Wonderful images for easy speaking and creative writing tasks

Here's just a quick one with a couple of images that have worked well in class as the starting prompts for both speaking and writing tasks.

The first, above, posted on our Instagram account, was as you can see taken in the street outside.

It's the sort of image I think you want for class — as it seems to tell a story of some kind. Add to it a couple of imaginative questions (see the Instagram post for examples) and you've got the basis for a great, creative, materials-light task, one that is going to require collaboration and plenty of interaction if you get your learners to produce their stories, whether oral (and perhaps recorded) or written.

The second, below was found on Twitter, as you can see:

In this case, apart from things like where the photo might have been taken, you want something along the lines of who or what is up there on the star and what is it that they (or the man on the beach) are trying to communicate…?

Thanks, Kim, once again, for trying that second idea with learners.

See also: Great Twitter feeds for images for class

Useful things if you blog with learners (and you should!)

Over on Edublogs ("Easy Blogging For Education"), where they reckon they've helped build 3,378,490 blogs since 2005, they're carrying out their annual survey of blogs in education. If you blog, they'd like just 5 minutes of your time.

I'm a big believer in getting feedback from people and listening to what they have to say. With students, Google Drive forms are so brilliant for that, and as a teacher you should complete such things, apart from anything else because it forces you to reflect for a few minutes on what you're doing.

"Is there anything else we didn't cover that you would like to share?" they ask at the end of the survey.

You mean apart from the fact that I love blogging with learners?

Well yes:

I always recommend a single blog per class with all students "authors" on it but generally working in 3s or 4s to collaborate to write posts (so we get 5 posts on one topic on one blog, not 25 on 25 different blogs) and with the fewest possible number of posts by the teacher, the highest possible number of posts and comments by the learners.

Facebook and so on have come along and, sadly, displaced blogs as the popular platform. I used to run a blogging in language teaching course but it got dumped as "old" but, because you can make a blog so water-tight on privacy, they're in fact still my first choice as a shared digital space for use with learners, particularly if what you want to have is somewhere for your learners to "publish" their project work.

Edublogs uses WordPress as the platform for blogs you create with it. I use WordPress for this and other blogs but in fact recommend Blogger to teachers as experience suggests that they find it slightly easier to learn to use.

Nevertheless, Edublogs have some great things on their website and on their blog (these 50 ideas for student blogging, for example, and see also these resources), useful whichever blogging tool you decide to use. They also produce one of the few email newsletters that I actually read and haven't unsubscribed from (as I have with virtually every other email newsletter being pumped at me). On Twitter, you also have @edublogs.

Previous reports on the state of educational blogging are to be found there.

10 good, productive uses of an interactive whiteboard

A map of our internet
A map of our internet: see (2), below

For those of you coming to a quick session this morning on using an interactive whiteboard (aka an IWB), here are 10 previous posts with ideas for productive IWB activities that have worked well with language classes.

By "productive" I mean that they will produce a lot of language but won't require the teacher to spend hours preparing material — so, in this case, the teacher won't have to create half a dozen or more IWB pages. Note how many of the activities below would mean using a single page, often beginning with nothing or very little on it.

In no particular order:

1. | Using a single IWB page to jot down doubts arising in discussion, and then using those as the basis for a mini-webquest

2. | A map of our internet (see example shown above), collaboratively produced on a single IWB page

3. | Grammar casino, a grammar revision game which I first played in class perhaps 25 years ago, using a piece of chalk and the blackboard

One my main doubts about IWBs:
Could we do the same task just as well without an IWB? If so, why are we using one?

4. | Importing stills from a video on to an IWB page as a starting point for digital storytelling (see also a second example)

5. | Using an IWB page to script what we think happened in a video

Infographic on an IWB
Infographic on an IWB

6. | Importing infographics, blanking out the captions (as in the image above), providing a few clues and then getting learners to speculate on what exactly it shows

7. | The IWB for weather forecasting, possibly the most fun I've ever had with the beast

8. | Another old favourite: using an IWB page for dictogloss (with or without an IWB a wonderful activity for language classes)

9. | An IWB page for brainstorming (another of my favourite classroom activities, something else which of course doesn't require an IWB!)

10. | An IWB page for mind mapping (and other things that could have been done on an IWB)

Important things to note

My #1 tip for using an IWB in class
Move quickly from the interactive whiteboard to interactive students and an inactive (sic) whiteboard

  • To learn to use an IWB, spending 20 minutes hands-on playing with it, on three separate days, is much better training than spending an hour on it on one day. You want to learn how to use things, forget them and then rediscover them. It's a bit like learning a language: class three times a week is way better than just coming on a Friday 😉 !
  • Classroom technology — any technology, not just the IWB — is NOT about what YOU, the teacher, does with it: what matters is what your learners do with it
  • KEY question How to make your interactive whiteboard truly interactive

See also ||| All previous posts with IWB activities

Other ideas that work? Or don't… ! If you have some, I'd love to hear about them! Pop them in the comments…

How to use Twitter to improve your English, 5 mins a day

Here's one that we posted on our Spanish Teacher Training blog last week, with other ideas in the same post for learning vocabulary independently [content in Spanish], outside class.

I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter but recommend it as a useful tool both to language teachers and to language learners.

As shown in the video, above, I suggest to my learners that they "follow" people of personal interest to them (celebrities, singers, footballers, street artists, whoever…) and see how much language they can learn from them.

Instead of following celebrities, following particular issues or interests like the environment or news stories is an alternative.

The language a learner should look for on Twitter
What I'm looking for in the tweets I read (5 minutes a day, waiting for the bus or wherever…):

  • words or phrases (especially the latter!) that I recognise and vaguely remember (for learners perhaps language we've seen in class)
  • new language that I can work out from context
  • link to articles that interest me to give myself some reading comprehension practise (and improve my vocabulary further, see previous two items)
  • videos so as to get some listening practice
  • words or phrases — or entire tweets — I don't understand at all

Yes, there's lots of French that is going to puzzle me on Twitter and lots of English that will puzzle my learners. They need a certain level (I'd suggest B1 or above) but being puzzled by language is a good thing — especially if they favourite* what they're interested in but don't understand, and then go back to their favourites and work out meaning, perhaps with the aid of an online dictionary.

Wanting to know what words and phrases mean, and wanting to understand someone — isn't that one of the keys to language learning?

And yes, it's true: people don't write gram. (?!) correct, perfect model sentences on Twitter, and abbrev. (?!) whatever they can.

No, it doesn't bother me.

Not if my learners are actually motivated and learning.

See also How to keep your account private on Twitter

Footnote ||| *On Twitter, "favourites" are now, ridiculously, called "likes", aren't they? For language learners, calling them "Puzzles" would be so much better 😉 !

Project work (4): Writing "thank you" letters

Mum,
Thanks for the soldiers. The kid next door loves them. She got a phone for Christmas and I swopped them with her. She was really upset cos the phone was broken. It wasn't actually but I told her it was cos I really needed the phone so we were both happy.
Des

Example letter shown to learners

What makes a successful task in a language learning classroom?

I'd suggest it's one that (1) produces a lot of interaction and language, including new language; and that (2) your learners like doing it — so much so that someone asks you if they can "do that again".

If you've tried the first three parts of the "Christmas" project proposed (see links below) and they've been successful, there's an obvious fourth part, that has worked well with learners in the past.

In Part 2, we had people writing letters to Santa asking for particular things for Christmas, which — in Part 3 — they didn't get, instead getting something totally random (see Part 1). The follow-up has to be the "thank you" letters! Yes, I know: no one writes "thank you" letters nowadays, do they? But that's no reason why we shouldn't get some fun — and language! — out of writing them.

How you do this is going to depend to a considerable extent on how you've done the first three parts but here are a couple of the alternatives:

If you're printing things and displaying them on a classroom noticeboard, you could do that — and perhaps display, in columns, the letter telling Santa what they wanted from Part 2; the photo and letter accompanying what they actually got (Part 3) below that; and the "thank you" letter below that, thus:

Noticeboard display

I'd make the learners themselves do all the printing and displaying!

If you're using a shared digital space of some kind (Blogger, Edmodo, a G+ Community), you could either (a) have learners write new posts for their thank you letters or (b) simple answer the corresponding "Part 3s" via the comments on the class blog (etc.)

Writing and speaking tasks
Although this and some of the other parts of this project look like writing tasks, in previous years it seems to have been most successful when the learners have really got into discussion of what you would really say (and what you should and shouldn't say!) to, for example, an extremely rich but eccentric old aunt who's given you a mouldy, dog-eared old teddybear when you wanted a iPad Pro?

When they start to see a writing task as a fun speaking task, that's when you've know your task design has been a success!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4