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…

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

In my session at IH Barcelona's ELT Conference next weekend, I'm going to mention the following as sources of images for use in language classes.

My aversion to Google Images comes at least in part from watching trainees on our CELTA courses waste countless hours there looking for pictures to take to class, and often coming away with images which it is frankly hard to see them getting a lot out of — and the point of my session is that if you're not getting a lot of language out of the image, it's a waste of time looking for it in the first place.

Creative writing tasks
A single image that jump starts the ideas for a piece of creative writing

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seems to me a much better, more productive use of images. One brilliant source of images for creative writing which I've discovered recently is 500px:

Finding that picture, and adding 6 or 7 lead-in questions to spark ideas, to be brainstormed in pairs or threes, is going to lead to more language and interaction than whatever you can steal from Google to illustrate a phrase like "the sun is shining" (which you could have just drawn anyway!).

In the image above, for example:

  • Who exactly is the person in the photo (name, age, sex, profession…?)
  • Is s/he alive or dead?
  • Where exactly is this?
  • What is the date?
  • Who else is involved in the story?
  • What exactly is the person in the photo thinking at this moment?
  • Who is s/he waiting for?

Here's another, similar example.

Great image sites
Apart from 500px, my other favourites include:

What distinguishes such sites from Google Images? Two things: (1) they don't steal their content from other people (an old-fashioned concern, perhaps?) and (2) they have a vested interest in the quality of the images on their sites, neither of which are of any concern to Google.

And not just photographs…
Images for class don't have to be photos. It's possible to get a lot out of infographics [example task], with three of my favourite infographics sites being these:

Two other excellent sites, particularly if you are interesting in writing tasks are these two, which also give you a single image (and text) as a starting point:

And finally there are videos. A picture might be worth a 1000 words (sadly often not the case to judge by the sort of images I see being prepared for class!), but an interesting YouTube clip — particularly if it comes with the idea for a lesson from a site like one of the following — can be worth (ie. produce from your learners) many 1000s more:

You can "follow" many of the above on Twitter or Facebook, though my preference is to use their RSS feeds and a tool like The Old Reader.

You want to use images in class? You could draw them yourself or have your learners take them on their phones but, failing that, do go somewhere decent to look for them if you want to get lots of language from them…

Bucket lists: an idea for just about any age

Here's a wonderful video made in support of a noble cause, Water is Life, which I saw on the excellent TeachThought site.

Apart from what you could do with the video itself, no matter what age your learners are, they could also write their own bucket list [ definition ], either thinking back to when they were kids or else at their current age.

It's always fascinating to share such things (think "class blog", or Edmodo, etc., possibly even Twitter) and draw conclusions from them (what do the list tell us about teens today, for example?); and to collaborate on brainstorming, agreeing on, creating and perhaps illustrating a single bucket list for the class.

The subject of "Water is Life", particularly with reference to the Third World, is also one that it might be interesting to research and present on (I hesitate to use the word webquest!)

YouTube lesson plans for language teachers

Here's another wonderful clip and accompanying lesson plan recently posted on Kieran Donaghy's excellent Film English, one of the sites I always recommend trainees on CELTA courses at IH Barcelona.

I can also recommend two other similar video and lesson plan sites, LessonStream and Allatc (the latter particularly for more advanced learners) but what I particularly like about FilmEnglish is the choice of the clips: they so intrinsically interesting, as the materials for lessons really always ought to be.

And a couple more video sites: if you must turn everything, including YouTube material into grammar exercises, then Movie Segments to Assess Grammar Goals might be your thing, as might ESL Video, for creating your own exercises.

YouTube (not to mention other sites like Vimeo and Videojug) offers language teachers an amazing variety of materials but rather than immediately thinking "How can I turn this clip into an exercise?", think "How can I turn this into a lesson?" — particularly if it involves doing something more creative with YouTube.

The key question to getting the most from YouTube is probably to consider how active or passive the learners are going to be. If the clip gets them merely to check true/false boxes, they're passive; if it gets them to talk, then they're active.

A wonderful story for class discussion

NYPC – Hard Knocks from laurie lynch on Vimeo.

This is a fun video to do with class, in part because the story it tells is so open to interpretation. And anything that gives rise to lots of discussion has got to be good for a language class.

The following is approximately what I did with a small group of Upper Intermediate learners…

  • Watched the first 90 seconds, simultaneously in pairs discussing the ages of the two main protagonists of the story; their characters; the relationship between them; and whether or not she likes him;
  • Watched the next 90 seconds, seeking particularly to determine which of us was "right" on the points we disagreed most on;
  • At 3'00" discussed that and how it was going to end;
  • Stopped at 3'35" to have second opinion on that…
  • Stopped again on 4'00" to discuss what had just happened;
  • And then watched it through to the end… Did we like the ending?

As a follow-up, you could exploit the lyrics in some way, such as attempting to transcribe them (though they're quite hard) and/or set some form of collaborative writing task that would enable the learners to recycle the new vocabulary.