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

In my session at IH Barcelona's ELT Conference next weekend, I'm going to mention the following as sources of images for use in language classes.

My aversion to Google Images comes at least in part from watching trainees on our CELTA courses waste countless hours there looking for pictures to take to class, and often coming away with images which it is frankly hard to see them getting a lot out of — and the point of my session is that if you're not getting a lot of language out of the image, it's a waste of time looking for it in the first place.

Creative writing tasks
A single image that jump starts the ideas for a piece of creative writing [presentation] seems to me a much better, more productive use of images. One brilliant source of images for creative writing which I've discovered recently is 500px:

Finding that picture, and adding 6 or 7 lead-in questions to spark ideas, to be brainstormed in pairs or threes, is going to lead to more language and interaction than whatever you can steal from Google to illustrate a phrase like "the sun is shining" (which you could have just drawn anyway!).

In the image above, for example:

  • Who exactly is the person in the photo (name, age, sex, profession…?)
  • Is s/he alive or dead?
  • Where exactly is this?
  • What is the date?
  • Who else is involved in the story?
  • What exactly is the person in the photo thinking at this moment?
  • Who is s/he waiting for?

Here's another, similar example.

Great image sites
Apart from 500px, my other favourites include:

What distinguishes such sites from Google Images? Two things: (1) they don't steal their content from other people (an old-fashioned concern, perhaps?) and (2) they have a vested interest in the quality of the images on their sites, neither of which are of any concern to Google.

And not just photographs…
Images for class don't have to be photos. It's possible to get a lot out of infographics [example task], with three of my favourite infographics sites being these:

Two other excellent sites, particularly if you are interesting in writing tasks are these two, which also give you a single image (and text) as a starting point:

And finally there are videos. A picture might be worth a 1000 words (sadly often not the case to judge by the sort of images I see being prepared for class!), but an interesting YouTube clip — particularly if it comes with the idea for a lesson from a site like one of the following — can be worth (ie. produce from your learners) many 1000s more:

You can "follow" many of the above on Twitter or Facebook, though my preference is to use their RSS feeds and a tool like The Old Reader.

You want to use images in class? You could draw them yourself or have your learners take them on their phones but, failing that, do go somewhere decent to look for them if you want to get lots of language from them…

Bucket lists: an idea for just about any age

Here's a wonderful video made in support of a noble cause, Water is Life, which I saw on the excellent TeachThought site.

Apart from what you could do with the video itself, no matter what age your learners are, they could also write their own bucket list [ definition ], either thinking back to when they were kids or else at their current age.

It's always fascinating to share such things (think "class blog", or Edmodo, etc., possibly even Twitter) and draw conclusions from them (what do the list tell us about teens today, for example?); and to collaborate on brainstorming, agreeing on, creating and perhaps illustrating a single bucket list for the class.

The subject of "Water is Life", particularly with reference to the Third World, is also one that it might be interesting to research and present on (I hesitate to use the word webquest!)

What I learnt from my first 100 tweets

My first 100 twees

I lost a bet on this one (I owe you Kate!): I really didn't think I was going to get to 100 tweets. They were supposed to be one a day but it in fact took me 123 days to get there (stats shown were gathered with metricspot).

The figures shown must have been calculated on the first 99 for some reason. There are more details below but you can see that I probably didn't enter into nearly enough conversations (only 5% of my tweets were "replies") to fully appreciate that interesting Twitter avenue.

What the people I follow tweet
This is actually my second go with Twitter and, though I got to 100 (and beyond!), I'm still not convinced.

Occasionally there's something that makes you stop and think:

And occasionally, amongst all the chatter, there are practical ideas which are actually useful, like this:


And jobs! For anyone job-seeking, Twitter does seem useful, with sites like being worth following (see @tefldotcom).

What I tweeted
You can see below what I tweeted most. Apart from posts on my own blog (!), things on TeachThought were most common: what I like about it is that it makes you think about what you're doing in the classroom, particularly with regard to how technology is being used.

Next was The Guardian: I scan it every morning, not because I agree with its politics but for things that might make good materials for class (I loved the idea of learners creating something like this or this for example).

What I tweeted

Among the "mentions" I made, two of my favourite sources of materials for class: Kieran Donaghy's wonderful Film English and Luke Neff's brilliant Writing Prompts.

Twitter with learners
But what I was really interested in when I began back in June is discovering ways in which learners could use Twitter. Getting them to "follow" celebrities Kate tells me "works" for some but by no means all learners, with a big drop in interest after a week to ten days. There were several other projects we came up with but in the end — due to considerations of privacy (we're talking teens) — used Edmodo for them.

One that has worked really well (though again not with all): having teens "follow" feeds pumping out "inspirational quotes" (like @DavidRoads, for example), which really got learners — especially the girls — interested in reading (albeit in 140 character lots… or less!). Thanks to Sandy for trying that idea out.

And this idea for creative writing with Twitter is one I like a lot.

100 tweets later…
So, all in all, I'm surprised that — despite the appalling amount of frankly pretty pointless tweeting that goes on — Twitter actually can be useful; I am going to continue my one-a-day tweets (@Tom_IHBCN); but still think an RSS reader (I've been using theoldreader, since the demise of Google Reader) is way more organised and more useful.

Halloween photos on mobile phones

Image: Barcelona tobacconist's window, taken to show students as an example

Here's a project that seems to be going down well: having teens compete to see who can take the best Halloween themed pictures on their mobile phones.

They're sharing them in lots of places (Facebook, Twitter, via WhatsApp…) though where they're supposed to be 😉 sharing and commenting on them is on the Edmodo group set up for the class. 25 people have so far posted 47, which is great, though the amount of commenting has been a bit disappointing so far (perhaps we needed to insist on it more?).

After next weekend (when lots are going to Halloween parties where they're supposed to take more photos), the idea is for the learners to discuss and award prizes for the funniest, scariest, cutest… etc,

Thanks to Kate for trying the idea out!

See also
More Halloween ideas

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!