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365 tweets: how to stop Twitter driving you insane

Posted on | September 19, 2014 | No Comments

455 days ago (according to MetricSpot.com), I started tweeting a maximum once a day (an average of 0.80 tweets/day). When I reached 100 tweets, I lost a small bet to Kate, and have now lost a second by failing to get to 365 within 450 days ("Damn it", as Jack Bauer would say!).

Twitter activity

I am, however,  on Twitter several times a day, and recommend it as one of my favourite tools for teachers. When I did so the other day, someone said Twitter drives her "completely potty" so, for what it's worth, here are 10 newbie tips for using Twitter and retaining your sanity.

  1. Follow something important to you Find some subject or issue that really interests or concerns you and "follow" and engage with that — whatever it is. Two of my big interests outside work are photography and street art and it was when I started following various people on those subjects, ones that mattered to me, that I first thought, "Wow! Twitter is great!"
  2. Twitter is great for images For class, I detest seeing trainees and colleagues using Google-is-Evil Images, as the results — the pictures they take from there — are rarely worth their time, in terms of how much language they are going to get from the images. But following people like @500px or @HistoryInPics or @Life or even @TelegraphPics will bring you brilliant photographs for creative writing, apart from anything else, from which you're going to get so much more language.
  3. It's good for jobs alerts A significant percentage of the people on teacher training courses here at IH Barcelona are taking CELTA courses (or the Spanish teacher training equivalent) and are going to be looking for ELT jobs: if that's your case, even if you followed no one else, following @tefldotcom or @ESLjobfeed, among others, would make it worth your while to be on Twitter.
  4. Favourite things I tend to go on to Twitter on my phone, over breakfast, over a coffee, on the Metro, occasionally at traffic lights; I "favourite" a lot stuff to come back to and read at length, when I have more time…
  5. … and unfavourite things And then I go back and skim-read the articles and so on linked to, unfavouriting if it disappointed, but keeping the really interesting, useful things, so that my favourites are, to some extent, a bank of materials I can turn to for class.
  6. Who follows who Who other people follow is interesting (often who they follow are way more interesting!). It sometimes repays to, for example, go and check out the author (A) of a really interesting tweet that someone you already follow (B) has retweeted — as Person A sometimes turns out to be much more interesting than Person B. You want to "follow" B, you want to follow interesting people!
  7. Who you unfollow is as, if not more, important as who you follow, and you want to start to unfollow people if they start to irritate you, quite possibly with the sheer volume of their tweets and/or the fact that none of what they post ever interests you. Ditch them!
  8. Create your own "unfollow" rules It's actually quite fun to create "unfollow" rules: mine include instantly unfollowing anyone who ever mentions politics, posts a photo of a cat or of coffee, or boasts where they are in the world — whoever they are, including friends and family. With the referendum in Scotland yesterday and another coming up in Barcelona, I've been able to slash the number of people I follow dramatically!
  9. You need to learn to tweet There's a certain amount of "learning to tweet" involved but fortunately Twitter itself is a good place to learn things — like the (unofficial!) rules of engagement.
  10. 365 is a great idea If you're learning something, anything, but it applies particular to using technology, you want to use it regularly, and obliging yourself to use it once a day — whether it's a new camera, or an interactive whiteboard, Google Drive or a piece of new software — is a great way to go about it. I've learnt so much from 365 photography, sketching and writing projects I've been involved in and am happy to say that it got me hooked on Twitter, while my other 9 tips helped me retain at least a degree of sanity!

Coming next, my 10 favourite tweets, of which this is one:


Who's the captain of that ship? I've got so much in class by starting with that image, and that question!

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.

How to get your learners to speak English

Posted on | September 18, 2014 | 2 Comments

Union Jack

I'd better publish this one today, before Scotland votes "yes" and the Union Jack disappears for ever…

If you've got learners doing things like digital storytelling or project work or groupwork of any kind, it's so important (and so difficult, at times!) to get them to speak English.

Here's an idea a friend and ex-colleague, Rachel, has been trying out at her school in France, which seems to have worked well.

The learners (mostly 12 to 16) made themselves Union Jacks, which one in 3 has to wear, but are only allowed to continue to wear so long as they continue to speak English. If they speak French, their badges are unceremoniously taken off them by their classmates (and, yes, some of them deliberately try to trick the "Brits" into saying things in French!).

Whatever group work continues, but we get both a "winner" — the last Brit standing — and a record, which I believe is currently somewhere in excess of 24 hours (!!!) without speaking a word of French.

They started off using post-its, but a convenient box of unused conference badges (see photo, above) has turned out to be much more durable.

Try it, it's fun… or if you have other, better ideas, do leave them in the comments!

Writing prompt: a photograph of me as a kid

Posted on | September 14, 2014 | No Comments

Photos of childhood

Photo: left, my brother; right, me

The photo on the right has amused entire generations of learners here in Barcelona when I've showed it to them: me, aged 3, wearing wellingtons and an ill-fitting Balaclava helmet that makes me look a lot like Action Man! Mum's can be so cruel!

It might actually later have been my Mum (also an English teacher) who suggested a photograph of yourself as a kid as a writing prompt, which is how I first used the accompanying photo in class — showing it to my learners as an example and then getting them to find their own, and write about the childhood memories it brought back.

If you're using something like an Edmodo group, or a G+ Community (make it private if you are), or WhatsApp with your learners, get them to share the photos there and see what memories they have in common. That's how you want to use digital spaces — i.e. socially, and not just for posting the homework, or answers to exercises (a sure-fired way to kill interest in your group!)

Photos like these — because of the powerful memories associated with them — are so much better for class than anything you or your learners will ever find on Google!

Really creative writing project: a series of dreams

Posted on | September 7, 2014 | No Comments

Here's an apparently crazy idea for a creative writing project but one that might work well with an imaginative, co-operative B2+ class, one that wouldn't be put off as soon as they realise it's Bob Dylan (!!!) singing it.

Could your learners produce something along similar lines, inspired by this? Working in groups of 4 or 5, perhaps they could each describe a crazy dream they've had at some time and then roll them into a single series.

One tool your learners could use for it would be the interactive whiteboard, as you can import things to it, and then juggle them around, though you'd perhaps want only one group of not more than 3 or 4 using the IWB as their medium, while the other groups use something else.

It might just work with Glogster (which I've always found works best with younger learners, as it seems to frustrate anyone beyond about the age of 25-30).

Prezi would probably work too.

To get text in, Wordle would work and Prezi and Wordle would probably make a neat combination.

But the best choice of tool would probably be video and there are some amazing mobile phone apps for making videos.  As the teacher, you probably don't want to make the choice of tool for the learners — make a few suggestions but then leave it up to them to make any technological decisions.

You might want, for example, to suggest that they create their own voiceover rather than stealing copyrighted music for a backing track. Soundcloud is terrific, as is Spreaker, if you want an app.

A second, equally crazy idea
Here's another similar idea…

"A Truncated Story of Infinity" – A Short by Paul Trillo from Paul Trillo on Vimeo.

If you asked your learners to be really creative, could they produce something of their own, inspired by this?

What sort of class would this be for?
I don't currently have a suitable class of my own in which to try either of these ideas out but among other things I'd want:

  • B2 or above
  • Excited about doing different things, and not expecting or wanting to do more grammar exercises
  • Possibly younger rather than older learners
  • Learners comfortable using mobile phone apps
  • A 2 (3?) minute time limit on their final products
  • A class that did all group work in English

Working together in English
To get the most language learning out of such ideas, you always want to devote as much class time as possible to brainstorming, speaking, providing language and discussing how the project is going to be done, rather than spending your precious class time just doing a lot of clicking. If you storyboard on paper in class, messing around with the phones and apps can be done outside class.

Having peers review and comment on each other's work-in-progress, as well as the finished product, is another way to create more opportunities for language practice.

Perhaps such things are best for summer courses — but wouldn't ELT in general be so much more interesting for both teachers and learners alike if more things like this got produced and we were less slaves to things like course books and exams syllabuses and programmes that had to be completed?

Creative writing with the monkey selfie story

Posted on | August 7, 2014 | 1 Comment

A little more on something I tweeted earlier today, having spotted it during my daily minute browsing The Guardian on my way to work…

The Guardian disagrees with what the Telegraph claimed about the monkey owning copyright (!).

Here's the video of the original theft:

I'm not that sure that I'm going to get a lot of language — always the objective — out of either the articles or the video, but it's the idea that I like: couldn't we get a lot of fun, a lot of interaction and language out of imagining we're the monkey and have actually learnt how to use Facebook and Instagram and so on?

IDEA #1 | The Facebook post and/or tweet
So we have the picture (though, how many of my teens can themselves pull great monkey faces, and use their own images…?), how about our learners write the Facebook post and/or 140-character tweet that the monkey would upload to their new account?

We want to get the interaction that will produce more language so each learner (or pair of learners) has to be (a) the monkey that stole the camera and then (b) another jealous — or not — monkey without the camera and has to respond to the post, which would need to go on something like an Edmodo group. You could use a Facebook group (or with adults a private G+ Community), but I'm all for the greater, ad-free privacy that Edmodo offers.

No technology? You could use pieces of (scrap!) paper and "post" on your classroom walls…

IDEA #2 | Give me my phone back!
Alternatively, again if you have an Edmodo group, how about dividing your class up and have them negotiate recovery of the phone?

  • One of the learners is the monkey
  • Others are other monkeys, who also want the phone and/or have stolen other phones
  • One of the learners is the tourist, the original owner of the phone
  • The rest are other tourists, who could also have had their phones stolen

To keep your Edmodo stream a little under control, I'd recommend no more than about a third of your learners as monkeys, and only monkeys being allowed to post new "notes" — people are only allowed to "respond" to notes. You probably also want to take email "alerts" off for the duration of the activity (!).

Twitter might also be a fun way to do the same activity.

On Twitter (@Tom_IHBCN), I post only one thing a day (frequently not even that), always and exclusively things I think will interest language teachers and/or their learners.

Simon's Cat: fun listening, speaking and writing

Posted on | July 28, 2014 | 1 Comment

Spider!

Here's one we saw in my technology session on a CELTA course last week.

When I first meet a class I get them to write their names on pieces of A4 pulled out of the recycle bin, fold them and hang them on the front of their chairs/tables so that we all start to learn each other's names.

I also like to get my learners to draw something in the first class — in this case, in the example above, I asked for "an animal or insect that you find in some way repulsive".

Doing that identifies who enjoys drawing and subsequently I like to group people with at least one budding artist per group and have my learners illustrate any project work with their own illustrations rather than things stolen from the evil empire (AKA Google Images).

In this particular case, the drawings also then led on to the video we were then to watch, suggested for levels B2 and above.

Here's the video:

Lesson plan
A rough outline of the lesson plan…

  1. From the drawings, talk about what animals and insects we find repulsive and why, providing any vocabulary help that might be required
  2. In pairs/threes, watch approx the first 0'45" of the video, with one person/two not watching, one providing a running commentary
  3. Stop and answer any "How do you say…?" vocabulary questions
  4. Ask (in open class) "What's going to happen next?"
  5. Swop roles and continue to 1'30"
  6. Answer any further "How do you say…?" questions
  7. Ask (in open class) "How is it going to end?"
  8. Have everyone watch the last 15 seconds of the video and see if they can explain exactly what happens

The running commentary idea works with lots of YouTube videos — with more examples here.

Follow-up
For the vocabulary taught to become vocabulary learned, it needs to be recycled. A few ideas for that:

  • Perhaps after class, discussion of what does in fact happen at the end (does the cat kill the spider…?), something which works great if you have an Edmodo group, where you can share the video and then have people comment
  • In pairs/threes, writing a script for Scary Legs II (possibly using a shared Google Drive document), which then has to be "sold" to the rest of the class (possibly via Edmodo), who are writing rival scripts
  • In pairs, telling the story of how one or other partner came to find the animal/insect drawn at the start of the lesson repugnant (and including the drawing made)

I like all writing activities to be collaborative — so that, for example, in the last suggestion there we're not writing individually and handing the piece in to the teacher, but producing one piece of writing between two and sharing that with everyone (for which Edmodo is again ideal), and hopefully commenting on each other's work as well.

The commenting on what others write is important, as it provides opportunities for further interaction and (re-)use of language but it actually needs to be built into the task and required of the learners. Having learners "buy" other people's scripts (as in the second suggestion above) and/or award each other "prizes" (best, funniest, corniest, etc., script) are just two of the ways you could ensure that.

See also
Video: How to draw Simon's Cat

Get your students to talk, listen and draw

Posted on | June 27, 2014 | No Comments

Walking Barcelona

If you're familiar with Barcelona, you should (just about!) recognise what the illustration above is supposed to represent. It came from morning break last week in the staffroom, where there was some disagreement about whether or not you can get learners to draw things.

I think you can — and should — no matter how little artistic talent you have or your learners think they have. It isn't a question of being artistic: in a language classroom, it's a question of getting people to talk and if their drawings are so poor (?!) that they require asking for and receiving explanation, great!

Instead of the teacher finding, printing and photocopying images of Barcelona for them to then describe a walk through the city (which was the activity we were disagreeing over), get your learners to do this:

  • Imagine an interesting walk in your city
  • Make a few notes on what you'll see on the walk, with any language help being provided by the teacher
  • Describe the walk to a partner… who then has to draw it (check the recycling bin, there's scrap paper, right?)
  • In collaboration with your partner, label the drawing (see example, above), omitting (important!) any place names
  • Switch roles and repeat with your partner
  • Pin the work up on the wall and walk round the "gallery" (remember drawing pins?). How many of the walks can you identify?
  • Optionally, as a class, actually go on the walk (take some drawing paper and cameras/phones with you!)

If there is ready access to a scanner, send a "volunteer" off to scan the illustrations, and if you have an Edmodo group or a class blog, they can then be shared and commented on (the latter being particularly important, for taking maximum advantage of the opportunities technology offers for further interaction and use of language).

The illustration above — a quick doodle, which is what you want, rather than "art" — is from the staffroom, with a little editing afterwards.

Essential reading for any teacher 1000+ pictures for teachers to copy

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