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 😉 !

Tape poetry task for creative classrooms

Above, the example of tape poetry that I showed in my session yesterday at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference.

Below, a slide from my presentation, with the task suggested:

Task with tape poetry

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

First, individually…

  • 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.

Commentary
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.

More about tape poetry
More examples of tape poetry on Instagram; on tapepoetry.com; on Twitter.

Recommended reading
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.

Really creative writing project: a series of dreams

Here's an apparently crazy idea for a creative writing project but one that might work well with an imaginative, co-operative B2+ class, one that wouldn't be put off as soon as they realise it's Bob Dylan (!!!) singing it.

Could your learners produce something along similar lines, inspired by this? Working in groups of 4 or 5, perhaps they could each describe a crazy dream they've had at some time and then roll them into a single series.

One tool your learners could use for it would be the interactive whiteboard, as you can import things to it, and then juggle them around, though you'd perhaps want only one group of not more than 3 or 4 using the IWB as their medium, while the other groups use something else.

It might just work with Glogster (which I've always found works best with younger learners, as it seems to frustrate anyone beyond about the age of 25-30).

Prezi would probably work too.

To get text in, Wordle would work and Prezi and Wordle would probably make a neat combination.

But the best choice of tool would probably be video and there are some amazing mobile phone apps for making videos.  As the teacher, you probably don't want to make the choice of tool for the learners — make a few suggestions but then leave it up to them to make any technological decisions.

You might want, for example, to suggest that they create their own voiceover rather than stealing copyrighted music for a backing track. Soundcloud is terrific, as is Spreaker, if you want an app.

A second, equally crazy idea
Here's another similar idea…

"A Truncated Story of Infinity" – A Short by Paul Trillo from Paul Trillo on Vimeo.

If you asked your learners to be really creative, could they produce something of their own, inspired by this?

What sort of class would this be for?
I don't currently have a suitable class of my own in which to try either of these ideas out but among other things I'd want:

  • B2 or above
  • Excited about doing different things, and not expecting or wanting to do more grammar exercises
  • Possibly younger rather than older learners
  • Learners comfortable using mobile phone apps
  • A 2 (3?) minute time limit on their final products
  • A class that did all group work in English

Working together in English
To get the most language learning out of such ideas, you always want to devote as much class time as possible to brainstorming, speaking, providing language and discussing how the project is going to be done, rather than spending your precious class time just doing a lot of clicking. If you storyboard on paper in class, messing around with the phones and apps can be done outside class.

Having peers review and comment on each other's work-in-progress, as well as the finished product, is another way to create more opportunities for language practice.

Perhaps such things are best for summer courses — but wouldn't ELT in general be so much more interesting for both teachers and learners alike if more things like this got produced and we were less slaves to things like course books and exams syllabuses and programmes that had to be completed?

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.

Simon's Cat: fun listening, speaking and writing

Spider!

Here's one we saw in my technology session on a CELTA course last week.

When I first meet a class I get them to write their names on pieces of A4 pulled out of the recycle bin, fold them and hang them on the front of their chairs/tables so that we all start to learn each other's names.

I also like to get my learners to draw something in the first class — in this case, in the example above, I asked for "an animal or insect that you find in some way repulsive".

Doing that identifies who enjoys drawing and subsequently I like to group people with at least one budding artist per group and have my learners illustrate any project work with their own illustrations rather than things stolen from the evil empire (AKA Google Images).

In this particular case, the drawings also then led on to the video we were then to watch, suggested for levels B2 and above.

Here's the video:

Lesson plan
A rough outline of the lesson plan…

  1. From the drawings, talk about what animals and insects we find repulsive and why, providing any vocabulary help that might be required
  2. In pairs/threes, watch approx the first 0'45" of the video, with one person/two not watching, one providing a running commentary
  3. Stop and answer any "How do you say…?" vocabulary questions
  4. Ask (in open class) "What's going to happen next?"
  5. Swop roles and continue to 1'30"
  6. Answer any further "How do you say…?" questions
  7. Ask (in open class) "How is it going to end?"
  8. Have everyone watch the last 15 seconds of the video and see if they can explain exactly what happens

The running commentary idea works with lots of YouTube videos — with more examples here.

Follow-up
For the vocabulary taught to become vocabulary learned, it needs to be recycled. A few ideas for that:

  • Perhaps after class, discussion of what does in fact happen at the end (does the cat kill the spider…?), something which works great if you have an Edmodo group, where you can share the video and then have people comment
  • In pairs/threes, writing a script for Scary Legs II (possibly using a shared Google Drive document), which then has to be "sold" to the rest of the class (possibly via Edmodo), who are writing rival scripts
  • In pairs, telling the story of how one or other partner came to find the animal/insect drawn at the start of the lesson repugnant (and including the drawing made)

I like all writing activities to be collaborative — so that, for example, in the last suggestion there we're not writing individually and handing the piece in to the teacher, but producing one piece of writing between two and sharing that with everyone (for which Edmodo is again ideal), and hopefully commenting on each other's work as well.

The commenting on what others write is important, as it provides opportunities for further interaction and (re-)use of language but it actually needs to be built into the task and required of the learners. Having learners "buy" other people's scripts (as in the second suggestion above) and/or award each other "prizes" (best, funniest, corniest, etc., script) are just two of the ways you could ensure that.

See also
Video: How to draw Simon's Cat