365 tweets: how to stop Twitter driving you insane

455 days ago (according to MetricSpot.com), I started tweeting a maximum once a day (an average of 0.80 tweets/day). When I reached 100 tweets, I lost a small bet to Kate, and have now lost a second by failing to get to 365 within 450 days ("Damn it", as Jack Bauer would say!).

Twitter activity

I am, however,  on Twitter several times a day, and recommend it as one of my favourite tools for teachers. When I did so the other day, someone said Twitter drives her "completely potty" so, for what it's worth, here are 10 newbie tips for using Twitter and retaining your sanity.

  1. Follow something important to you Find some subject or issue that really interests or concerns you and "follow" and engage with that — whatever it is. Two of my big interests outside work are photography and street art and it was when I started following various people on those subjects, ones that mattered to me, that I first thought, "Wow! Twitter is great!"
  2. Twitter is great for images For class, I detest seeing trainees and colleagues using Google-is-Evil Images, as the results — the pictures they take from there — are rarely worth their time, in terms of how much language they are going to get from the images. But following people like @500px or @HistoryInPics or @Life or even @TelegraphPics will bring you brilliant photographs for creative writing, apart from anything else, from which you're going to get so much more language.
  3. It's good for jobs alerts A significant percentage of the people on teacher training courses here at IH Barcelona are taking CELTA courses (or the Spanish teacher training equivalent) and are going to be looking for ELT jobs: if that's your case, even if you followed no one else, following @tefldotcom or @ESLjobfeed, among others, would make it worth your while to be on Twitter.
  4. Favourite things I tend to go on to Twitter on my phone, over breakfast, over a coffee, on the Metro, occasionally at traffic lights; I "favourite" a lot stuff to come back to and read at length, when I have more time…
  5. … and unfavourite things And then I go back and skim-read the articles and so on linked to, unfavouriting if it disappointed, but keeping the really interesting, useful things, so that my favourites are, to some extent, a bank of materials I can turn to for class.
  6. Who follows who Who other people follow is interesting (often who they follow are way more interesting!). It sometimes repays to, for example, go and check out the author (A) of a really interesting tweet that someone you already follow (B) has retweeted — as Person A sometimes turns out to be much more interesting than Person B. You want to "follow" B, you want to follow interesting people!
  7. Who you unfollow is as, if not more, important as who you follow, and you want to start to unfollow people if they start to irritate you, quite possibly with the sheer volume of their tweets and/or the fact that none of what they post ever interests you. Ditch them!
  8. Create your own "unfollow" rules It's actually quite fun to create "unfollow" rules: mine include instantly unfollowing anyone who ever mentions politics, posts a photo of a cat or of coffee, or boasts where they are in the world — whoever they are, including friends and family. With the referendum in Scotland yesterday and another coming up in Barcelona, I've been able to slash the number of people I follow dramatically!
  9. You need to learn to tweet There's a certain amount of "learning to tweet" involved but fortunately Twitter itself is a good place to learn things — like the (unofficial!) rules of engagement.
  10. 365 is a great idea If you're learning something, anything, but it applies particular to using technology, you want to use it regularly, and obliging yourself to use it once a day — whether it's a new camera, or an interactive whiteboard, Google Drive or a piece of new software — is a great way to go about it. I've learnt so much from 365 photography, sketching and writing projects I've been involved in and am happy to say that it got me hooked on Twitter, while my other 9 tips helped me retain at least a degree of sanity!

Coming next, my 10 favourite tweets, of which this is one:


Who's the captain of that ship? I've got so much in class by starting with that image, and that question!

On Twitter (@Tom_IHBCN), I post no more than one thing a day, always and exclusively things that I think will interest language teachers and/or their learners.

Creative writing with the monkey selfie story

A little more on something I tweeted earlier today, having spotted it during my daily minute browsing The Guardian on my way to work…

The Guardian disagrees with what the Telegraph claimed about the monkey owning copyright (!).

Here's the video of the original theft:

I'm not that sure that I'm going to get a lot of language — always the objective — out of either the articles or the video, but it's the idea that I like: couldn't we get a lot of fun, a lot of interaction and language out of imagining we're the monkey and have actually learnt how to use Facebook and Instagram and so on?

IDEA #1 | The Facebook post and/or tweet
So we have the picture (though, how many of my teens can themselves pull great monkey faces, and use their own images…?), how about our learners write the Facebook post and/or 140-character tweet that the monkey would upload to their new account?

We want to get the interaction that will produce more language so each learner (or pair of learners) has to be (a) the monkey that stole the camera and then (b) another jealous — or not — monkey without the camera and has to respond to the post, which would need to go on something like an Edmodo group. You could use a Facebook group (or with adults a private G+ Community), but I'm all for the greater, ad-free privacy that Edmodo offers.

No technology? You could use pieces of (scrap!) paper and "post" on your classroom walls…

IDEA #2 | Give me my phone back!
Alternatively, again if you have an Edmodo group, how about dividing your class up and have them negotiate recovery of the phone?

  • One of the learners is the monkey
  • Others are other monkeys, who also want the phone and/or have stolen other phones
  • One of the learners is the tourist, the original owner of the phone
  • The rest are other tourists, who could also have had their phones stolen

To keep your Edmodo stream a little under control, I'd recommend no more than about a third of your learners as monkeys, and only monkeys being allowed to post new "notes" — people are only allowed to "respond" to notes. You probably also want to take email "alerts" off for the duration of the activity (!).

Twitter might also be a fun way to do the same activity.

On Twitter (@Tom_IHBCN), I post only one thing a day (frequently not even that), always and exclusively things I think will interest language teachers and/or their learners.

My top 12 sites for language teaching and learning

2 for the price of 1: song clips that tell stories…

These, in fairly random order, are a dozen of the sites I always recommend language teachers on pre-service courses like CELTA, and on others too.

They are sites I believe all language teachers should know about, though you'll notice that most are intended for the learners, rather than the teacher, to use.

  1. YouTube There's just so much brilliant material for language classes on YouTube (and see also Vimeo, in the next item below). Particularly great are song clips that tell stories [above and here's my favourite example], giving you 2 for the price of 1 — the song and the story (can your learners tell the story, explain and extend it?) | More ideas for using YouTube.
  2. FilmEnglish If you want lesson plans to go with your YouTube clips, then Kieran Donaghy's brilliant FilmEnglish is the best of a number of similar sites (see "Video lessons" in the sidebar, for more), partly because the choice of clips is always so inspired (many in fact don't come from YouTube but from the classier Vimeo).
  3. Google Drive Formerly known as Google Docs, Google Drive is brilliant because you will never ever again have to concern yourself with which is the right version of your document: there is only one version, up in the cloud, accessible from any device; brilliant because you can share documents with people (colleagues, students…); and brilliant because your learners can create the documents and collaborate within them, including in real time (in a chat window… oh, wow!). Absolutely amazing for creative, collaborative writing projects; great too if you have your learners make presentations. And all that without having to fork out for Micro$oft Office! | See also Getting started with Google Drive
  4. Edmodo | I just love Edmodo, and every class I know that's tried it has loved it too — provided the teacher has seen it for what it is: a kind of private Facebook group, one designed for education (and not for sharing every detail of your private life). An Edmodo group is for learners to do stuff, share it and comment on it; it doesn't work nearly as well if you see it as a place to provide the answers to "exercises" and little more. It gives your learners a digital space in which to do things. Welcome to the 21st century!  | More ideas for using Edmodo.
  5. Blogger For a more complex digital space than Edmodo, on which things can be kept looking more organised, a blog is a great option, with Blogger being easier than the very popular WordPress for anyone new to blogging. Fantastic for project work of all kinds | More ideas on blogging.
  6. WhatsApp Absolutely my favourite app for taking advantage of the technology learners come to class already equipped with — and with the app already downloaded, installed and familiar to them. Absolutely great, and addictive, for randomly sharing whatever, and great too for sharing photos on an agreed theme.
  7. SoundCloud | My second favourite app, Soundcloud turns your learners' mobile phones into audio recording devices (which they already are) for podcasting but also gives them somewhere in the cloud to store the files and do various other things with them (like commenting and linking). Podcasting I'd say is definitely one of the most successful uses I've ever had learners make of technology in language classes, though note that I don't recall ever having actually made a recording myself for use in class. | More ideas, information on podcasting.
  8. Twitter It took me a while to see the value of Twitter but I recommend it because it brings me ideas and materials (like the outstanding images on 500px); not to mention ELT job offers; and stuff (unrelated to work) that I just like and enjoy; because having learners "follow" someone — a celebrity of some kind — is a great way for them to get more, self-motivating reading practice; and because I've also seen it used a bit like an Edmodo or WhatsApp group, for sharing things between the members of a class , with one of the best examples being this project by Daniel Rodriguez (content in Spanish) | Me on Twitter (and check out who I follow for more ideas on who you could follow!)
  9. TeachingEnglish.org.uk Especially — but not exclusively — for newly qualified language teachers, Teaching English is a must-have favourite. Everything your CELTA course forgot to mention (and lots that it did) is there. Got a newbie question and you don't have a colleague at hand to turn to? Go there! If you're on Facebook, they also have a Facebook page that is well worth "liking".
  10. OneStopEnglish In many ways very like Teaching English, OneStopEnglish requires subscription (currently 42 GBP, or €53 pa) for full access, though if you're lucky, your school already has school access to it. Another great site to turn to when the DoS gives you classes (business English, exams…) that CELTA didn't prepare you for!
  11. Cambridge Exams And talking about exams, all teachers should know about them, acquire knowledge  of them and experience of teaching exam classes. In Europe, the Cambridge Exams are the most popular, and schools want teachers that have that knowledge and experience. Here's where to acquire at least the former, which is a definite plus to your CV.
  12. Tech ELT Blog I've left technology till last as I think it's the least important (but still vital) ingredient in a language classroom. I going to recommend my own blog here  (!!!) as a site to bookmark because — I hope — virtually everything here is (a) easy to put into practice in a language classroom; (b) interaction- and language-rich but technology-light, and not the other way round: and (c) involves learners rather than teachers using technology — which is as I think it should be. You want alternatives? Look at some of the "Blogs I learn from" (see sidebar).

What must-favourite sites for language learning do you think I've missed? Tell us in the comments…

All-time favourite listening comprehension activity

A few further comments on an idea I tweeted earlier today…

 

I've been doing this with classes since before the Internet (!!!), taking a radio (what?!) into class to play the BBC news bulletin to learners First Certificate (B2) and above.

A one-minute bulletin is great, especially great now that you can have it with video (and no static!) and the task involves learners (individually) first listening; then listening again and transcribing everything they can; then comparing notes with a partner; then listening again and attempting to fill in any gaps.

If you're lucky (and yes, it's a bit hit and miss!) there will be at least one news item that will then lead on to discussion and debate.

It works because it's topical; it's real and up-to-the-minute; it's materials and preparation "light" (I don't make a transcription) but language and interaction "rich"; and it satisfies the principal requirement of my one-man crusade against the photocopier: number of photocopies required — none.

Persuading your learners to listen and watch such things on their own every day (they don't have to transcribe, of course!) is also a good idea as it's such great, extra listening comprehension practice.

On Twitter (@Tom_IHBCN), I post only one thing a day (and quite frequently not even that), always and exclusively things I think will interest language teachers and/or their learners.

2 seconds of technology, 1 photo, for hours of language

From my session at IH Barcelona's ELT Conference yesterday…

As you'll see if you follow through on the link to National Geographic, it's not the dirty coffee cup fungus I thought it was!

What was the point of the activity?
The preparation time was virtually none as I'd spotted the photo during my self-imposed maximum of 2 minutes a day on Twitter (though you might want four or five similarly "strange" pictures if you wanted to practise, for example, the language of speculation).

And for our two-seconds viewing in class, we're going to get two, three… minutes of talking, of interaction, of use of language. If for 2 seconds of "technology" we're getting 120 or 180 or more seconds of language, then that's a proportion that is starting to feel right.

Use great sources for your images
One of the things I suggested in my session was that not using Google Images and instead using better sources of images is likely to lead you to better pictures for use in class; that in turn will lead to more language — because people will find more to say about them.

Of all the image sites on the internet, National Geographic has got to be one of the best — and out there among all the garbage on Twitter*, most definitely a feed worth following.

Here's another site well worth "following" on Twitter — photofocus.com — and another of the creative writing activities I suggested in the session, using a single image as your starting point:

You could do a similar thing with the photo there: show it for 2 seconds, and ask those questions (the questions being there to kick-start the ideas — and the language); and, if you then get your learners to collaborate on writing a single story between two or three people, from your one photo, you are getting hours of language.

No interactive whiteboard?
If you have a projector in your classroom, but no interactive whiteboard, that's not a problem. You have a "blank" button on your remote that turns the projector off and on instantly? That's possibly the most useful, most powerful, of all the billions of buttons and keys at your disposal. Turn the technology off!

See also

*Sorry, that's the Mr Grumpy in me slipping out again 😉 !