Tips for great class presentations given by learners

I suggested the tips shown in the slide above in my workshop on February 20.

Given by learners in class to their peers, collaborative presentations make a great language learning activity, both for adults and young learners at just about any level that is B1 or above.

To expand slightly on the points listed above:

  • Your job is to provide as much help with language as possible; having your learners brainstorm and present, and spending lots of class time on the former and on rehearsal, rather than on picking PowerPoint animations, is the best way to ensure this
  • VITAL Keep the presentations short: I suggest 90 seconds to 3 minutes maximum, with a maximum of 3-5 slides. Otherwise, presentations drag on and everyone gets so bored with them
  • Stop anyone going beyond the time limit set: don't give them a second longer, stop them, thank them, but don't fail them for not finishing within the time limit
  • VITAL Have your learners rehearse in their groups — and devote class time to that, with the groups giving their presentations simultaneously, perhaps to another group rather than the whole class. Provide language help there. Perhaps best for use outside class, there are tools like present.me (which will require a webcam) and the Spreaker app (audio only) which are great for this and WhatsApp voicemails are great too. Such rehearsals don't necessarily need to be shared with you (or corrected by you!)
  • Encourage your learners not to read from a script. It's not necessary if the presentation is (a) short and (b) properly rehearsed — and this is a speaking, not a reading activity
  • No stolen images, nor even ones borrowed from creative commons. I suspect that very few teachers agree with me on this one, but if you want a truly creative classroom, you want your learners to create the artwork and/or produce the images. Think quick doodles and photos taken on mobile phones…
  • VITAL Presentations are best given in pairs or small groups, even if that means not everyone gets to speak. If you teach classes of 15 or 25 people, there's just no way you can do 15 to 25 individual presentations in class — and there's so much more language practice to be had in the pair/groupwork required
  • Give the audience (the rest of the class) a reason for listening to the presentation: the presenters themselves can build that in by including a question to be answered at the end; or you can have peer assessment, including commenting…)
  • Have a question-and-answer (Q+A) slot afterwards and, if anything, allow longer for that than the actual presentation itself
  • Help your learners to perform, by explaining how to give a good presentation; how to steady nerves; how to enjoy the experience; how to create a good PowerPoint presentation; what to avoid; or how to create a good Prezi, if that's the tool they are going to be using
  • VITAL Share and comment afterwards: to get the most language out of just about whatever learners are doing with technology, you want a "comments" stage. Google Drive presentations are brilliant for this, for the comments tools, for the ease of sharing, and ease of embedding elsewhere, on things like a class blog or wiki. An Edmodo group or a G+ Community are also excellent tools to enable "comments" or if you want something amazingly easy and with an app, try Tackk. Comments are also great for the teacher to get feedback on the tasks given.

See this post for further notes on what tools to pick: my preference is for the learners themselves to choose.

NOTE As I pointed out during the workshop, good presentations never cram a dozen bullet-points into the same slide as the image above does 😉 !

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.

Tape poetry task for creative classrooms

Above, the example of tape poetry that I showed in my session yesterday at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference.

Below, a slide from my presentation, with the task suggested:

Task with tape poetry

WhatsApp, Google Drive, and a (private) Google+ Community — the icons on the right, above — make great tools for the task, though there are lots of other possibilities.

Stages for the task

First, individually…

  • Learners find English poems they like — either by (a) searching on the internet or (b) by asking native speakers (other teachers in your school…? in a school in an English-speaking country…?) or (c) by you making suggestions (which you might want to do at lower levels — and we're probably thinking teens or above and B1 or above for this task)
  • They pick a line or lines from the poem that they particularly like
  • They share the chosen lines with the rest of the class. I suggested a WhatsApp group for that but also recommended school and parental permission if you're doing this with teens.
  • They then attempt to write their own line of poetry, perhaps best on a similar theme
  • And finally they share that via your chosen tool (Edmodo would work if you don't like the idea of mobile phones with teens, with the small groups feature in Edmodo being great for this)

I suggested in my presentation that in your task design, you want to consider what parts of the task you want your learners to do in class time, and what parts outside of class. I'd recommend doing all the above mainly outside class time (but personally never use the word "homework" to describe the task 😉 !

Then, in groups of up to 4…

  • In class, taking the lines of poetry they've already found and written, mash them up into a single poem, editing them in any way they wish — for which a shared Google Drive document is great
  • They then print and cut up the finished poem into its separate lines
  • In class, the learners agree on and perhaps sketch a design for and — then outside class — produce a background for the poem (artwork probably again best done outside class)
  • Next they post the tape poem (they'll need glue or drawing pins) somewhere suitable — a classroom or corridor noticeboard, for example. You probably don't want to suggest posting on a wall or door somewhere outside in the street, though wouldn't that be fun 😉 ?
  • With the aid of their mobile phones, they then photograph the finished poem
  • They then share it with everyone in the class, for which I've suggested a Google+ Community (you might prefer Edmodo with teens, for greater privacy), though Instagram is a great place to share it if you want the whole world to see the work
  • Vital Finally, everyone comments on everyone else's poems, and on the project itself.

Commentary
I say the last commenting stage there is vital because it requires the learners to use more language, as well as taking advantage of the communicative possibilities technology now offers us. All tasks making use of technology should have that last stage built in, as a requirement, in my view.

Above, I've highlighted which parts (those that are going to involve the learners talking to peers, negotiating and brainstorming, and those that will require you to provide help with language) are best done in class.

The vital point I wished to make in my presentation was that it's not the teacher but the learners that should be using technology and that they should be using it not so much for the technology as for the language its use can generate, and the tape poetry task presented here I hope is a good example of such things.

More about tape poetry
More examples of tape poetry on Instagram; on tapepoetry.com; on Twitter.

Recommended reading
Although I suspect it appeared before tape poetry ever did, Jane Spiro's Creative Poetry Writing (OUP 2004) has lots of ideas on how to get fun and language out of poetry — a word many of us probably initially turn our noses up. In my experience, however, poetry works in class, and even people who say they "hate poetry" will say they liked classes and tasks that poetry was brought into.

Would it work?
As I mentioned in my presentation, this was the one task presented that I've not actually tried out with learners. I'm sure it would work — assuming that you and your learners think classrooms should be creative places. You do, don't you?

Please do add comments, and — especially — if you try it out, and perhaps adapt it, do let me know how it went.

Interesting links, tools, apps from conference session

5 great tools for your learners

Blogger, Edmodo, Google Drive, Tackk, Spreaker… such amazing tools — in the hands of your learners

Below, links to some of the tasks and tools mentioned in my session today at this year's edition of the IH Barcelona ELT Conference.

Easy, productive task learners can use technology for
These are the seven tasks I proposed — some of which I've not yet posted here  but will do in the next few days:

  1. The Editors — using a digital space like Edmodo, or Blogger, or a private G+ Community to create a digital class magazine
  2. Digital storytelling, using a single photograph as the starting prompt for a collaborative, creative writing project
  3. DRPC: Discuss, research, present and comment, using an app to measure how much exercise the learners take
  4. Podcasting: 60 seconds to save the world, using Spreaker
  5. Tape poetry for creative classrooms, with WhatsApp and Instagram
  6. 10 towns, a "getting to know each other" activity using Edmodo
  7. Independent mobile learning using an app

Quick links to — in alphabetical order — the tools and apps (all of them free) mentioned in the session:

Also of interest:

More coming…!

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