Mum,
Thanks for the soldiers. The kid next door loves them. She got a phone for Christmas and I swopped them with her. She was really upset cos the phone was broken. It wasn't actually but I told her it was cos I really needed the phone so we were both happy.
Des

Example letter shown to learners

What makes a successful task in a language learning classroom?

I'd suggest it's one that (1) produces a lot of interaction and language, including new language; and that (2) your learners like doing it — so much so that someone asks you if they can "do that again".

If you've tried the first three parts of the "Christmas" project proposed (see links below) and they've been successful, there's an obvious fourth part, that has worked well with learners in the past.

In Part 2, we had people writing letters to Santa asking for particular things for Christmas, which — in Part 3 — they didn't get, instead getting something totally random (see Part 1). The follow-up has to be the "thank you" letters! Yes, I know: no one writes "thank you" letters nowadays, do they? But that's no reason why we shouldn't get some fun — and language! — out of writing them.

How you do this is going to depend to a considerable extent on how you've done the first three parts but here are a couple of the alternatives:

If you're printing things and displaying them on a classroom noticeboard, you could do that — and perhaps display, in columns, the letter telling Santa what they wanted from Part 2; the photo and letter accompanying what they actually got (Part 3) below that; and the "thank you" letter below that, thus:

Noticeboard display

I'd make the learners themselves do all the printing and displaying!

If you're using a shared digital space of some kind (Blogger, Edmodo, a G+ Community), you could either (a) have learners write new posts for their thank you letters or (b) simple answer the corresponding "Part 3s" via the comments on the class blog (etc.)

Writing and speaking tasks
Although this and some of the other parts of this project look like writing tasks, in previous years it seems to have been most successful when the learners have really got into discussion of what you would really say (and what you should and shouldn't say!) to, for example, an extremely rich but eccentric old aunt who's given you a mouldy, dog-eared old teddybear when you wanted a iPad Pro?

When they start to see a writing task as a fun speaking task, that's when you've know your task design has been a success!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Project work (3): Not quite what you expected for Christmas

Flower power soldiers
Fun with random photos taken by your learners

Assuming that the first two parts of this four-part project went down well, just before Christmas, and at least a couple of weeks after Part 2, we're now going to have some fun with those random photos we took in Part 1.

As suggested in Part 2, you could do this either individually or in pairs or small groups. My preference is always to make project work collaborative: assuming that you've got your learners to speak English (!) for such things, it provides so much opportunity for meaningful interaction and negotiation.

For Part 3, first, randomly assign the letters to Father Christmas written in Part 2 so that everyone (or each pair/group) has one (see also footnote, below).

Your learners then need to:

  • Invent the character who is going to be giving the present — parent/s, a sibling, an aunt etc (see example below)
  • Obligatory Pick a present from the random objects photographed in Part 1 — however far off what was requested!
  • Write the letter to accompany the Christmas present (see example)

The letter should:

  • Mention the present that the person said they wanted
  • Explain why you've bought them that and not the PlayStation, iPhone 6, new car or whatever was requested.
  • Include the photo of the object in your post

Note that you must pick a present from the random objects. That's part of the fun. You can (if you wish!) do your best to satisfy the person involved but chances are they are going to be slightly disappointed!

Example of what the learners have to produce (and see Part 2 for the original letter to Santa):

Dear Desmond,
Just a note to say Happy Christmas!
I hope you like your present. You know I don't really approve of guns and swords and that kind of thing but this platoon of soldiers are lovely and peace-loving as you can see [photo, above].
I know you wanted a phone, but I'm sure we can have lots of fun playing with these together.
Mum
PS I don't think it was a good idea to lie to Father Christmas about your school marks. Remember that to pass in Primary School you need to get at least 5 out of 10!

Various colleagues in the last couple of years have kept Part 3 for that dreadful last week before the Christmas holidays when everyone is over-excited and no one wants to do any real "work".

The idea has proved entertaining — and productive! — for that time of year.

For Part 4, come back next week. You can guess what it's going to be, right…?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

*Footnote || If you've been using a blog or Edmodo or some other digital space for the letters, you might find it a good idea to be able to direct the learners to the letter they have to respond to. A shared Google Drive document works well for this — one containing the URLs (addresses) of the letters and the names of the learners they are assigned to. I recommend having one of the learners produce the list of addresses!

Alternatively, for ease of reference, the letters could be printed.