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

How to use Twitter to improve your English, 5 mins a day

Here's one that we posted on our Spanish Teacher Training blog last week, with other ideas in the same post for learning vocabulary independently [content in Spanish], outside class.

I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter but recommend it as a useful tool both to language teachers and to language learners.

As shown in the video, above, I suggest to my learners that they "follow" people of personal interest to them (celebrities, singers, footballers, street artists, whoever…) and see how much language they can learn from them.

Instead of following celebrities, following particular issues or interests like the environment or news stories is an alternative.

The language a learner should look for on Twitter
What I'm looking for in the tweets I read (5 minutes a day, waiting for the bus or wherever…):

  • words or phrases (especially the latter!) that I recognise and vaguely remember (for learners perhaps language we've seen in class)
  • new language that I can work out from context
  • link to articles that interest me to give myself some reading comprehension practise (and improve my vocabulary further, see previous two items)
  • videos so as to get some listening practice
  • words or phrases — or entire tweets — I don't understand at all

Yes, there's lots of French that is going to puzzle me on Twitter and lots of English that will puzzle my learners. They need a certain level (I'd suggest B1 or above) but being puzzled by language is a good thing — especially if they favourite* what they're interested in but don't understand, and then go back to their favourites and work out meaning, perhaps with the aid of an online dictionary.

Wanting to know what words and phrases mean, and wanting to understand someone — isn't that one of the keys to language learning?

And yes, it's true: people don't write gram. (?!) correct, perfect model sentences on Twitter, and abbrev. (?!) whatever they can.

No, it doesn't bother me.

Not if my learners are actually motivated and learning.

See also How to keep your account private on Twitter

Footnote ||| *On Twitter, "favourites" are now, ridiculously, called "likes", aren't they? For language learners, calling them "Puzzles" would be so much better 😉 !

A wonderful idea that your learners could film

Here's a wonderful one from which Vanesa sent me with the suggestion that it looks as if it might be interesting for class, though she hadn't yet used it or come up with a lesson plan.

It looks brilliant for class, Vanesa, if you ask me (thanks so much 😉 ) !

With this one, however, I'm not so sure we actually want the usual sort of lesson plan, with pre-watching and while-watching activities and a follow-up and so on. I wonder if we couldn't actually get our learners to film something of their own along the same lines — especially if you happen to have classes with a huge range of ages.

You'd want someone in your classes (and I'll bet you've got lots!) adept with filming on a smartphone or other device and perhaps willing to do a little editing for us; you'd want scriptwriters, too (that could be everyone in the class); and learners willing to be filmed (not necessarily all of them). You want to start exploiting — for its opportunities for language learning — all that technology your learners are carrying around with them!

Or why not do it as a project shared across different classes: start with your youngest group and then work upwards…?

They wouldn't necessarily have to upload it to YouTube: a shared Google Drive folder makes a great alternative if you — or they — don't want the rest of the world to have access to it. You could also just watch what they film directly on their phones, if privacy is going to be an issue (and it is!).

You do also have privacy options on YouTube itself.

Vanesa suggested another wonderful film from Vimeo, about an old lady struggling to send a text message, also wonderful for class!

See also | Vimeo Staff Picks, a wonderful channel to watch for more great shorts (etc.) for class — like this one or this one, for example!

Brilliant video for sparking class discussion

Hellion – (Official 2012 Sundance Film Festival) from Kat Candler on Vimeo.

Here's a wonderful short (later made into a full-length movie) for class discussion, which I spotted this morning on Twitter from Vimeo.

The best videos for class are often those with a twist to them — and this one has two! They come at around 3m 40s and then at 5m 30s and, to get the most out of this, you probably want to stop right before them and discuss what's been seen up to that point. If you then show your learners the twist, you can get a huge amount more debate (and thus language) from the same clip.

I'd break this one down roughly as follows:

  • Before watching, have the learners find out from their partners/groups what younger and/or older siblings they have and how they treated each other as kids
  • Watch to 3m40s. To avoid everyone spending all that time in silence, I like to pair my learners and encourage them to talk to each other about what they're seeing on the screen while watching
  • Stop at that point and then discuss what happens; why; what the Dad is doing right/wrong; what you/your parents would do/did
  • Play to 4m 30s and then stop there (a) to check understanding, if necessary playing that section again; and (b) to see if we still think what we've previously said about the Dad, etc.
  • Play to 5m 30s and stop and discuss again
  • Play to the end and discuss further

If you like to take great shorts to class, keep an eye out for Vimeo's Staff Picks. For an English teacher, I'd say it's worth being on Twitter only to follow Vimeo!

Best practice: have your learners use smartphones to make video

Flipped learning: technology is not about the teacher does with it!

Here's on I posted on Twitter this week:

The project and competition is here (you have only until 1st June to get your learners to complete it, so hurry!) and the book is this one, Film in Action, by Kieran Donaghy, who produces the ideas for using film clips in language teaching on the brilliant Film-English.com website.

Go to any language teaching conference nowadays and you're all but guaranteed to hear someone speaking about flipped learning and how it's the Next Big Thing. I'm sorry, I just don't buy it, not for language teaching. In ELT, I don't think we're paid anywhere near enough to be producing video content, no matter how easy smartphones have made that. Now getting learners to produce the videos — as in the competition — that's surely the way to go!

Here's another brilliant example of the sort of thing learners could produce, which I also tweeted this week, from Mike Harrison:

Can your learners — not you, your learners!!! — tell a video story in 6 seconds (or 15 if you use Instagram)?

A tweet from the Innovate ELT Conference this weekend quoting Ceri Jones suggested that we should "Ask not what your tool can do, ask what it can help you to do". IH Barcelona replied:

It seems to me that real innovation, revolution if you like, isn't going to come from tinkering with what teachers do or don't do, or from what teachers do with technology, but from what teachers get learners to do with technology.

Recommended | The other titles from Delta Publishing are well worth exploring. See also two excellent ones on technology — Going Mobile (Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney) and Teaching Online (Nicky Hockly and Lindsay Clandfield).

On Twitter, as @Tom_IHBCN, I post a maximum of one thing a day which I think will be of interest to language teachers and/or learners.