This is a "muddiest point" from my workshop last Friday. At the end of the session, someone asked:
Learning training: isn't it a lot to take on board for learners to become familiar with X, Y, Z apps? How do we "prepare" them for it? Any tips?
Nowadays, do you need to teach people how to use their smart phones? It does depend on age, but in my experience you don't, and especially you don't with anyone under the age of approx. 25.
My #1 tip would be…
DON'T you provide the technical support — that's NOT your job!
Dofind out right at the start of term which of your learners are "good" with technology. Make sure they're on board and willing to help others (in English!), if the need arises
Do have a technically-savvy person in each group when you do groupwork
Do have people in the class listening for the alert "Technical!": when someone has a technical problem have them either work it with a partner or else call out "Technical!" and have other people, from other groups — notyou — go and see if they can help
Don't constantly be asking people to download new apps, however cool they might be. Instead, get a lot out of a few — like Spreaker, for example, for podcasting; or get a lot out of something like Edmodo or Instagram, using it for a lot of different activities.
Do keep tasks simple! Don't waste time — yours or that of your learners — with things like editing sound or video. If that is necessary, rather than edit, re-record — that's so much better for language practice!
Do these things both with adults and with young learners. It's amazing what the latter know about technology — often instinctively, without you having to provide a step-by-step guide!
Do practise with the technology you are going to use before you have learners use it; but you're doing that not so that you'll be able to solve every difficulty that might arise but so that you'll feel more confident that it will work and, believe me, if you do feel confident, it will, especially if you don't intend to provide the technical assistance yourself
Vital, I think, is to remember this: you are there in class to provide help with language, not with Photoshop or PowerPoint or Prezi…
I'm a huge fan of Kieran Donaghy'sFilm-English.com, with its brilliant selection of YouTube and Vimeo clips and accompanying lesson plans, but sometimes you just see other clips that look just so amazing for class — except that you don't have a lesson plan.
Below, generic ideas that lead to the production of a lot of languagewithout your requiring any more material than the clip itself.
1 | Commentators and listeners
With this one, you put learners in 3s, and have two sit with their backs to the video (sound initially off) while their partner provides a running commentary, with as much detail as possible, as in the illustration, above. The example I gave:
Look for videos (like Simon's Cat) which have plenty of action in them, the more bizarre the better (Mr Bean, someone suggested in the workshop), as in this crazy ad.
2 | Brainstorming a better list
Everyone loves lists, don't they? YouTube does too!
But before you get your learners to watch (and before you start typing up and photocopying a True/False exercise for them!), give them the topic, and get them to (1) brainstorm their own list in small groups; then (2) watch and check off which things on their list are mentioned; if they then (3) list everything mentioned in the video they can then (4) compare lists: theirs, the video's, and those of other groups; and finally (5) discuss who produced the best list.
Here's the hilarious video I suggested as an example:
Here's another example, with a fuller outline of the lesson. Look for "how to" videos, or just about any video with a title starting "7 things…", "10 ways…" etc.
3 | Summarise and present
The brilliant Joe Hanson [ YouTube channel ] has lots of clips this idea will work with:
What they're then doing in class time is making the short oral presentations (I suggest 60-90 seconds, maximum 3 slides), with Q+A time at the end to ensure maximum participation of the whole class.
Look for videos with lots of information and/or presenting ideas, with TED being another site with videos this will work with.
4 | TED feedback
If you watch videos on TED, you're probably familiar with how their rating system works. If you choose to rate one of their talks, you get a pop-up window with a selection of adjectives you can use:
With any video — not necessarily from TED — you can do the same thing. It works particularly well with videos that divide opinion and reaction in your class (like this one, for example) and if you allow your learners to come up with their own adjectives to "rate" it.
If you then pool the adjectives they're come up with and have them pick which 3-5 best describe it, you've got the basis of a class debate.
5 | Video clips as storytelling prompts
One of the things apart from YouTube that we looked at in the workshop was digital storytelling. I'll return to that in a separate post, but mentioned that video clips that tell stories are great as writing (or speaking) prompts for kick starting ideas (and language) to be included in digital storytelling projects.
In Friday's workshop I suggested this Springsteen song but they tell me Taylor Swift is kind of more popular now 😉 :
The Taylor Swift song has worked well (thanks, Kim) with teens who (1) brainstormed a list of what they guessed would be in a Taylor Swift love song clip; (2) checked that off in a first watching (sound on); (3) listened to the lyrics on a second watching; (4) in 3s, used the song for a dictogloss activity, with their versions then being checked against the actual lyrics; (5) debated what exactly happens in the story — clip and lyrics; before (6) recycling the language that had come up in class into their own collaborative stories (some produced in text, some in audio form).
Look for song video clips that tell stories, which then also give you a text (the lyrics) you can then exploit in the usual ways.
6 | Football (etc.)
One not mentioned in the workshop, but football is always a winner in class, isn't it? My son (one of my key sources for video clips for class) showed me this amazing Facebook page with sports clips the other day.
Generic lesson plan? Pick the right clip (look for controversy!) and you probably don't need one! With certain learners, they'll talk endlessly (possibly not always intelligently 😉 ) on the subject…
One of the ways in which I believe that we're getting technology wrongin 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 rightwould be to have our learners turn their mobile phoneson 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, notto 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.
At Encuentro Práctico, a conference for Spanish teachers, back in 2009, I showed the photograph above (here, distorted to protect the privacy of the people in it), in which the learners are admiring their work — a "class newspaper", which has involved a lot of use of scissors and glue.
Back then, as in my session I was demonstrating what could be done with an interactive whiteboard, I asked the question, "Couldn't this be done with technology — perhaps by using the IWB?"
Last Saturday, I found myself showing the same photograph again — in the very same room — at this year's edition of the IH Barcelona ELT Conference; but the question in 2015, six years on into the 21st century, really perhaps ought by now to be "Why isn't this being done with technology?"
I gave this second example, of work done by adults on a Spanish course, in which they've again been using scissors and glue to produce a piece of project work to illustrate what the world might be like in the year 3000 AD:
As I suggested, we don't know what the world is going to be like in the 31st century but I think it's a fairly safe bet that — barring an ecological catastrophe — adults won't be using scissors and glue to do collaborative project work.
Below, the first of the tasks I proposed in my presentation as an alternative to the one-issue only, scissors-and-glue class paper:
To expand on the notes in the slide from my presentation (above), my suggestion (designed for B2 or above) was to:
Use a digital space like Blogger or Edmodo (great with teens) or a private G+ Community (possibly better with adults) to publish the "paper"
Have learners, in groups of 3 and on a rota basis, take turns to post 3 things (any three things!) they think will be of interest to their peers
Have them decide what to post, though a YouTube "video of the week" has always proved successful in the classes I've tried this with myself or have had friends and colleagues try it with
Have generating as many comments (and hence as much language) as possible from their peers as the editors' principal objective
I suggest two rules:
One of the posts has to be coursebook (CB) related, so that the language on the topic/s seen in class during the week gets recycled and added to
Only one of the posts can be about football (important, for the sake of variety, if you teach in somewhere as football mad as Barcelona!)
You might want to add a "no-bullying" rule and personally I like to have a "no stealing images" (or text) and have the editors also produce any artwork (including photos) necessary to illustrate the week's posts.
What do you and your learners get from it?
Among the possible advantages of "technology" over scissors and glue:
It's more "real world" — in the sense that, unless your learners are children, few of them ever now use scissors and glue, but many probably do use tools similar to those suggested
It enables the learner to add multimedia: you can have only text or images on paper but with digital your learners can add audio, video, animation…
It's therefore (to many) exciting and therefore motivating — precisely because it's "21st century"
It makes a second issuehappen: with a paper and scissors edition, that's most unlikely!
It provides for ease of editing: glue something in the wrong place and your learners may find themselves starting over | see also: how I correct
It's ongoing, providing you with a platform not only for this project but with a place where other project work can be published, too — such as some of the other ideas suggested in my session
It allows for — and requires — comments from peers, taking advantage of the communicative possibilities of modern day technology and providing a platform on which that communication can take place and be practised
It's collaborative and creative — and who doesn't want that in their classroom?
It's "social", involving sharing and the creation of an end product to look back on (perhaps over the whole term — or year!) and be proud of
Above all, it leads to the use and practice of more language, which is why we're in the classroom in the first place
Alternatives | Another of the tools mentioned in the session was Tackk, which would work well if the technology available to you in your classroom is only (?!) the smart phones in your learners' pockets (thanks to Montse G. for feedback on that).
You could also make your class "paper" 100% a radio show and use some of the amazing podcasting tools and apps that are available — I particularly recommend the Spreaker app.
Thanks are also owed particularly to colleagues Alex, Don, Kim and Rachel, and to Kate, for feedback over the years on this idea.
Below, a slide from my presentation, with the task suggested:
WhatsApp, Google Drive, and a (private) Google+ Community — the icons on the right, above — make great tools for the task, though there are lots of other possibilities.
Stages for the task
Learners find English poems they like — either by (a) searching on the internet or (b) by asking native speakers (other teachers in your school…? in a school in an English-speaking country…?) or (c) by you making suggestions (which you might want to do at lower levels — and we're probably thinking teens or above and B1 or above for this task)
They pick a line or lines from the poem that they particularly like
They share the chosen lines with the rest of the class. I suggested a WhatsApp group for that but also recommended school and parental permission if you're doing this with teens.
They then attempt to write their own line of poetry, perhaps best on a similar theme
And finally they share that via your chosen tool (Edmodo would work if you don't like the idea of mobile phones with teens, with the small groups feature in Edmodo being great for this)
I suggested in my presentation that in your task design, you want to consider what parts of the task you want your learners to do in class time, and what parts outside of class. I'd recommend doing all the above mainly outside class time (but personally never use the word "homework" to describe the task 😉 !
Then, in groups of up to 4…
In class, taking the lines of poetry they've already found and written, mash them up into a single poem, editing them in any way they wish — for which a shared Google Drive document is great
They then print and cut up the finished poem into its separate lines
In class, the learners agree on and perhaps sketch a design for and — then outside class — produce a background for the poem (artwork probably again best done outside class)
Next they post the tape poem (they'll need glue or drawing pins) somewhere suitable — a classroom or corridor noticeboard, for example. You probably don't want to suggest posting on a wall or door somewhere outside in the street, though wouldn't that be fun 😉 ?
With the aid of their mobile phones, they then photograph the finished poem
They then share it with everyone in the class, for which I've suggested a Google+ Community (you might prefer Edmodo with teens, for greater privacy), though Instagram is a great place to share it if you want the whole world to see the work
Vital Finally, everyone comments on everyone else's poems, and on the project itself.
I say the last commenting stage there is vital because it requires the learners to use more language, as well as taking advantage of the communicative possibilities technology now offers us. All tasks making use of technology should have that last stage built in, as a requirement, in my view.
Above, I've highlighted which parts (those that are going to involve the learners talking to peers, negotiating and brainstorming, and those that will require you to provide help with language) are best done in class.
The vital point I wished to make in my presentation was that it's not the teacher but the learners that should be using technology and that they should be using it not so much for the technology as for the language its use can generate, and the tape poetry task presented here I hope is a good example of such things.
Although I suspect it appeared before tape poetry ever did, Jane Spiro's Creative Poetry Writing (OUP 2004) has lots of ideas on how to get fun and language out of poetry — a word many of us probably initially turn our noses up. In my experience, however, poetry works in class, and even people who say they "hate poetry" will say they liked classes and tasks that poetry was brought into.
Would it work?
As I mentioned in my presentation, this was the one task presented that I've not actually tried out with learners. I'm sure it would work — assuming that you and your learners think classrooms should be creative places. You do, don't you?
Please do add comments, and — especially — if you try it out, and perhaps adapt it, do let me know how it went.