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 😉 !)

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…

Keep calm and don't use Google Images

Here's another slide from my session at our ELT Conference last Saturday…

Keep calm and don't use Google Images

In fact I always suggest this to trainees on our CELTA courses: CELTA can be quite a stressful course, and it gets especially so if you waste an hour or more looking for images that may in fact be adding little or nothing to your class, if they are not going to generate a lot of language — which in the end is always our aim.

As I suggested in the session, I'd in fact like to ban Google Images entirely from the school: it's Google Images that should be blocked, not potentially hugely communicative places like Facebook, or fabulous ones for material like YouTube, access to which school and systems administrators have been known to block, or brilliant tools like mobile phones, which learners could be doing so much with if we didn't impose blanket bans on them.

To my CELTA trainees (I in fact only give one session on their course, on technology) I suggest two other things that would also help reduce the stress level:

... or PowerPoint

You don'tever! — need 30 or 40 PowerPoint slides for a 45-60 minute class: pare that back to 5 or fewer. Reduce the material to its minimum expression: one great image is going to generate way more language and interaction than 25 or more boring ones of things you could point to, or draw on the board, to pull out of your pocket, or translate…

And if you can reduce your photocopying to less than one page per student per class, you'll also be doing yourself a favour, not to mention the environment.

There's another thing I also often find myself saying to people taking CELTA (and our equivalent course for Spanish teachers): you're training to become a teacher, not a graphic designer or a materials designer.

What you want to be designing are the task/s, the interaction, the social experience of learning. Focus on that, not the materials.

What's that? You want to use the scanner? Are you sure it's worth while in terms of how much more language your learners are going to get for your efforts…?

See also
Great sources of images for class (not Google Images!)

Creative teachers or creative learners?


Minibooks created in Christine Wilson's session | Photo: Christine Wilson

Among the great sessions at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference this last weekend there were several on the subject of creativity, with the suggestion being that we should all be creative teachers.

I didn't get to see Christine Wilson's session but that's what I understand by creative and it always worries me that treachers are frightened off by the term "creative", in the Picasso sense of the term. Most of us are not particularly creative in that sense — or least we don't see ourselves that way.

Below, another of the suggestions [see further details] made in my own session, which came from Susana Ortiz, possibly one of the most creative people I've ever met in a school staffroom:

Doodled by learner

The suggestion was that learners who don't have digital photographs of significant moments in their lives (things from childhood, the birth of a child, weddings…) to bring to class to talk and write about can nevertheless picture those; and if they can picture them in their heads they can describe them to a partner…

We can get them to get their partners to draw those images, as in the example above, which makes an amazing "information gap" activity. ("Draw", as I suggested in my session, is also perhaps an off-putting word, too. Let's make that doodle, because no one can be "bad" at doodling!)

If we do that, we're not necessarily being creative ourselves but we will be asking our learners to be creative: it's not the teacher that should be doing all the work of making things, creating images, and slideshows and videos — it's the learners that should be doing all that.

In one of his wonderful sessions, Kieran Donaghy said the following:

Everyone is a filmmaker

Everyone — not just the teacher, that is. Couldn't we use all that technology in their pockets to get our learners to make movies (even if we're talking just a minute, or less)? You don't have mobile phones available? Being "creative" is finding ways round problems: make them on the kind of digital camera there in the image above! Why be embarrassed by it if it's fun?

Another brilliant session: Lindsay Clandfield on Six reasons to love lists. My daughter (18) caught me the other day adding to one of my lists — things that make me grumpy:

  • Unnecessary photocopying and printing
  • People that don't let you get off the Metro before they attempt to get on
  • Supermarket queues
  • People defacing great graffiti
  • The power of Google, and how we've surrendered to it
  • … and a very long list of others!

She then sent me one of her own — 100 things she loves:

  • Finally untangling my earphones
  • The lyrics to No Surrender
  • Campfires
  • Crossing out the exams I've done from my agenda
  • … and 96 more

Getting our learners to make (and discuss and share) lists like that is making things, and doesn't actually require us to be that big-C Creative.

Where we possibly do want to be creative is in finding new ways to do old stuff. I think it was Anthony Gaughan who suggested in his session that he'd taught 60 or 70 CELTA courses; I wondered how many times I've taught the present perfect since I first did so in 1979?

My #1 tip: trash all but the very best of your lessson plans and find a different way to teach it next year and never go back to last year's lesson plan and just teach that: that's creative — or it will be if it involves your learners doing and making things.

I think we do want creative learners in creative classrooms, but I'm just not sure any of us really need to be Picasso to achieve that.

Things I take to class #4: Something non-technological

You could play Grammar Casino on your IWB… but is it necessary? And does it add anything…?

Sure, technology is important and it should be used in our 21st century classrooms but not everything has to be technology and if you limit the amount it is used, you'll ensure that the technology doesn't take over from the language learning, which is what you're really there for.

I like to ensure that in every class I plan and teach there's at least something which involves no technology at all.

Below, three activities I've always done a lot, all of which have been around a long time and pre-date most of the technology we use in classrooms today.

Grammar Casino
Grammar Casino essentially involves "betting" on which of a series of 4-6 sentences are right, and which are wrong — as in the example in the image, above — with the "winner" being the learner or pair of learners making the most "profit" on their initial €10 [full explanation]. The €10 are not real, obviously!

Here's a fun alternative to grammar casino, which works best if your class is not too huge!

Dictogloss has been around for at least as long as Ruth Wajnryb's Grammar Dictation (1990) and is my all-time favourite classroom activity. But because there's an interactive whiteboard (IWB) in most of the classrooms I teach in, I confess I sometimes do dictogloss on the IWB, but think the use of technology proposed is still commendably limited.

The word "Dictation" seems to have roughly the same effect on people that chalk screeching on a blackboard used to have. I don't actually use the word any longer but say "Can you just jot this down?" instead.

Here you have an example of activity which involves a "dictation" stage; it obviously isn't a formal dictation, or one done for the purposes true dictation might (still) be used for.

You could, instead, go to the trouble of typing up and photocopying a worksheet with the questions on, but isn't "dictation" (or "Just jot this down") a better way to keep your learners active, engaged and energised?

10 things I take to class
One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine | Ten

Creating something from nothing

And, finally, the last of my Technology in 10 quotations, from my talk at the recent IH Barcelona ELT Conference

Classrooms ought to be creative places, in which we do and share things together and, if we use it to its full potential, technology can help make a classroom a creative space.

The technology we useour learners use… ought to go way, way beyond merely staring at an interactive whiteboard or ticking true/false questions or filling in the blanks on a photocopy while watching a YouTube video.

If we've used a class blog, or Edmodo, to create a shared digital space in which we can interact; if what we've done there has included such things as taking, collecting, sharing and responding to our own photos (not those "stolen" from Google, or "borrowed" from Flickr); if we've created digital stories; if we've been actively engaged, not merely passively entertained; then at the end of the week, or the term or the year, then a class can look back and say "We made this".

And, as I suggested in my talk, sharing is caring, and if you actually care, then you're so much more likely to learn.

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