Things I take to class #6: 6 secret letters

From my session at the APABAL Convention in Palma, September 10th…

Shoes. Discuss… A great activity for Edmodo.

The 6 secret letters I take to class are the access code to the very best of the "Web 2.0 tools" that I've tried with learners: Edmodo.

Edmodo allows you to set up groups [see Edmodo Help section] which then give you a private walled garden, a digital space in which your learners can do and share things. It's very easy to use, very like Facebook, and thus immediately familiar to anyone who might already be a Facebook user, with one big difference: greater privacy.

In my APABAL session I demonstrated the following activity, which has proved very successful with both teens and adults, the idea for which came from an article on Yahoo News about how much can you tell about someone's personality from his/her shoes.


  • The article is read and discussed first, either in class or from home, using Edmodo for the discussion
  • Learners take photos of each others' shoes; if this is done outside class time, photos can also be of shoes of parents, siblings, friends etc.
  • (Optionally) If the photos are taken outside class, the learners edit them with the excellent Pixlr Express
  • Photos are pooled and then distributed at random (assigning a kid or kids to deal with this saves the teacher a lot of work); optionally, the teacher can add a few photos of his/her own (self? friends? willing colleagues…); no one should get their own shoes, though it doesn't matter if they do
  • In class, assuming access to computers is available, in pairs, learners post one or more pictures to the Edmodo group, describing them and commenting on whether or not they are fashionable; who would wear them; and what the shoes say about the wearer's personality
  • Learners comment on what other people have posted (and, with any Edmodo activity, we want our learners to write lots of comments!)
  • Language feedback

Note that, particularly with young learners, you might want to warn them in advance not to say anything unkind or hurtful; and that no one should be identified at any stage as the wearer or owner of the shoes.

Instead of using Edmodo, the same activity could also be done on a class blog.

See also

10 things I take to class
One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten

Things I take to class #7: A digital camera

In my APABAL session, I suggested this very simple activity, which I got from Nicky Hockly and the CertICT course.

It involves the learners thinking of something they like/hate doing; writing it down on a piece of A4 with a nice thick board pen; holding it up and getting a classmate to photograph it, as in the example, above.

It's most successful if you can persuade them to pull an appropriate face (demonstrate it to them) and, if you're taking the photos in class, maximise the English you get out of kids instructing each other how to pose the picture. Fabulous with teens and I've found adults liked it too.

I always take a compact digital camera to class with me, there are just so many fun, productive activities that can be done with it, with this being my favourite.

Your learners probably have digital cameras at home (or if not, mobile phones in their pockets); if you have a blog or an Edmodo group they can then upload them directly to that, possibly from home.

If you are interested in good technology course, I can highly recommend the CertICT course.

10 things I take to class
One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten

No one writes postcards any more, especially not teens

At the seaside in Asturias | Photo: Isabel Walton

Below, the piece of writing my daughter (14) had to do for her English teacher this weekend, a task from a popular coursebook which asked the students to look at a model and then "Imagine you are on holiday. Write a postcard to a friend":

Dear Kate,
Greece is incredible! I'm having so much fun! The people I'm staying with are really nice and they have a beautiful huge white beach house in Santorini.

The weather is perfect. It's very sunny. Sometimes it's too hot but it's normally OK. At night there's always a gentle breeze that is very refreshing.

Here there are plenty of original tiny old shops that sell souvenirs, food, bracelets, clothes… I'll make sure I get you something before I leave.

Tomorrow we're going to a small sandy beach in a nice cosy village, in the seaside. I think it'll be great!

In bold, highlighted by my daughter, one of the language points that they were instructed to incorporate (and highlight).

My problem with the task is that it's just unrealistic. My daughter collects postcards but has never in her life written one to a friend while on holiday, nor is she ever likely to. And 14-year-olds, in my experience, aren't actually that interested in "nice cosy villages".

My daughter finished her "postcard" by saying:

The other day I was lying on the beach and suddenly this incredibly gorgeous blond Greek guy called Kostos, approaches and offers to take me on his boat. He's very nice. I think I may have fallen in love all over again.
See you soon.
Lots of love,


Her Dad is going to say "NO!!!" when she asks if it's OK to go with Kostos on the boat ,-) but that's more like it — that's more what is going to occur to a 14-year-old to write about.

You have to feel some sympathy for coursebook writers: the book in question was published in 2006 — long enough ago for Facebook to be practically unheard of, but Facebook is where my daughter would actually be writing about her holidays (or rather about Greek guys!).

While coursebook writers can't keep up with the speed of change, at least we teachers can, and a Facebook entry, or a text message or an email would be so much more realistic, and so much more interesting to young teens as a task.

If you had a class blog, they could also be posted there and shared and the "replies" could go there too, in the comments, also making it a more real, more engaging task. Partner your learners, and then "Kate" would have to reply to "Miranda's" messages, and vice versa.

Blog postings could also include photos, preferably not stolen from Google-is-Evil, but taken by the learners themselves, or their family, from their holidays (as in the example, above, which my daughter took while on holiday in the north of Spain).

Now if you had an interactive whiteboard…

Project work: Detroit, Barcelona, in decline

Waiting for the bulldozer: Barcelona in decline

One of my favourite blogs (and RSS feeds), Boing Boing, brought me this photographic essay of Detroit's Beautiful, Horrible Decline by French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre [ >> website, for more images].

You don't have to live in a city like Detroit to see ruined buildings (see image above, of Barcelona) and getting your students to photograph them (or construction sites or graffiti…) might make a great project which they could share via a blog.

Those less gifted with a camera, or interested in photography, could participate in the design of the blog, the writing of accompanying text, etc. If your learners have to either take pictures or write the text, they have to interact and communicate.

As I suggested in a recent workshop, one of the attractive things about such a project is the opportunities it affords for real language use to take place: you are setting up enjoyable, creative, real tasks, not fake role play.

A card reader for getting photos off a camera

Don't have the right cable? You want a card reader…

Someone asked during my workshop the other day how problematic obtaining photographs off digital cameras was likely to be if, as I had suggested, some of your learners bring their own cameras but forget to bring the appropriate cable with them.

You download photos from a digital camera by connecting the camera to a USB port (the same slot you put a USB memory drive into, that is). Cables for most digital cameras are fairly standard but a card reader (approx. cost 12-20 euros) is sometimes useful — and very easy to use.

You simply remove the memory card ("A" in the photo, above) from its slot on the camera ("B") and place it in the right slot in the card reader ("C"). In most cases you are probably using an "SD card", which — not surprisingly — goes into the "SD" slot.

All you then have to do is plug the cable ("D") into the USB port on your computer and then either view the photos directly from the card or else download the pictures on to the computer.

That is possibly the easiest way to share photos with a class and the same can be done directly from the camera, if you do have the appropriate cable.

If you have a projector and can turn the photos into a literally wall-sized image (simply by clicking on them), your learners can then orally "present" photos that they have taken, in class, for homework, of their families, from their holidays…

You could do the same with your photos, but photos the learners have taken themselves are surely much more meaningful to them…