21st century editors don't use scissors and glue

Learners with scissors and glue class paper

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:

Project work on classroom wall

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:

Proposal for 21st century language learning

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 issue happen: 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 requirescomments 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.

Why teachers need to be on social media

G Plus CommunityFor our 1,500-member post-CELTA support group, which has been using a private Yahoo Group since it was first set up in August 2004, we're gradually moving on to private G+ communities (logo, right), which has generated a number of concerns about privacy.

A G+ Community (very like a Facebook group if you aren't familiar with G+) can be either public or private, a choice you have to make on set-up and cannot then change. Privacy issues ought to be among the first concern of teachers considering using technology and, with a private Community, what is posted there stays there, and is shared only with members of the community — so that "Private" is the choice I've made for all the Communities I run, no matter who the community has been for, teachers or for language learners.

For anyone reluctant to join our new group (open only to people who take their CELTA course at IH Barcelona) — or concerned about using social media in general, for that matter — I've put forward the same arguments I've used with language learners:

  • By being on the internet at all, you've already surrendered a certain amount of your privacy
  • We have, nevertheless, done what is possible to make our community private
  • You do need to concern yourself with what you share with whom…
  • But, in the 21st century, you probably do want a professional digital footprint on the internet

A professional digital footprint
In the world of work — which, after all, English language teaching is part of — you probably do want to hide certain things. Who can access what on your Facebook page, for example…? Can a potential employer…? What photos can other people find and see, not just on Facebook but elsewhere, too…? Picassa, for example, is a site where I discovered I was unwittingly "sharing" photos I never meant to.

Unknown userBut you probably do want to be on LinkedIn, for example, with a carefully crafted profile and an attractive profile picture — for the job offers you can obtain through it and so that recruiters can take a good look at you. And yes, for that reason, you want a profile image, not some faceless default image (see example, right).

Somewhere like about.me is another quite good place to post your curriculum (and a good place to link to in your paper or digital CV). Here, to provide an example, is my about.me page — still a work in progress and note that I'm not looking for a job as an English teacher: if I were, I'd most definitely change things there.

Being able to show examples of what your learners have done is also interesting, perhaps work that they posted online (and again, you'd want to concern yourself with privacy and obtain their permission to make use of it). If it's not posted publicly, screen captures on paper in a portfolio would be one way to go.

And you probably do want to be "on" social media, with a blog and/or a Twitter account that you can also show to potential employers (always assuming that what you're posting isn't going to immediately put them off you as a candidate!).

By following other people on Twitter or on blogs or via RSS (my tool of choice: TheOldReader), you (1) get yourself some informal, ongoing social learning — which has got to have a positive effect on the classes you teach — and (2) arm yourself with an immediate answer to the question I'd personally put to all candidates for jobs in education today: "Describe your PLN to me…"

Coming next | Why teachers should use social media with learners

12 tweets, links to 100s of ideas for class

Having got to 365 tweets, I took a look back at what I've been posting and picked out a dozen things that I particularly liked for one reason or another.

In reverse chronological order…

#1 | Because, thanks to Twitter, I discovered a great blog for anyone teaching Young Learners:

#2 | Because getting learners to interact is so important; because if you're using web 2.0 tools but not getting learner to comment, then you're not exploiting them to their full potential, and because there's so much good advice here:

#3 | Because there are literally 100s of great ideas here:

#4 | Because if being on Twitter doesn't make you think, you probably shouldn't be there at all:

#5 | Because I think this is an absolutely key question we should ask ourselves as language teachers:

#6 | Because 1000+ Pictures for Teachers to Copy is such a brilliant book, the most useful I've ever come across in 35 years as teacher:

#7 Because I love good quotes (=make you think!):

#8 Because film-english.com has got to be among the very best sites for materials for lessons for English teachers:

#9 | Because infographics are great for class:

#10 | Because video is so great for class, especially so on Vimeo rather than on YouTube:

#11 | Because Edmodo is so great, provided you exploit it too the full (I mean, how would you feel about Facebook if all you got to do was read what your Mum posted?!)

#12 | Because I love creative writing digital storytelling: it's such fun — and so productive — to invent such stories in class; and because I highly recommend PhotoPrompts:

On Twitter (@Tom_IHBCN), I post no more than one thing a day, always and exclusively things that I think will interest language teachers and/or their learners.

Athletes don't eat photocopies before competition!

This one came from the amazing BuzzFeed, where I probably spend more of my free time than I should, but find some real fun material for class in doing so, with the video above being an example.

Such things are great because for the 60 seconds it takes you to spot them (OK, maybe I was there a bit longer!) you've got a ready-made lesson, because it comes with a ready-made question that is doing to generate 60 minutes of lesson, and quite possibly more.

They're also great because the video is your material: you really don't need anything else, and instead of wasting time producing material (and this is a strictly no-photocopies lesson!), any preparation time can be spent on how to squeeze the maximum amount of interaction and language out of it.

A very rough lesson outline for just about any level B1 or above:

  • Pyramid discussion on "What athletes eat before they compete"
  • In small groups, brainstorm and then rank the top 10 resulting ideas
  • Agree as a class on a top 10
  • Then (and only then) watch the video, with no note taking
  • With a partner, note everything you recall being mentioned, and attempt to produce the top 10 from the video
  • Watch again to see if we were "right"
  • Assign one meal to each pair (or let them pick the most interesting, most weird…) and have them investigate the science (or lack of!) behind what the athlete eats, with mobile phones providing an ideal, in-class research tool
  • Report back, in small groups, probably in the next class, as a presentation (think shared Google Drive documents or Prezi) and/or in an Edmodo group or on a class blog/wiki
  • Optionally, if your learners are also athletes (or have been, at whatever level, including school), have them — or one group — research and report on what they eat

You can get so many great lessons out of  brainstorm > watch/read > compare > research > report/present, because it generates so much interaction and therefore language.

If you have an interactive whiteboard, if you keep stopping the video (you'll need to be quick!), you can easily screen capture the different meals, import them into your IWB software, and then export them as a series of images.

Better still, have one of your learners do that for you. (You'll never have to deal with fast finishers again 😉 !)

Footnote
I've added a new category to my blog: Smash the photocopier! With the exception of banning Google Images, and possibly the mandatory use of smartphones in all classes, that's possibly the one thing that would most transform English language teaching, IMHO…

My top 12 sites for language teaching and learning

2 for the price of 1: song clips that tell stories…

These, in fairly random order, are a dozen of the sites I always recommend language teachers on pre-service courses like CELTA, and on others too.

They are sites I believe all language teachers should know about, though you'll notice that most are intended for the learners, rather than the teacher, to use.

  1. YouTube There's just so much brilliant material for language classes on YouTube (and see also Vimeo, in the next item below). Particularly great are song clips that tell stories [above and here's my favourite example], giving you 2 for the price of 1 — the song and the story (can your learners tell the story, explain and extend it?) | More ideas for using YouTube.
  2. FilmEnglish If you want lesson plans to go with your YouTube clips, then Kieran Donaghy's brilliant FilmEnglish is the best of a number of similar sites (see "Video lessons" in the sidebar, for more), partly because the choice of clips is always so inspired (many in fact don't come from YouTube but from the classier Vimeo).
  3. Google Drive Formerly known as Google Docs, Google Drive is brilliant because you will never ever again have to concern yourself with which is the right version of your document: there is only one version, up in the cloud, accessible from any device; brilliant because you can share documents with people (colleagues, students…); and brilliant because your learners can create the documents and collaborate within them, including in real time (in a chat window… oh, wow!). Absolutely amazing for creative, collaborative writing projects; great too if you have your learners make presentations. And all that without having to fork out for Micro$oft Office! | See also Getting started with Google Drive
  4. Edmodo | I just love Edmodo, and every class I know that's tried it has loved it too — provided the teacher has seen it for what it is: a kind of private Facebook group, one designed for education (and not for sharing every detail of your private life). An Edmodo group is for learners to do stuff, share it and comment on it; it doesn't work nearly as well if you see it as a place to provide the answers to "exercises" and little more. It gives your learners a digital space in which to do things. Welcome to the 21st century!  | More ideas for using Edmodo.
  5. Blogger For a more complex digital space than Edmodo, on which things can be kept looking more organised, a blog is a great option, with Blogger being easier than the very popular WordPress for anyone new to blogging. Fantastic for project work of all kinds | More ideas on blogging.
  6. WhatsApp Absolutely my favourite app for taking advantage of the technology learners come to class already equipped with — and with the app already downloaded, installed and familiar to them. Absolutely great, and addictive, for randomly sharing whatever, and great too for sharing photos on an agreed theme.
  7. SoundCloud | My second favourite app, Soundcloud turns your learners' mobile phones into audio recording devices (which they already are) for podcasting but also gives them somewhere in the cloud to store the files and do various other things with them (like commenting and linking). Podcasting I'd say is definitely one of the most successful uses I've ever had learners make of technology in language classes, though note that I don't recall ever having actually made a recording myself for use in class. | More ideas, information on podcasting.
  8. Twitter It took me a while to see the value of Twitter but I recommend it because it brings me ideas and materials (like the outstanding images on 500px); not to mention ELT job offers; and stuff (unrelated to work) that I just like and enjoy; because having learners "follow" someone — a celebrity of some kind — is a great way for them to get more, self-motivating reading practice; and because I've also seen it used a bit like an Edmodo or WhatsApp group, for sharing things between the members of a class , with one of the best examples being this project by Daniel Rodriguez (content in Spanish) | Me on Twitter (and check out who I follow for more ideas on who you could follow!)
  9. TeachingEnglish.org.uk Especially — but not exclusively — for newly qualified language teachers, Teaching English is a must-have favourite. Everything your CELTA course forgot to mention (and lots that it did) is there. Got a newbie question and you don't have a colleague at hand to turn to? Go there! If you're on Facebook, they also have a Facebook page that is well worth "liking".
  10. OneStopEnglish In many ways very like Teaching English, OneStopEnglish requires subscription (currently 42 GBP, or €53 pa) for full access, though if you're lucky, your school already has school access to it. Another great site to turn to when the DoS gives you classes (business English, exams…) that CELTA didn't prepare you for!
  11. Cambridge Exams And talking about exams, all teachers should know about them, acquire knowledge  of them and experience of teaching exam classes. In Europe, the Cambridge Exams are the most popular, and schools want teachers that have that knowledge and experience. Here's where to acquire at least the former, which is a definite plus to your CV.
  12. Tech ELT Blog I've left technology till last as I think it's the least important (but still vital) ingredient in a language classroom. I going to recommend my own blog here  (!!!) as a site to bookmark because — I hope — virtually everything here is (a) easy to put into practice in a language classroom; (b) interaction- and language-rich but technology-light, and not the other way round: and (c) involves learners rather than teachers using technology — which is as I think it should be. You want alternatives? Look at some of the "Blogs I learn from" (see sidebar).

What must-favourite sites for language learning do you think I've missed? Tell us in the comments…