Digital storytelling dolls and LegoMen

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You've taken and shared the photos, now tell the story… | Photos: Esther and Class 3D

Esther tells me she had a lot of fun with this idea, which started out with teens using their smartphones to take photos of dolls, LegoMen, PlayMobil figures (hugely popular in Spain), Action Men, teddy bears or whatever they could find either at home or in shop windows.

Esther says:

Once we had lots of photos, we pooled them and I let the students pick whichever "characters" they wanted. The photos were all over the place, including on phones and Facebook but eventually one student had access to them all and put them in a PowerPoint for us all to see.

Once we had that, I let them pick whatever characters they wanted and then, in pairs, they incorporated the characters into "stories". I've got this tremendous mix of levels in the same group so I gave them a lot of freedom: some of the "stories" were just simple dialogues, others much more complex, including several PowerPoint stories, one a Prezi (probably not a good idea).

The "Cinderella" dolls [see image] were the most popular and produced some amazing stories!

Collecting the photos took about 10 days, which included two weekends (but note that it wasn't Esther doing that!) and the learners had a week in which to present the finished story in some form, with some being printed, some being shared digitally.

For a mixed ability group (and possibly for any group), allowing the learners leeway on their choice of tools and the actual format of the story — dialogue, poem, "proper" story, etc. — is a great idea.

A single place to post the photos to would probably have been a good idea (that was my fault, Esther 😉  ).

Classroom presentations with Google Drive

Every day, I spend a few minutes skimming the headlines on sites like The Guardian and the BBC, Mashable and BuzzFeed, on the lookout for great material for class.

I'm looking for things like this, on topics I think will appeal to learners:

Sometimes I find articles for learners to read, sometimes it's great videos for class, but things like that Guardian article lend themselves to "brainstorming and presenting" activities.

Because it's a real-life task that faces lots of adults today — even if it's only an informal 30-second "presentation" to your boss, with not a PowerPoint slide in sight — having your learners make presentations to the class makes a great activity. If you make creating and giving the presentation collaborative — with learners creating and giving the presentation in pairs or small groups, in other words — it's also a great language learning task.

With the video game guide, above, I'd recommend not going anywhere near the article, at least initially, and having the learners (1) brainstorm the sort of questions it would cover (i.e. what games to begin with…); (2) agree on the content; (3) order it; (4) assign roles (including who is going to talk and who is going to create the digital presentation); and (5) have a first rehearsal of the presentation — and all of that in class, without necessarily going anywhere near a computer.

I like to suggest a choice of tools to learners (see below), rather than imposing one on them, but Google Drive presentations (now known as Google Slides) are so easy to share and collaborate on — not to mention the possibility of real-time chat inside the document.

Depending on the technology available, and the time, the actual creation of the presentation can be done outside classroom time — which will also depend on your learners' access to technology and their willingness to do homework 😉 !

Here's another "brainstorm and present" activity which I described at our ELT Conference last month:

See this previous post for full details.

Alternatives to Google Drive
Your learners could use PowerPoint — but they don't get the amazing sharing options; and they'll love Prezi, especially if they've never seen it before — but I think time tends to get wasted on the zooming about, when it should really have been spent on using language.

See also: Tips for class presentations given by learners

Help Get started with Google Slides | Video tutorials

Tips for great class presentations given by learners

I suggested the tips shown in the slide above in my workshop on February 20.

Given by learners in class to their peers, collaborative presentations make a great language learning activity, both for adults and young learners at just about any level that is B1 or above.

To expand slightly on the points listed above:

  • Your job is to provide as much help with language as possible; having your learners brainstorm and present, and spending lots of class time on the former and on rehearsal, rather than on picking PowerPoint animations, is the best way to ensure this
  • VITAL Keep the presentations short: I suggest 90 seconds to 3 minutes maximum, with a maximum of 3-5 slides. Otherwise, presentations drag on and everyone gets so bored with them
  • Stop anyone going beyond the time limit set: don't give them a second longer, stop them, thank them, but don't fail them for not finishing within the time limit
  • VITAL Have your learners rehearse in their groups — and devote class time to that, with the groups giving their presentations simultaneously, perhaps to another group rather than the whole class. Provide language help there. Perhaps best for use outside class, there are tools like present.me (which will require a webcam) and the Spreaker app (audio only) which are great for this and WhatsApp voicemails are great too. Such rehearsals don't necessarily need to be shared with you (or corrected by you!)
  • Encourage your learners not to read from a script. It's not necessary if the presentation is (a) short and (b) properly rehearsed — and this is a speaking, not a reading activity
  • No stolen images, nor even ones borrowed from creative commons. I suspect that very few teachers agree with me on this one, but if you want a truly creative classroom, you want your learners to create the artwork and/or produce the images. Think quick doodles and photos taken on mobile phones…
  • VITAL Presentations are best given in pairs or small groups, even if that means not everyone gets to speak. If you teach classes of 15 or 25 people, there's just no way you can do 15 to 25 individual presentations in class — and there's so much more language practice to be had in the pair/groupwork required
  • Give the audience (the rest of the class) a reason for listening to the presentation: the presenters themselves can build that in by including a question to be answered at the end; or you can have peer assessment, including commenting…)
  • Have a question-and-answer (Q+A) slot afterwards and, if anything, allow longer for that than the actual presentation itself
  • Help your learners to perform, by explaining how to give a good presentation; how to steady nerves; how to enjoy the experience; how to create a good PowerPoint presentation; what to avoid; or how to create a good Prezi, if that's the tool they are going to be using
  • VITAL Share and comment afterwards: to get the most language out of just about whatever learners are doing with technology, you want a "comments" stage. Google Drive presentations are brilliant for this, for the comments tools, for the ease of sharing, and ease of embedding elsewhere, on things like a class blog or wiki. An Edmodo group or a G+ Community are also excellent tools to enable "comments" or if you want something amazingly easy and with an app, try Tackk. Comments are also great for the teacher to get feedback on the tasks given.

See this post for further notes on what tools to pick: my preference is for the learners themselves to choose.

NOTE As I pointed out during the workshop, good presentations never cram a dozen bullet-points into the same slide as the image above does 😉 !

Podcasting: 60 seconds to save the world

Outline of task

Above, the fourth of the tasks I suggested in my talk at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference on February 7th.

One of the ways in which I believe that we're getting technology wrong in language teaching is to fail to progress beyond our own use of technology as a word processor; and one of the simple ways we could start to get it right would be to have our learners turn their mobile phones on and start using them for productive language learning tasks.

This task requires them to do just that with Spreaker being an excellent little app to enable them to rehearse and record audio.

In groups of 3-4, they need to:

  • Brainstorm and come up with an idea that would make a difference to the environment and/or climate change, one that could actually be put into practice in your school
  • Rehearse exactly what they are going to say, in class, getting it down to exactly 58-60 seconds,  and not a second longer
  • Record it (and if necessary re-record it), something which is probably — because of the noise — best done somewhere quiet, outside class time
  • Post the finished recording where the rest of the class can listen to it (Edmodo or a class blog are great alternatives), again something which can be done outside class
  • Comment on the recordings made by the other groups (to get the most language out of the task, a vital stage, missing from my slide, above).

Note that, though you might want to try out the technology involved first for yourself, as the teacher your job is to provide the language, including helping with pronunciation and intonation, as well as vocabulary, not to provide technical support.

You want to do the former in class, which will reduce the amount of subsequent correction that will be required, and leave any technical help required up to the learners. Believe me, they will be able to provide it!

A nice simple alternative to Spreaker and audio would be to use PowerPoint (or Prezi) and Present.me, with a webcam, which would give your learners video, though I'd recommend keeping it to three slides, and insisting on that maximum of 60 seconds.

Acknowledgements The idea came from the excellent BBC podcast Forum: 60 Second Idea to Improve the World, one that is well worth both you and your learners subscribing to.

Thanks also to Kate who, as ever, was willing to try the idea out and to my PodcastHERs group, who had so much fun doing something along these lines as a long-term project.

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!)