Never plan a class you couldn't do with a piece of chalk

Someone came to me the other day for help: they wanted to download a YouTube clip, remove the vocals but keep the music, record their learners singing the same song, splice the new vocals on to the YouTube clip, lip-synch it and upload it back on to YouTube… Could I help?

I said "No" (don't you just hate the guys in Technical Support, sometimes?), on the grounds that it was going to take so much time for so little return (in terms of language learning), and that I'd be using the technology to do the work (or the teacher would be), not the learners (which is how I believe it should be).

Instead, I suggested, how about something like what follows, which is creative and collaborative, requires little or no technical intervention from the teacher, and will lead to much more involvement of the learners?

Four sets of pairs each collaborate to tell (and record) 25% of a coherent story

I regret that my colleague went away unconvinced but curiously that same day I came across the quotation that starts this post: "Never invest in an idea you can't illustrate with a crayon".

In the Google Docs presentation here, I've attempted to illustrate the idea with a crayon, and would paraphrase the quotation: never plan a class you couldn't also do with a piece of chalk.

You could do this task with no more than chalk, pens and paper: before technology came along, I did! What technology enables us (i.e. our learners) to do is create things, share them, comment on them, discuss them… But I think we want it like this, in our learners' hands, not ours, and minimally invasive.

The idea also works well if your learners are all with their own laptops.

Related post
Shared, creative, collaborative writing

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

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  1. That's a great idea!!. I'd like to try it with my students. Where do they share the recordings?,Are the recordings made separately or following the same thread?, Why is pair G and H: 'He'?, Could voki be another possible tool for that project?
    Good luck with your TESOL presentation!. We will be waiting for your written version (… the ones who won't be lucky enough to attend your session!)

  2. Thanks Carme!

    On the third slide, you'll see I've suggested sharing the audio via a blog (for audio, I'd suggest that Posterous is the easiest blogging platform) or the wonderful Edmodo.

    The last pair should be "The end", not "He" (that's now corrected).

    Voki is fun, but it doesn't work so well here, as you can only have a single "talking" head with Voki, fine for parts 1 and 2, but not for the other two.

    But I really like (and young learners will LOVE…!) the idea of using Voki for those first two parts and then Vocaroo for the other two. I'd suggest face-to-face talking about the character first and then, on Voki, trying to design that same character (otherwise the technology takes over from the English!).

    At TESOL, I was talking about how no one can design good language learning tasks without some input from colleagues and peers (or a tutor!) and here's a great example: I post an idea on a blog, Carme comes along and reads it and suggests something else… and in that process of dialogue and reflection we end up with a better task!

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