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?

Wordle your graded reader

Welcome to my blog, especially if you're coming to my talk on Using Graded Readers with Technology at the Macmillan Teacher's Days in either León or Ponferrada this week.

Below an image for one of the tasks I'll be suggesting, which I created by pasting text from the Macmillan reader Room 13 and other stories into Wordle:

The task

  • With a partner, pick out the 15-20 most important words, phrases, dates, names etc. from the story
  • Put them into Wordle, making the most important words largest
  • Share it with us and describe it to us, justifying your choices

I like the task for various reasons: it's collaborative (and therefore communicative); it requires the learners to go back to the text, to re-read it, and to select elements from it; and then make decisions about what they're going to pick out.

Sharing their work with the rest of the class (I suggest either a blog or Edmodo) is something you might once have done by hanging things on your classroom wall but posting it online means that other learners can not only see it but add comments to it: that's further interaction and further language practice.

To find out if your learners are doing their reading assignments, you could bore them with questions, but why not instead get them to prove they've read it by getting them to actually do something with the text, something they'll actually enjoy doing?

Notes on using Wordle
To get phrases to stay together, rather than splitting up into their component words, you need to replace the spaces between the words with tildes, thus:

Room~13 and the~sound~of~mad~laughter.

To increase their size, you simply need to repeat them: if you paste in Room~13 Room~13 Room~13 graveyard, for example, Room 13 will be approximately three times larger than the word graveyard.

In order to save your Wordle cloud, you will need to capture your screen (my favourite tool for that is Jing).

With Wordle you can also choose fonts and colours and so on (with a partner, also opportunity for language practice): in my example, above, I've chosen colors more or less in accord with Room 13 being a ghost story.

More on using Wordle
Even if you're not using readers, you might like Nik Peachey's guide on How to Wordle and these many More things you can do with Wordle.

You also have a number of Wordle clones, one of the best of which is Tagxedo. Many of these 101 ways to use Tagxedo could also be used with Wordle.

Also from the talk
Macmillan readers | A reading and creative writing task | All the tasks

Which Web 2.0 tools should you use?

Wordled: What I want from the Web 2.0 tools my learners use

Hi and welcome to my blog to those of you who came to my session on Web 2.0 tools at the Macmillan Teachers' Day in Murcia (April 1).

There are countless Web 2.0 tools around; but, for lack of time, any given teacher can only be using a small proportion of an ever-growing list of names.

But which are the best ones to try out with your learners? I like any tool my learner use to meet most if not all of the following criteria:

  • It's free (legally so!)
  • It does NOT require download and installation
  • It's easy to use and not time consuming to learn
  • My learners are going to like it and be inspired by it (Prezi are Glogster and ones everyone loves)
  • It's going to lead to a LOT of interaction between learners — and thus a LOT of use of language, and language learning
  • It's therefore collaborative and communicative (one of the many reasons I love Edmodo)
  • It will NOT involve the learner just doing a lot of clicking! (That's one reason I dis-like Wordle.)
  • It will NOT just involve the teacher creating exercises for the learners to do (TaskMagic is one tool I particularly loathe — though you could argue it isn’t really "Web 2.0")
  • The learners (not the teacher) will be using it
  • It's creative (i.e. will involve the learners actually create their own digital end product; for which reason I dislike the very popular Storybird, and just love Picnik)
  • It comes with some guarantee of privacy (possibly an education version, like Glogster, for example)
  • It preferably does NOT require learners to register (another reason I love Edmodo)
  • It will be there in a year's time (i.e. isn’t just a cool start-up which will soon die, along with all my students’ projects)

Word(le) clouds, Paint pictures

Wordle cloud, Paint fish

Here's one that came from one of the sessions on our CELTA course in the last week…

I suggested (specifically the bizarre news stories in its Quirkies section) as a great default home page for both teachers and learners, with the Dead angler becomes fish food story an example of a text you could do in class.

We then took the story — assuming that we'd already "done" the text in class — to and converted it into a cloud. By a bit of simple editing, first with Wordle, then with Paint (which we used to add an eye to create a word cloud fish), we've then converted the text into a picture which we could use to decorate a class blog.

As I suggested earlier, I still have my doubts about using Wordle as a classroom activity — principally because your learners will be manipulating the image, but not the words themselves: they want to be tinkering with the language not just looking at it, if we want people to learn language.

But as an "after reading" activity, to add some color to a class blog, to add some fun, you might still justify it…

And as one of you pointed out in at least one of the sessions this week, we might also possibly use the word cloud as either a prediction or a reconstruction activity…

>> How to change the default start page of your browser

Wordle: create and edit your own word clouds

This one I came to me from Ana Falcon by email on the ELTECS-Latinamerica list…Wordle allows you to take a text and turn it into a word cloud and then to customise it in a variety of cool ways. My original text was about El Alux, a spectacular bar located underground in a cenote, a geological formation in the Yucatan.

What could you do with Wordle with learners? In her message, Ana suggested "You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends". My suggestion would be that it's another example of something you shouldn't be doing — but that your learners might enjoy, especially if they are young.

Would they actually learn anything from it…? I'm not entirely convinced that they would. But they would have fun doing it, and it would involved actively doing something; it could be a way of persuading them to look back at previous texts (or finding new ones); it might be a way of revising vocabulary if what you asked them to do was turn a text they had "done" into a Wordle; and if you had a class blog it would produce some attractive images (you would have to take a screen capture and edit it [how?], as it's not possible to create an image directly at Wordle).

The ELTECS lists are well worth subscribing to — apart from anything else for the links Ana suggests at regular intervals.