A fun photo for a creative writing project

OMG! It's Norbert! | Photo: Tom Walton

As the starting point for a creative, collaborative writing task, to be done in pairs or threes by intermediate level teens (or above), I suggested the above photo to trainees on our current CELTA course; the photo having been taken in the street out back of IH Barcelona.

An interesting photo accompanied by some thought-provoking questions is a good means of (in class) generating ideas (and vocabulary) that can then be written up (possibly outside class) as a story. I like learners to do the writing in pairs or threes, not individually, as it leads to so much more interaction.

The questions suggested:

(1) What is the green "thing's" name?
(2) Is it a person?
(3) Why is it green?
(4) Why is it being carried?
(5) Why is the kid in the pink shirt reacting like that?
(6) How does the kid know the green "thing"?

For writing and sharing the stories, my choice would be an Edmodo group, though a class blog or shared Google Drive documents would also work.

To get the maximum possible out of the activity, sharing and commenting on each others' work is a vital stage, and Edmodo is again ideal for that.

Redesign your classroom

Love this video, and the idea behind it, which comes from the excellent Edutopia (via the equally excellent MindShift).

With or without actually showing the video to students, the idea of redesigning your classroom makes a great language classroom task.

Surveying people on what they'd like (Google Docs forms are wonderful); collaborating on creating the redesign (a shared Google Drive document is again great for that); and an oral presentation to the class (backed up with a shared Google Drive presentation, PowerPoint, Prezi…); followed by discussion of which is the best idea (an Edmodo poll and comments…) are some of the ways your learners could use technology to create their redesign.

All you'd then need would be the funding ;-)!

Technology makes writing better. Discuss

Hi and welcome to my blog, especially if you are coming to my session at the Macmillan Teachers Day here in Barcelona tomorrow, May 4th.

In my session, "Technology makes writing better", I'm going to be suggesting that Web 2.0 tools such as Blogger, Edmodo, Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) and TodaysMeet make the sort of writing task we get on Cambridge exams like FCE, CAE and Proficiency better — in that, with the help of not too much technology the tasks can be made more collaborative and thus more fun, more productive in terms of language learning, and so much more 21st century.

Links from the session

After the session, I'll be posting an edited version of the presentation on Slideshare, and here on my blog…

Comments, feedback, suggestions, other ideas…? Do make them — either here or else on the TodaysMeet for the session.

Short, creative writing projects with Twitter, Edmodo

Doodle your story (see below)!

Here's another idea that came from this week's Guardian: Twitter fiction (telling a story under 140 characters, that is, not necessarily on Twitter). It isn't a new idea but it's one that works great with language learners, especially when the stories are written collaboratively, in pairs.

To relate it to your coursebook, in order to recycle language, you could specify that the stories must be on a particular theme (the environment, or whatever the unit is…). A "prize" for who can fit in the most vocab from the coursebook adds a nice competitive element…

Your learners could write and share them via Twitter, but an Edmodo group also works just as well and Google Docs (now Google Drive) is also great for collaboration, commenting and sharing.

The memo pad on a mobile phone is also great for writing (and sending) the finished stories (and if you have teenagers, which would they rather do: put pen to paper, or fingers to phones?).

Assuming at least some of your learners are reasonably creative (and, once again, classrooms should be creative spaces!), getting one in each pair to doodle the story adds another dimension to it. Here's one I wrote, with the doodle above:

South of the town, we abandoned the car, the tank now dry. Emma wept as she took the bags from the boot. If we could reach Zamora, we'd be safe. But they were there, too.

If you are going to do that, Edmodo is probably going to be a better tool than Twitter, as it's so easy to attach the image to the post.

Other tried and test writing projects
Older alternatives include 50-word Mini-sagas and 100-word stories (and at IH we've also experimented with 6-word stories).

Way back when I did a lot of fiction with learners (does anyone still do the Proficiency set book option?!) a similar idea that worked superbly was getting the learners to summarise the plot in exactly 100 words (and the same also worked for character sketches).

"But my students hate writing," I can hear you say. But if it's collaborative, shared, fun… my experience is that even those learners who say that in fact enjoy such projects.

See also:
Digital storytelling: Creative writing with technology

How do you correct work learners do with technology?


Correction or encouragement? Which would you rather have scrawled over your work?!

One of the issues teachers often raise on the technology courses I teach is how we should correct work learners have done on things like blogs (including comments they write there) and wikis.

These are things I do and this is the advice I would offer…

  • DO provide as much help as possible first, before the learners go online; that's sometimes easiest to do face-to-face in class, and what we particularly want to do is provide vocabulary, rather than "grammar". If you provide the language the task requires, you'll have far less to correct. "Correct" as much as possible before it ever gets posted, in other words.
  • DO have your learners work in pairs or small groups: that way it's collaborative and communicative and, if you have them post one thing per pair, rather than all posting individually, you reduce the amount you have to correct by 50% of more.
  • DON'T try to correct everything; it's impossible and maybe counter-productive (don't keep saying "Wrong!", "Wrong!", "Wrong!" when your learners are actually communicating something!).
  • DO draw attention to errors relating to things you are currently or have recently been doing in class.
  • DON'T correct things the learners could be correcting. Indicate the error but don't correct (for example) irregular verb forms.
  • NEVER correct blog comments, provided they're comprehensible (and if they're not, say "Do you mean…?", rather than "correcting" them). Correct posts, but not comments!
  • DON'T worry so much about "correcting" things — but let their errors influence what you re-teach, revise or otherwise draw attention to.
  • DO have the right attitude: your job as a teacher isn't primarily to correct what is wrong but to help your learners get things right, and to inspire them to do so. Provide help, encouragement and ideas, as well as language, and provide all of that before starting to tell them that they've got things wrong.

Drafts and finished products
I make an exception to the above for things we might consider a "finished product" or the "final version", where it is nice to see something that contains few if any errors.

Shared Google Docs are great for collaborating on draft versions and have great commenting tools (as well as real-time chat within the document that learners can use).

Alternatively, remember that you can draft and publish posts later on a blog, and that you can go back, edit ("correct") and repost what you've written.

Other things we should assess
There are other things we could also be assessing, rather than just marking right and wrong, such things as whether group members all did their fair share of the work, and whether or not they communicated with each other in English.

And, finally, do get your learners to help you "correct" (i.e. improve) your tasks: ask them what they think, ask them how the task could be improved (including how it could be made more enjoyable) and how you could do your job better.

For collecting feedback, Google Docs forms are a superb tool.

Related post
Ask your learners what they think