Pictures of graffiti for fun and language

Here's one I tweeted yesterday, which worked well in class, the picture being one Kim took of graffiti here in the Barrio Gótico in Barcelona.

There just happened to be a class of adults next door to Kim's teens and, the adults' teacher arriving late (!), Kim sent half of her teens next door to ask them what they thought the correct answer was and then report back, while the other half of Kim's class discussed it together.

Fun — and productive, too!

Here's another one, also spotted in the street, which also worked well (also with teens), who had to incorporate the phrases "sad eyes" and "warm hands" into a story:

Having no technology available — no computer in the room, no wifi and no smartphones (!!!) — they used pen and paper, and what's wrong with that?

21st century editors don't use scissors and glue

Learners with scissors and glue class paper

At Encuentro Práctico, a conference for Spanish teachers, back in 2009, I showed the photograph above (here, distorted to protect the privacy of the people in it), in which the learners are admiring their work — a "class newspaper", which has involved a lot of use of scissors and glue.

Back then, as in my session I was demonstrating what could be done with an interactive whiteboard, I asked the question, "Couldn't this be done with technology — perhaps by using the IWB?"

Last Saturday, I found myself showing the same photograph again — in the very same room — at this year's edition of the IH Barcelona ELT Conference; but the question in 2015, six years on into the 21st century, really perhaps ought by now to be "Why isn't this being done with technology?"

I gave this second example, of work done by adults on a Spanish course, in which they've again been using scissors and glue to produce a piece of project work to illustrate what the world might be like in the year 3000 AD:

Project work on classroom wall

As I suggested, we don't know what the world is going to be like in the 31st century but I think it's a fairly safe bet that — barring an ecological catastrophe — adults won't be using scissors and glue to do collaborative project work.

Below, the first of the tasks I proposed in my presentation as an alternative to the one-issue only, scissors-and-glue class paper:

Proposal for 21st century language learning

To expand on the notes in the slide from my presentation (above), my suggestion (designed for B2 or above) was to:

  • Use a digital space like Blogger or Edmodo (great with teens) or a private G+ Community (possibly better with adults) to publish the "paper"
  • Have learners, in groups of 3 and on a rota basis, take turns to post 3 things (any three things!) they think will be of interest to their peers
  • Have them decide what to post, though a YouTube "video of the week" has always proved successful in the classes I've tried this with myself or have had friends and colleagues try it with
  • Have generating as many comments (and hence as much language) as possible from their peers as the editors' principal objective

I suggest two rules:

  • One of the posts has to be coursebook (CB) related, so that the language on the topic/s seen in class during the week gets recycled and added to
  • Only one of the posts can be about football (important, for the sake of variety, if you teach in somewhere as football mad as Barcelona!)

You might want to add a "no-bullying" rule and personally I like to have a "no stealing images" (or text) and have the editors also produce any artwork (including photos) necessary to illustrate the week's posts.

What do you and your learners get from it?
Among the possible advantages of "technology" over scissors and glue:

  • It's more "real world" — in the sense that, unless your learners are children, few of them ever now use scissors and glue, but many probably do use tools similar to those suggested
  • It enables the learner to add multimedia: you can have only text or images on paper but with digital your learners can add audio, video, animation…
  • It's therefore (to many) exciting and therefore motivating — precisely because it's "21st century"
  • It makes a second issue happen: with a paper and scissors edition, that's most unlikely!
  • It provides for ease of editing: glue something in the wrong place and your learners may find themselves starting over | see also: how I correct
  • It's ongoing, providing you with a platform not only for this project but with a place where other project work can be published, too — such as some of the other ideas suggested in my session
  • It allows for — and requirescomments from peers, taking advantage of the communicative possibilities of modern day technology and providing a platform on which that communication can take place and be practised
  • It's collaborative and creative — and who doesn't want that in their classroom?
  • It's "social", involving sharing and the creation of an end product to look back on (perhaps over the whole term — or year!) and be proud of
  • Above all, it leads to the use and practice of more language, which is why we're in the classroom in the first place

Alternatives | Another of the tools mentioned in the session was Tackk, which would work well if the technology available to you in your classroom is only (?!) the smart phones in your learners' pockets (thanks to Montse G. for feedback on that).

You could also make your class "paper" 100% a radio show and use some of the amazing podcasting tools and apps that are available — I particularly recommend the Spreaker app.

Thanks are also owed particularly to colleagues Alex, Don, Kim and Rachel, and to Kate, for feedback over the years on this idea.

Tape poetry task for creative classrooms

Above, the example of tape poetry that I showed in my session yesterday at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference.

Below, a slide from my presentation, with the task suggested:

Task with tape poetry

WhatsApp, Google Drive, and a (private) Google+ Community — the icons on the right, above — make great tools for the task, though there are lots of other possibilities.

Stages for the task

First, individually…

  • Learners find English poems they like — either by (a) searching on the internet or (b) by asking native speakers (other teachers in your school…? in a school in an English-speaking country…?) or (c) by you making suggestions (which you might want to do at lower levels — and we're probably thinking teens or above and B1 or above for this task)
  • They pick a line or lines from the poem that they particularly like
  • They share the chosen lines with the rest of the class. I suggested a WhatsApp group for that but also recommended school and parental permission if you're doing this with teens.
  • They then attempt to write their own line of poetry, perhaps best on a similar theme
  • And finally they share that via your chosen tool (Edmodo would work if you don't like the idea of mobile phones with teens, with the small groups feature in Edmodo being great for this)

I suggested in my presentation that in your task design, you want to consider what parts of the task you want your learners to do in class time, and what parts outside of class. I'd recommend doing all the above mainly outside class time (but personally never use the word "homework" to describe the task 😉 !

Then, in groups of up to 4…

  • In class, taking the lines of poetry they've already found and written, mash them up into a single poem, editing them in any way they wish — for which a shared Google Drive document is great
  • They then print and cut up the finished poem into its separate lines
  • In class, the learners agree on and perhaps sketch a design for and — then outside class — produce a background for the poem (artwork probably again best done outside class)
  • Next they post the tape poem (they'll need glue or drawing pins) somewhere suitable — a classroom or corridor noticeboard, for example. You probably don't want to suggest posting on a wall or door somewhere outside in the street, though wouldn't that be fun 😉 ?
  • With the aid of their mobile phones, they then photograph the finished poem
  • They then share it with everyone in the class, for which I've suggested a Google+ Community (you might prefer Edmodo with teens, for greater privacy), though Instagram is a great place to share it if you want the whole world to see the work
  • Vital Finally, everyone comments on everyone else's poems, and on the project itself.

Commentary
I say the last commenting stage there is vital because it requires the learners to use more language, as well as taking advantage of the communicative possibilities technology now offers us. All tasks making use of technology should have that last stage built in, as a requirement, in my view.

Above, I've highlighted which parts (those that are going to involve the learners talking to peers, negotiating and brainstorming, and those that will require you to provide help with language) are best done in class.

The vital point I wished to make in my presentation was that it's not the teacher but the learners that should be using technology and that they should be using it not so much for the technology as for the language its use can generate, and the tape poetry task presented here I hope is a good example of such things.

More about tape poetry
More examples of tape poetry on Instagram; on tapepoetry.com; on Twitter.

Recommended reading
Although I suspect it appeared before tape poetry ever did, Jane Spiro's Creative Poetry Writing (OUP 2004) has lots of ideas on how to get fun and language out of poetry — a word many of us probably initially turn our noses up. In my experience, however, poetry works in class, and even people who say they "hate poetry" will say they liked classes and tasks that poetry was brought into.

Would it work?
As I mentioned in my presentation, this was the one task presented that I've not actually tried out with learners. I'm sure it would work — assuming that you and your learners think classrooms should be creative places. You do, don't you?

Please do add comments, and — especially — if you try it out, and perhaps adapt it, do let me know how it went.

Great Twitter feeds for images for class

Twitter, for all its faults, is a great place to find images for class. Following the feeds below, just about every day I find myself favouriting more images than I could ever use in class. What I particularly keep an eye out for are single images that will kick-start creative writing projects (aka digital storytelling), often having to rely on friends and colleagues with more learners than I've got to try them out.

If you don't "do" creative writing, try the following just as speaking activities.

500px

500px.com (@500px) is a site not for ELT but for serious photographers, but nevertheless has some wonderful images for class. The photo above wasn't used for creative writing but Kim used it and the article it comes from to get teens into taking some pretty amazing, pretty scary selfies which they then shared and commented on via an Edmodo group (with a lot inevitably ending up on Facebook and Snapchat). A lot of fun, and a lot of language came from commenting – and class discussion – on how to look more scary!

See also PhotoFocus.com (@photofocus), a similar site and this previous post, with an example, for creative writing.

History in Pictures

History in Pictures (@HistoryInPics) is another great site to follow. This particular image would have worked great in a class of 18, with each member of the class writing the "story" for one of the people at the concert (if you had more, you could always have the four members of the band!)

Only having three students, each of mine got six characters (being teens they weren't too keen on that!) and had to – for each — come up with (1) biodata; (2) what their parents had to say about them going to a Beatles concert (we watched this video, and tried to get it into historical context); (3) what happened to them (long) afterwards; we then had some fun (4) inviting each other to go to the concert; and (5) altering and/or adding to the stories so that at least some of the characters knew each other in later life – with some marrying other characters also at the concert, though not necessarily the partners they went with!

Life.com

Life.com (@Life) is also excellent. With the photo above, Rachel did a similar writing activity, assigning each of the learners one of the characters, with any learner without a "kid" being one of the parents and one being the photographer.

They (1) made notes individually on biodata; (2) negotiated alterations; (3) took – a lot of – time out discussing the nature of happiness; (4) wrote drafts of what happened to the kids in the next 25 years (approx. 1950-1975), including historical content (the 60s, Woodstock, Vietnam…) and whether or not the characters were happy later on in life; (5) commented on each other's work – via Google Drive and suggested improvements; and (6) wrote "final" versions; and then (7) read those and commented further.

A lot of language from one image – which was the objective!

Life.com sends out an excellent weekly email with its top 10 galleries of the previous week, for anyone who detests Twitter.

The Telegraph

The Telegraph (@TelegraphPics) also tweets some excellent pictures for activities of this sort. The one above worked well with learners in threes — one the kid, one the polar bear, one a passenger on the train – brainstorming what they thought was happening; what each of the characters (including the bear!) was thinking; and then telling the story from the three different points of view, attempting to focus only on a maximum 24 hour period in the characters' lives.

I did it just as a speaking activity with my three teens; Kim did it but had the learners record their stories using the Speaker app and share them via an Edmodo group.

If you want great images for class, the site you don't go to is Google Images! These are the sort of images you want for language classes.

Also of interest
See this previous post if Twitter drives you crazy.

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.