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Pictures taken by learners, shared via WhatsApp

Posted on | February 21, 2014 | No Comments

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.

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.

PowerPoint and the printer are not ICT!

Posted on | February 20, 2014 | 2 Comments

Venn diagram: Things I wish I could teach people

Here's one from a recent session on a CELTA course, drawn on the (non-interactive) whiteboard.

Using Powerpoint, the printer and the photocopier may give you the (false) impression that you're using technology in your classes, but that's in fact not really the case.

You could make a (very tenuous) case that PowerPoint is communicative but, really, none of those evil 3 Ps could really be classed as 21st century information and communications technology (ICT).

Instead of you using PowerPoint, if your learners were sharing and colloborating on creating Google Drive presentations, that would be the way to go.

Drawing Mr Men: a fun "getting to know you" activity

Posted on | February 13, 2014 | No Comments

Another activity that I demonstrated in my session at our ELT Conference last weekend (the original idea [content in Spanish] for which came from my colleague Xavi Mula).

Before you begin, you probably want to make it clear that this is intended to be fun: you don't want anyone to be offended. It's also an activity that probably works best in a class in which people already know each other to some extent, and get on well.

You could always steal your Mr Men from Google Images, but don't do that: instead, get your learners to draw them, by following these simple steps…

ONE Draw a circle, a square and an oval:

Mr Men 1

TWO Redraw them, giving them a "leg":

Mr Men 2

Believe me, it's easier to do ONE and then move on to TWO: experience with this in classrooms suggest many people struggle if you start with TWO (?!).

THREE Add features to your redrawn figure — noses, eyes, beards, eyebrows, hands, a second leg, props… whatever your imagination suggests, like these:

Mr Men 3

FOUR Decide who you've drawn, which must be someone you have some sort of relationship with (e,g. your mother-in-law, your husband, your ex, a self-portrait… but see Footnotes, below) and give him/her an appropriate "Mr Men" name — such as Mr [Silly] / Little Miss [Bossy].

Left to right, in my example above, you have my Dad; (the original Mr Grumpy); my sister (Little Miss Piggy — cruel, I know!); and myself (with toothache).

FIVE Show it to the psychoanalyst (aka your partner) who is sitting next to you.

SIX Have him/her "analyze" it and give a "professional" opinion.

SEVEN Discuss the opinion with your psychoanalyst.

EIGHT (optional) Class discussion of whether we can really draw any conclusions from such things.

With younger learners, you probably want to specify that they cannot draw anyone else in the class; or another teacher in your school, otherwise it can get cruel; with my own learners, I think I'd avoid mentioning Little Miss Piggy.

It's simple; it's fun; it's creative; it doesn't require Google Images (or much other preparation time); it doesn't require lots of talent (anyone can do it!); and — above all — it generates a lot of language.

Thanks @ Rachel B. for the suggestion that your learners can run their Mr Men characters into other activities, in order to illustrate other activities.

Keep calm and don't use Google Images

Posted on | February 12, 2014 | 4 Comments

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!)

Creative teachers or creative learners?

Posted on | February 11, 2014 | 2 Comments


Minibooks created in Christine Wilson's session | Photo: Christine Wilson

Among the great sessions at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference this last weekend there were several on the subject of creativity, with the suggestion being that we should all be creative teachers.

I didn't get to see Christine Wilson's session but that's what I understand by creative and it always worries me that treachers are frightened off by the term "creative", in the Picasso sense of the term. Most of us are not particularly creative in that sense — or least we don't see ourselves that way.

Below, another of the suggestions [see further details] made in my own session, which came from Susana Ortiz, possibly one of the most creative people I've ever met in a school staffroom:

Doodled by learner

The suggestion was that learners who don't have digital photographs of significant moments in their lives (things from childhood, the birth of a child, weddings…) to bring to class to talk and write about can nevertheless picture those; and if they can picture them in their heads they can describe them to a partner…

We can get them to get their partners to draw those images, as in the example above, which makes an amazing "information gap" activity. ("Draw", as I suggested in my session, is also perhaps an off-putting word, too. Let's make that doodle, because no one can be "bad" at doodling!)

If we do that, we're not necessarily being creative ourselves but we will be asking our learners to be creative: it's not the teacher that should be doing all the work of making things, creating images, and slideshows and videos — it's the learners that should be doing all that.

In one of his wonderful sessions, Kieran Donaghy said the following:

Everyone is a filmmaker

Everyone — not just the teacher, that is. Couldn't we use all that technology in their pockets to get our learners to make movies (even if we're talking just a minute, or less)? You don't have mobile phones available? Being "creative" is finding ways round problems: make them on the kind of digital camera there in the image above! Why be embarrassed by it if it's fun?

Another brilliant session: Lindsay Clandfield on Six reasons to love lists. My daughter (18) caught me the other day adding to one of my lists — things that make me grumpy:

  • Unnecessary photocopying and printing
  • People that don't let you get off the Metro before they attempt to get on
  • Supermarket queues
  • People defacing great graffiti
  • The power of Google, and how we've surrendered to it
  • … and a very long list of others!

She then sent me one of her own — 100 things she loves:

  • Finally untangling my earphones
  • The lyrics to No Surrender
  • Campfires
  • Crossing out the exams I've done from my agenda
  • … and 96 more

Getting our learners to make (and discuss and share) lists like that is making things, and doesn't actually require us to be that big-C Creative.

Where we possibly do want to be creative is in finding new ways to do old stuff. I think it was Anthony Gaughan who suggested in his session that he'd taught 60 or 70 CELTA courses; I wondered how many times I've taught the present perfect since I first did so in 1979?

My #1 tip: trash all but the very best of your lessson plans and find a different way to teach it next year and never go back to last year's lesson plan and just teach that: that's creative — or it will be if it involves your learners doing and making things.

I think we do want creative learners in creative classrooms, but I'm just not sure any of us really need to be Picasso to achieve that.

2 seconds of technology, 1 photo, for hours of language

Posted on | February 9, 2014 | 5 Comments

From my session at IH Barcelona's ELT Conference yesterday…

As you'll see if you follow through on the link to National Geographic, it's not the dirty coffee cup fungus I thought it was!

What was the point of the activity?
The preparation time was virtually none as I'd spotted the photo during my self-imposed maximum of 2 minutes a day on Twitter (though you might want four or five similarly "strange" pictures if you wanted to practise, for example, the language of speculation).

And for our two-seconds viewing in class, we're going to get two, three… minutes of talking, of interaction, of use of language. If for 2 seconds of "technology" we're getting 120 or 180 or more seconds of language, then that's a proportion that is starting to feel right.

Use great sources for your images
One of the things I suggested in my session was that not using Google Images and instead using better sources of images is likely to lead you to better pictures for use in class; that in turn will lead to more language — because people will find more to say about them.

Of all the image sites on the internet, National Geographic has got to be one of the best — and out there among all the garbage on Twitter*, most definitely a feed worth following.

Here's another site well worth "following" on Twitter — photofocus.com — and another of the creative writing activities I suggested in the session, using a single image as your starting point:

You could do a similar thing with the photo there: show it for 2 seconds, and ask those questions (the questions being there to kick-start the ideas — and the language); and, if you then get your learners to collaborate on writing a single story between two or three people, from your one photo, you are getting hours of language.

No interactive whiteboard?
If you have a projector in your classroom, but no interactive whiteboard, that's not a problem. You have a "blank" button on your remote that turns the projector off and on instantly? That's possibly the most useful, most powerful, of all the billions of buttons and keys at your disposal. Turn the technology off!

See also

*Sorry, that's the Mr Grumpy in me slipping out again ;-) !

A social, not a technological focus — always!

Posted on | February 8, 2014 | No Comments

Just in case any of you are thinking of coming to my session today at IH Barcelona's annual ELT Conference;-) !

Something I always say to trainees on our pre-service CELTA courses: learning should primarily be a social, not a technological experience — and if we're in ELT, the focus really has to be on language, not technology.

I suggest tasks that use such tools as Edmodo not because they're technologically exciting (which they are) but because they provide opportunities to use language in communicative ways, and because doing tasks of that nature, sharing and commenting on each others' work, allows us to be social – and to thus use more language.

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