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…

Success with technology: sharing photos taken on phones

Landed in my lunch

Look what landed in my lunch!

A bit more spring cleaning here, with an idea I tried out with a private class of three teens a couple of years ago…

This one started out as a joke, after I posed this butterfly (not a real one!) on the Camembert sandwich I was making in the staffroom for my lunch. I photographed it with my phone and WhatsApped it to my teens. There was no task involved, it just seemed at the time like something that might amuse them — which it did.

They sent back photos of their lunches (I didn't ask them to) and we did get a certain amount of language out of the exchange (probably more so the next time we met for class, when we commented further on their lunches, face-to-face).

Having a WhatsApp group for a class: probably the most successful thing I've done with technology in the last few years

But probably as much as any language that came out of it, what we got from the sharing of photos was our starting to gel as a group, who were going to do things together (something they were initially a little reluctant to do).

For that reason, both from my own experience and that of friends and colleagues (and thanks once again particularly to Kim and Esther), something as simple as having a WhatsApp group for a class is probably the most successful thing I've done with technology in the last few years.

You might not want to do it with all of your classes, obviously!

See also: How do you correct things learners do with technology?

Pictures taken by learners, shared via WhatsApp

Photos taken by learners
Photos taken by learners on mobile phones

Another one from my IH Barcelona ELT Conference session earlier this month, both ideas tried out by two former colleagues, Kate and Rachel, with teens.

Left, above, the idea was taking photos of anything at all of interest found in shop windows; right, the idea was to photograph anything on the theme of Halloween, with learners competing to produce "the best" photo.

To share the photos taken for these and other photo sharing projects, WhatsApp (hugely popular in Spain) and Edmodo were used (though quite a lot also ended up on the learners' Facebook pages).

What we saw was that the amount of English produced was often a little limited, which was disappointing. "Cool!", "Wow!" and "Yuck!" were probably the most frequent comments produced, though Edmodo seemed to produce rather longer, more careful interventions.

On the other hand, sharing the photos they'd taken themselves really got people excited and helped "gel" the groups back in September when most of the kids didn't know each other.

learnerpix14b
Example created to demo to learners what they had to produce

Above, a different project which did seem to produce a lot more in the way of language (surely any language teacher's #1 objective!).

As seen in the example, the learners (in small groups of 3 or 4) had to produce a series of images of one or more of them pulling silly faces, and link them together in some way in the captions.

The pictures were shared first via an Edmodo group and commented on by peers (who suggested what the expressions on the faces were supposed to be); the captions were then written and put together, with the pictures on a single PowerPoint slide, as in the example.

Lots of fun — and lots of language, too, provided you insist on the group work as well as any "photography" all being done in English.

Thanks, again, Kate and Rachel.

Halloween photos on mobile phones


Image: Barcelona tobacconist's window, taken to show students as an example

Here's a project that seems to be going down well: having teens compete to see who can take the best Halloween themed pictures on their mobile phones.

They're sharing them in lots of places (Facebook, Twitter, via WhatsApp…) though where they're supposed to be 😉 sharing and commenting on them is on the Edmodo group set up for the class. 25 people have so far posted 47, which is great, though the amount of commenting has been a bit disappointing so far (perhaps we needed to insist on it more?).

After next weekend (when lots are going to Halloween parties where they're supposed to take more photos), the idea is for the learners to discuss and award prizes for the funniest, scariest, cutest… etc,

Thanks to Kate for trying the idea out!

See also
More Halloween ideas