Simon's Cat: fun listening, speaking and writing

Spider!

Here's one we saw in my technology session on a CELTA course last week.

When I first meet a class I get them to write their names on pieces of A4 pulled out of the recycle bin, fold them and hang them on the front of their chairs/tables so that we all start to learn each other's names.

I also like to get my learners to draw something in the first class — in this case, in the example above, I asked for "an animal or insect that you find in some way repulsive".

Doing that identifies who enjoys drawing and subsequently I like to group people with at least one budding artist per group and have my learners illustrate any project work with their own illustrations rather than things stolen from the evil empire (AKA Google Images).

In this particular case, the drawings also then led on to the video we were then to watch, suggested for levels B2 and above.

Here's the video:

Lesson plan
A rough outline of the lesson plan…

  1. From the drawings, talk about what animals and insects we find repulsive and why, providing any vocabulary help that might be required
  2. In pairs/threes, watch approx the first 0'45" of the video, with one person/two not watching, one providing a running commentary
  3. Stop and answer any "How do you say…?" vocabulary questions
  4. Ask (in open class) "What's going to happen next?"
  5. Swop roles and continue to 1'30"
  6. Answer any further "How do you say…?" questions
  7. Ask (in open class) "How is it going to end?"
  8. Have everyone watch the last 15 seconds of the video and see if they can explain exactly what happens

The running commentary idea works with lots of YouTube videos — with more examples here.

Follow-up
For the vocabulary taught to become vocabulary learned, it needs to be recycled. A few ideas for that:

  • Perhaps after class, discussion of what does in fact happen at the end (does the cat kill the spider…?), something which works great if you have an Edmodo group, where you can share the video and then have people comment
  • In pairs/threes, writing a script for Scary Legs II (possibly using a shared Google Drive document), which then has to be "sold" to the rest of the class (possibly via Edmodo), who are writing rival scripts
  • In pairs, telling the story of how one or other partner came to find the animal/insect drawn at the start of the lesson repugnant (and including the drawing made)

I like all writing activities to be collaborative — so that, for example, in the last suggestion there we're not writing individually and handing the piece in to the teacher, but producing one piece of writing between two and sharing that with everyone (for which Edmodo is again ideal), and hopefully commenting on each other's work as well.

The commenting on what others write is important, as it provides opportunities for further interaction and (re-)use of language but it actually needs to be built into the task and required of the learners. Having learners "buy" other people's scripts (as in the second suggestion above) and/or award each other "prizes" (best, funniest, corniest, etc., script) are just two of the ways you could ensure that.

See also
Video: How to draw Simon's Cat

PowerPoint and the printer are not ICT!

teach-people1
Venn diagram: Things I wish I could teach people

Here's one from a recent session on a CELTA course, drawn on the (non-interactive) whiteboard.

Using Powerpoint, the printer and the photocopier may give you the (false) impression that you're using technology in your classes, but that's in fact not really the case.

You could make a (very tenuous) case that PowerPoint is communicative but, really, none of those evil 3 Ps could really be classed as 21st century information and communications technology (ICT).

Instead of you using PowerPoint, if your learners were sharing and colloborating on creating Google Drive presentations, that would be the way to go.

Keep calm and don't use Google Images

Here's another slide from my session at our ELT Conference last Saturday…

Keep calm and don't use Google Images

In fact I always suggest this to trainees on our CELTA courses: CELTA can be quite a stressful course, and it gets especially so if you waste an hour or more looking for images that may in fact be adding little or nothing to your class, if they are not going to generate a lot of language — which in the end is always our aim.

As I suggested in the session, I'd in fact like to ban Google Images entirely from the school: it's Google Images that should be blocked, not potentially hugely communicative places like Facebook, or fabulous ones for material like YouTube, access to which school and systems administrators have been known to block, or brilliant tools like mobile phones, which learners could be doing so much with if we didn't impose blanket bans on them.

To my CELTA trainees (I in fact only give one session on their course, on technology) I suggest two other things that would also help reduce the stress level:

... or PowerPoint

You don'tever! — need 30 or 40 PowerPoint slides for a 45-60 minute class: pare that back to 5 or fewer. Reduce the material to its minimum expression: one great image is going to generate way more language and interaction than 25 or more boring ones of things you could point to, or draw on the board, to pull out of your pocket, or translate…

And if you can reduce your photocopying to less than one page per student per class, you'll also be doing yourself a favour, not to mention the environment.

There's another thing I also often find myself saying to people taking CELTA (and our equivalent course for Spanish teachers): you're training to become a teacher, not a graphic designer or a materials designer.

What you want to be designing are the task/s, the interaction, the social experience of learning. Focus on that, not the materials.

What's that? You want to use the scanner? Are you sure it's worth while in terms of how much more language your learners are going to get for your efforts…?

See also
Great sources of images for class (not Google Images!)

A photocopier or an iPhone: which is more powerful?

The slide, above, comes from a session I gave on a CELTA course at IH Barcelona last week, during which I asked the question which gives this post its title, referring to their possible use in a language classroom.

I asked the trainees to place the two tools on a scale of 0-10. "What's a '10'?" someone immediately asked, a question which I perhaps hadn't given sufficient thought to in advance (!). I said "mind-blowing", and then altered that to "mind-blowingly amazing"… And then said, "Actually, a '0' is mind-blowing, too: mind-blowingly boring".

My point was that in order to take full advantage of the potential technology has nowadays, we need to get "beyond the photocopier" and start using — start our learners using, that is — some of the (to my mind) far more powerful tools available to us (and which are quite possibly in our learners' bags and pockets).

To see some of those possibilities, and to keep up with how technology is/should be changing education, I suggested the sites also shown in the slide:

They are perhaps particularly good on mobile technology (smart phones and tablets) and current trends (like the "flipped classroom"). They do have a tendency on occasions to be a little vague and short on actual practical ideas (though here's an activity that has worked great!). But, apart from helping you to keep up, they have another bonus: they make you think.

Articles posted on such sites are often in the format "10 ways to…". They sometimes then disappoint when you start to read them but it's interesting first to try and make up your own "10 ways", before reading the article. A couple of recent examples:

To "follow" such sites, you probably want Twitter or an RSS feed (for which TheOldReader or Flipboard, the latter for mobile devices, would be my choice).

So which is more powerful…? As I remember it, my trainees' highest score for both was an "8". Feel free to disagree (I do!) in the comments!

A good teacher: someone who…

To provide an example of what podcasting involves, in the session on our CELTA course last week, you had to finish the phrase "A good teacher is someone who…"

In order to put (or "embed") the mp3 file here, I've first uploaded the file on to Divshare.com, which has then provided me with the code which I've pasted into a new post here on the blog. It gives me 5GB of (free) storage space for media files.

I've used other alternatives to Divshare in the past, am just slightly worried about the risk of storing them there but — because it's so easy to use — like it a lot, and am grateful to Merce Barrull, who did a course with me in July, for suggesting it.