Easy, fun, meaningful tasks with technology

Easy, fun, meaningful…

Welcome to those of you who came to my talk on Easy, fun, meaningful activities with technology at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference today…

The tasks I proposed assumed that at least one, preferably more digital cameras (or mobile phones, or webcams…) were available to your learners, either at school and/or at home. Below, how I defined "easy", "fun" and "meaningful" and, although the tasks suggested involved cameras, I think the same criteria apply to any other technology you might be considering using in the language classroom.

The "ease" is particularly the easy and speed of set up — and the time involved, before and after class. You don't want to be editing images, for example, afterwards — though, as I suggested in my talk, your learners could be doing that (and I suggested using Picnik).

Having no programs to instal can be important in a school: can you, as a teacher, actually instal programs on your school's network? Probably not.

As much as anything, you want to limit the time you the teacher have to spend on the technology; what you want is a huge return-on-investment, i.e. for the amount of pre- and post-class time you invest, your language learners in- or post-class get a huge return in terms of the language they practise and learn.

In my classroom experience, what is creative is fun; and because it's creative and fun it's enjoyable; and if what is created is also shared with other learners, it's motivating and thus more fun. If it is motivating, if learners want to do things, and (provided you ensure that they speak in English doing well-designed tasks maximising interaction) it's also and most importantly, successful in terms of language learning. They learn more, in other words.

And then they are more motivated, and learn more, and have more fun… It's a cycle of success — and of enjoyment.

In my talk, I contrasted photographs taken by learners with cloze tests [define]… The picture that my learner has taken (not stolen from Google-is-Evil, note) matters; it's an end-product that you can share and care about.

When did the answers to a cloze test ever really matter to a learner (unless it was on an exam)? When did a learner ever really feel truly proud of a completed cloze test…?

I've been having my learners complete cloze tests for nearly thirty years and I've never, ever, seen a learner enjoy one.

But most importantly…

I've highlighted in my slide (above) how I'm suggesting using technology: to create and share end-products. But that's merely how I'm suggesting using it…

What really matters in language classrooms is that lots of language learning takes place.

That's what is important, the learning, not the technology. The technology is merely the tool that affords opportunities for language learning to occur…

Introduction | Task 1 | Task 2 | Task 3

Task #1: A single image with text

A single digital image plus text

This was the first of the easy, fun, meaningful tasks I suggested in my talk today at the annual IH Barcelona ELT Conference.

I highlighted the importance of the things in red on my slide, above:

  • The learners taking photographs of things of personal value to themselves (a watch, a necklace…) — something that they care about
  • The tasks being done with a partner, your partner taking the photo and writing the text about your object, and vice-versa — so that learners interact meaningfully in English
  • The photo itself — the end-product that is being created
  • The text — which will afford more opportunities for meaningful interaction to take place
  • The sharing of the texts and images — creating something to look back at and be proud of

Sharing images
For sharing the images and text you could use the classroom noticeboard (which is certainly the simplest); or Flickr (which is also very easy); or a blog (which is also very easy to set up [how]).

The problem with Flickr would be including the text, but you could go for an image and a short oral presentation.

My personal recommendation would be a class blog, with Blogger.com being among the best choices for setting your blog up.

See also:

Introduction | Task 1 | Task 2 | Task 3

Task #2: Mystery photos on a throw-away camera

Pictures on a throw-away camera: about as simple as technology gets…

The second task that I proposed in my workshop at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference last week was "Mystery photos on a throw-away camera", a task originally suggested by my colleague Susana Ortiz.

As you can see from my slide (above), the tasks has learners working in pairs to take up to 3 "mystery" pictures per pair on a throw-away camera (for costs, see the first "comment" below), and then passing the camera on to the next pair, with the photos being developed when the film runs out.

You could do the same thing with a digital camera, a mobile phone or a webcam, all of which would have advantages over the throw-away camera, most notably the digital image you will get from them (and can thus edit and upload, etc).

The disposable camera, however, is more of a challenge (you can't just go on taking pictures until they come out right) and the mystery of not knowing until the end what photos other people have taken (no "telling" when the camera is passed on to the next pair), and the shared experience are all reasons for considering turning to what I described in my talk as being "the pond scum" of technology — the lowest of the low.

But learning should be a challenge and it should be an experience, something which is memorable…

See also
On our Formación ELE blog, for Spanish teachers [content in Spanish], you can see some of the pictures of Barcelona taken by students in Susana's class.

Introduction | Task 1 | Task 2 | Task 3

Task #3: A photograph of learning actually occurring

Follow the steps and the task isn't as impossible as it might look…

This was the third of the easy, fun, meaningful tasks I suggested in my talk today.

It is easy — from the technical point of view. All you your learners have to do is point the camera and shoot, and then share it in some digital way (eg. on a blog, or as a PowerPoint presentation, as I suggested).

It is however more of a challenge. Can you actually photograph the actual instant learning occurs, and actually capture it on film? I've been trying for years and never really ever got close to it.

What your learners should aim for is a photograph in which they can then say "What we were trying to capture was…". The end-product is less important than the meaningful interaction that precedes it — though it is also true that working towards producing an end-product makes that interaction meaningful.

And, as I suggested, discussing the subject of when learning takes place first, before taking out the camera, will make it slightly less of a challenge, as well as creating the opportunity for the interaction to occur.

Stick figure storyboard

The stick figure storyboard (example above) will also help, and is again creative and fun to do…

The interaction — the use of language — is what is most important, together with the appropriate language assistance you (reactively) provide. But I think the challenge is what I like about this task: we should be challenging learners in classrooms…

Introduction | Task 1 | Task 2 | Task 3

Photographing what we eat for breakfast

Greek yoghurt with muesli; black coffee…

Here's an idea that comes from IH Barcelona's Spanish Teacher Training blog — getting your learners to photograph the week's shopping (information in Spanish).

As you can see from the photo above, a possible variation might be photographing what they have for breakfast, with the idea being to post the pictures on a class blog. I'd suggest that there's a lot of mileage to be had out of discussing such things as a healthy diet, ranking who eats the healthiest breakfast (etc.), particularly if your learners are from a variety of origins, and — once again — the fun of creating something together appeals more than the exercises on food in my coursebook.

The idea came from a wonderful exhibition by US photographer Peter Menzel, in which the week's shopping was photographed along with the families from around the world that bought and consumed it.