Shutting the shouters up, in class and on Twitter

Shut him up!
Have you ever had a student in class that just won't shut up and won't let anyone else talk? Or perhaps you've been a student in a class like that yourself — or found yourself at meetings where the same thing has happened?

I've had a few students like that in my time (I'll come to Twitter in a moment), mostly but not exclusively slightly older blokes and mostly people who not only talk too much, they also talk way too loud, and not only drown out everyone else, they also — excuse the language, but there's no other word for it — piss everyone else off and ruin the class for the rest of the term.

In such circumstances, the following have not always succeeded in gaining at least a temporary respite, rolled out with varying degrees of subtlety, or lack thereof:

  • Proximity — by which I mean standing close to him (let's call him that), towering over him, even standing in front of his view of the other members of the class
  • A traffic cop "Stop" hand signal to the person, followed go a "Go" signal to someone else who looks as if they have something to say
  • Looking at him, catching his eye and putting my fingers on my lips
  • Joking openly about the issue
  • If necessary, reducing any whole-class discussion to a minimum and doing more pair- and groupwork (and ensuring there are frequent changes of partner!)
  • Putting on my best "pissed off" face, adopting a fists-on-hips stance and then openly using the expression "John, zip it!"
  • Sarcasm (generally when I've started to lose it over the matter)
  • A private word with the offender after class

It's one of the classroom management issues that can be really tough to deal with — but, for the sake of everyone else in your class, you have to do that.

Shouting via Twitter
Twitter…? Ah, yes! On Twitter, you have the equivalent: the person that tweets way, way too much.

In a classroom, sometimes it's attention seeking, sometimes it's just bullying, often it's hard to pinpoint the cause of such behaviour, sometimes the offender isn't even aware that he's doing it — but on Twitter (and the rest of social media, for that matter), it's part of a PLAN!

You see, the social media marketing gurus tell you that you need to tweet a lot to stay on people's radars — and that would be even when you've got nothing of interest to say or share.

If you're on Twitter, you're probably learning to use it, and probably hoping to learn things from it. The tweets from the people you follow will appear in your feed, which thus becomes your (very informal, very chaotic) "classroom".

But you can't learn if there's someone there shouting all the time, pumping out attention-seeking garbage constantly, flooding your feed and drowning out other people who you could learn from.

You want to shut them up, and the good news is that it's real easy: unfollow them. No matter who they are. No matter how many other followers they have.

Twitter is actually really good for professional development, for finding new ideas and generally going on becoming a better teacher — provided you un-follow the right people!

Have you ever managed to lose a "shouter" from one of your classes? The silence is bliss!

Too much information, too little attention

We have way too much information coming at us, don't we? Here's a quotation I came across the other day (thanks Jackie!) and liked:

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it | Herbert A. Simon

I love quotations! Why, I've even given entire workshops based on quotations. This one came from the quotations page on, which turned up on Twitter, where I get (and dispense!) an overdose of information myself.

It's probably worth being on Twitter (for the images, if for no other reason) — but one of the secrets of staying sane on Twitter is this: what matters is not who you follow or how many people you follow but who you unfollow and how few people you follow. Stop following anyone who is boring you! Move away from them as you would at a party!

The other thing I always recommend is RSS, for which you'll require an RSS reader like The Old Reader. At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy again, it's so much more organised than all this newfangled social media nonsense 😉 !

One for your learners
Lingholic is a site you might like to recommend to your learners as (a) there's lots of good advice there for language learners and (b) you want independent learners!

On Twitter I'm @Tom_IHBCN and add to the information overload myself, with one little thing a day (max.) that is hopefully of interest to language teachers.

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?

Top tips for successful use of technology in classrooms

One I tweeted yesterday…

The link there is to a session I gave at the Macmillan Teachers' Day in Zaragoza in 2013 but I find myself repeating those ideas on a regular basis, when teachers ask "How do you make technology successful in a classroom?"

Well, that's my "recipe" — or rather my rules of hygiene, as I suggested then.

On Twitter As @Tom_IHBCN, I post one thing a day, max., always something I hope is of interest to language teachers.

See also Great Twitter feeds for images for your class

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) 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), 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) 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! 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.