One idea, one list, so many classes

Here's an idea that I tweeted earlier this week, which I picked up from MakeUseOf (either on their Twitter feed (@makeuseof) or by following their RSS feed using TheOldReader*).

MakeUseOf is one of those many, many places churning out "lists". Having your learners, in small groups, (1) brainstorm what they think should be on such a list; then (2) reading; then (3) comparing; then (4) debating which is the best list (theirs, or that of another group, or that posted somewhere on the internet) and (5) commenting on and discussing other lists, generates so much language and interaction, which is what we want, after all.

It's a generic idea for lessons that will provide you with so many fun classes, for so little effort — just a few minutes a day "following" such sites (try also BuzzFeed or Mashable) — and requiring so little material… and NO photocopies!

Note that BuzzFeed has some content you might consider NSFC — not safe for class!

Your learners might also like, as a place to create and share and comment on their lists. Commenting on what their peers produce is something you should always include in your task design if your learners are using technology and you want to get the most out of it!

*Footnote If you're not fond of Twitter, either (a) stop following so many people or (b) use TheOldReader instead. For grumpy old men like myself, The OldReader is so much more organised 😉 !

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.

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!)

How to design good 21st century language learning tasks

Hi and welcome to my blog if you're going to be at this weekend's TESOL Spain Annual Convention in Bilbao, where on Sunday I'll be talking about How to design good 21st century language learning tasks.

Comments, doubts, questions etc., arising from the session, do please free to ask them here… !

Technology courses for language teachers
These are the two online courses mentioned in the session: Tecnología en el aula de español (a 2-week module for Spanish teachers) and Technology for language learning (a 6-week course for English teachers).

Other resources
Among other things you will find here on my blog, you have ideas for blogging projects and using Edmodo; more on podcasting; project work and writing projects in particular, as well as using technology in language classrooms in general.

Related posts

See also Video presentation of the talk, recorded by Gerard McLoughlin for the TESOL Spain website, where you will find more video presentations by some of the speakers.

Easy, fun, meaningful tasks with technology

Easy, fun, meaningful…

Welcome to those of you who came to my talk on Easy, fun, meaningful activities with technology at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference today…

The tasks I proposed assumed that at least one, preferably more digital cameras (or mobile phones, or webcams…) were available to your learners, either at school and/or at home. Below, how I defined "easy", "fun" and "meaningful" and, although the tasks suggested involved cameras, I think the same criteria apply to any other technology you might be considering using in the language classroom.

The "ease" is particularly the easy and speed of set up — and the time involved, before and after class. You don't want to be editing images, for example, afterwards — though, as I suggested in my talk, your learners could be doing that (and I suggested using Picnik).

Having no programs to instal can be important in a school: can you, as a teacher, actually instal programs on your school's network? Probably not.

As much as anything, you want to limit the time you the teacher have to spend on the technology; what you want is a huge return-on-investment, i.e. for the amount of pre- and post-class time you invest, your language learners in- or post-class get a huge return in terms of the language they practise and learn.

In my classroom experience, what is creative is fun; and because it's creative and fun it's enjoyable; and if what is created is also shared with other learners, it's motivating and thus more fun. If it is motivating, if learners want to do things, and (provided you ensure that they speak in English doing well-designed tasks maximising interaction) it's also and most importantly, successful in terms of language learning. They learn more, in other words.

And then they are more motivated, and learn more, and have more fun… It's a cycle of success — and of enjoyment.

In my talk, I contrasted photographs taken by learners with cloze tests [define]… The picture that my learner has taken (not stolen from Google-is-Evil, note) matters; it's an end-product that you can share and care about.

When did the answers to a cloze test ever really matter to a learner (unless it was on an exam)? When did a learner ever really feel truly proud of a completed cloze test…?

I've been having my learners complete cloze tests for nearly thirty years and I've never, ever, seen a learner enjoy one.

But most importantly…

I've highlighted in my slide (above) how I'm suggesting using technology: to create and share end-products. But that's merely how I'm suggesting using it…

What really matters in language classrooms is that lots of language learning takes place.

That's what is important, the learning, not the technology. The technology is merely the tool that affords opportunities for language learning to occur…

Introduction | Task 1 | Task 2 | Task 3

What makes a good task?

What is a task, anyway? A task is "any language learning activity that the students do in their classes" (game, comprehension questions, gap-fill exercises, etc), says this article by Andrew Littlejohn.

I like some of the questions the article poses:

  • What is the aim of the task?
  • Where do the ideas and language come from?
  • How personally involving is the task?
  • What happens to what the students produce?

We might also ask who the ideas and language come from — from the teacher or the learners?

In a second part of the article, Making good tasks better, Littlejohn suggests that we can "improve a task if we can increase the amount of ideas and language that the students are expected to produce" — in other words if it's not the teacher providing all of it.

In a third article on Language Learning Tasks and Education, the same author asks other questions that I think we should ask ourselves when designing classroom tasks.