Ugh! There's something in my coffee!


Here's one I took for a colleague who wanted to do the coffee project I suggested in a recent talk. I promised I'd help her produce a few examples she could show her class to inspire them. As they're late teens/young adults I thought the photo above might amuse them at least.

It's always a good idea to produce an example or two and, with a project like this on a social space like a blog or Edmodo, though I'd still want my learners to be doing the work, I think the teacher can and should join in and share things, too, as an equal.

Related post
Photographing what we eat for breakfast

Springsteen: We learnt more from a 3-minute record…

A further idea suggested in my talk a week ago…

Because, among the first quotations I ever collected, there were a lot of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen lyrics, I couldn't not include at least one in my talk.

You can go to conferences, find great ideas for using technology on the internet (see for example, some of the Blogs I learn from, in the sidebar, right), but in the end, technology is very, very much a question of learning by doing. I've learnt, really learnt, far more in the hours I've spent actually using it than I have in the hours I've spent listening to people talk about it and would suggest the less you know about technology, the more important it is that you start "messing about" with it.

Keep it simple!

In a seminar, someone once asked me for advice on how and where to set up a "virtual reality house", in which her students would invent and take on imaginary characters and do everything they did in the entire year, every task, in that way; they would "be" those characters.

I suggested that (a) it would be brilliant if it worked; that (b) Second Life would be the obvious platform, much though I loathe it; that (c) Edmodo or a blog, though not "virtual reality", would probably give far fewer technical headaches; that (d), vitally, we should always keep things simple; that (e) probably the way to go would be to try out the idea, but not commit herself to doing so for the entire year, at least not until she had got feedback from the learners.

But I very much liked the idea and think learners would too, partly because it is so obviously creative.

Here's a simplified version…


Have your learners take a series of photos of [motorbikes, cars…] and match these to their owners, who they also have to create

Examples of photos taken by learners: what kind of people would ride/drive these…?


The photos should be shared and commented on (an Edmodo group is perfect for that, but Facebook and Google+ would work equally well, with far less privacy) before we start to invent the characters. If in the comments we brainstorm ideas on "who would ride/drive something like that?", we're starting to create ideas that can then be used to flesh out the characters.

Once we have enough photos, have pairs pick a single photo and work on the character, who should also be shared and commented on.

Your job is to provide the language necessary as well as the ideas; if you work hard face-to-face in providing the language, you'll have less "correction" to worry about in the end-product.

If the idea "works", try getting your learners to take another series of photos [coffees, cars, shoes…] and match these to the same series of owners and/or add new "owners".

Related post
Learning to use Edmodo (or any other technology)

Introduction | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten

An idea is worth a thousand photocopies

Another of the ideas from my talk last Saturday, with a quote from my former DELTA course tutor…

At the previous talk I gave at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference, a year ago, I explained how I'd taken a vow of abstinence, had had my own photocopy code disabled, and not made a photocopy since, using instead some of the wonderful digital alternatives (blogs, Edmodo, shared Google Docs, wikis…).

Because we now have free online access to a vast number of articles on subjects of all kinds that will interest students of all ages, the following has become one of my favourite classroom activities, as it produces lots of student-generated language and discussion and doesn't involve queuing up to use the photocopier.

Have your learners negotiate and create their own digital list of "The top 5-10 [whatever] of all time"

Rough outline of stages

  1. Find an idea that will engage your learners (sources: blogs, RSS feeds, The Guardian, Twitter, …)
  2. Have your learners (face-to-face) brainstorm their own list
  3. Share the list online (blog, Edmodo, Facebook…)
  4. Extend list over course of 3-7 days, perhaps before the class meets again
  5. Negotiate reduction to 5-7 (10) points, possibly F2F in next class
  6. Provide link and compare "our" list with the original article
  7. Exploit article for language work and/or developing reading skills, using an interactive whiteboard if available
  8. Exploit the readers' comments accompanying the article
  9. Further discussion

We can spread this out over several days, do some of the discussion face-to-face, some of it online. Note how much we can get out of the article before we ever even actually look at it (stage 6, above).

As with all the uses of technology I suggest, we're in fact making fairly minimal use of technology here.

Examples of online articles
All of the following articles have popped up in my Google Reader feeds for sites like Lifehacker, Mashable, and Wired, which are great sources of such material.

I love all brainstorming activities! By definition they are creative (on which Carol Read gave a brilliant plenary at the conference); they are student-centred; give rise to conversation, social interaction and sharing; which leads to a focus on learner-generated emergent language; and they involve creating something, not merely consuming more photocopies.

Introduction | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten

Getting the most out of technology: sharing is caring

A further quotation I used in my conference talk last weekend, one that came from my own children, who used it when they were very small as a magic phrase which instantaneously ended their squabbles. They are now 16 and 19 and it's been fascinating to watch two digital natives grow up; and having learnt so much from them, I had to include something that they've taught me!

One of the fundamental changes that Web 2.0 tools have brought about is that they make it so easy for users to share things. If the use we're making of technology doesn't lead to that, then we can't possibly be using it to its full potential.

Perhaps the problem is with the word "we": it's not "we" the teachers that should be using classroom technology at all, but our learners. And if what they're doing with it doesn't lead to sharing things online, then we need to rethink what we're asking them to do.

On a class blog, have your class post photos (taken either on their mobile phones or with a digital camera) of their first coffee of the morning, on a regular basis.


You could, alternatively, substitute "breakfast" for "coffee", as in the image (above).

Original source: Tumblr

I've suggested a blog but you could also use a Facebook group or Edmodo or a Google+ Community, though (for reasons of its superior privacy, my personal preference would definitely be for Edmodo).

I like this task for a number of reasons. It's suitable for quite low levels; it's creative; it involves sharing and, because it does, it helps create a sense of community, which is excellent for your group dynamics, both online and in the time you and your learners spend face-to-face.

Another thing I like about the task: it requires the learners to take their own photos, not steal them from Google-is-Evil. As far as humanly possible, I don't set tasks which can be illustrated with images stolen by and from Google (or anywhere else).

What's not so good about the task (and it's a serious defect!) is that it probably won't lead to a lot of interaction (think "comments"). It's not enough for language learners merely (as on Facebook) to "like": you want them to actually use English to communicate.

In order to get more interaction, your learners could have ongoing negotiation of what posts should include to make it most interesting; and discussion of, and research into (think mini-webquests) how the photos could be improved is a further possibility.

Introduction | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten

Edmodo: transforming the way we teach

If you're not familiar with Edmodo, it describes itself as being "a secure social learning network for teachers and students" — a sort of private Facebook, if you like, which it certainly resembles in appearance and functionality. The video here comes from their "About" page.

In the video, Edmodo co-founder Nic Borg says "Everyone is connected everywhere they go now except for within the classroom. They enter this void where the tools that connect them to one another don't exist any more". It may not (yet) be true that everyone is connected everywhere, but it's certainly crazy for the "technology" used in language teaching still to be limited to the printer and the photocopier.

Since first starting to use it on our Cert ICT course last year, Edmodo has become my favourite Web 2.0 tool. Again in the video, Jeff O'Hara says that for teachers "Edmodo is transforming the way they teach".

One change using Edmodo has meant for me is that, since I set up my first group I've never made another photocopy. I'm old enough to remember the pre-photocopier days when we cranked out copies on a mimeograph and I later spent years swamping my learners with bits of rainforest pulped into photocopied A4 sheets, which were handed out, used, but never seen or used again.

No one ever "replied" to a photocopy. Edmodo changed that.