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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.

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

Posted on | February 2, 2014 | 1 Comment

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 [presentation] 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…

IH Barcelona ELT Conference, February 7-8

Posted on | January 27, 2014 | No Comments

The IH Barcelona ELT Conference is coming up fast: it’s February 7-8, less than a fortnight away, with the venue this year is the INEFC, which is up on Montjuic, not far from the Olympic Stadium.

As usual there’s a great line-up of speakers, with plenary sessions from Jessica Mackay, Anthony Gaughan, Luke Meddings, Lindsay Clandfield and Scott Thornbury, and workshops with a host of other names many of you will recognise.

There are sessions on topics like teaching Business English, exam classes, young learners and technology as well as several on ELT management.

I’ll be giving a talk myself, entitled "If a picture is not worth 1000 words…", in which I'm hoping to suggest some practical ideas for getting as much as possible in class from as few images as possible, and without passing by Google Images on the way.

Full Conference program

Bucket lists: an idea for just about any age

Posted on | November 15, 2013 | No Comments

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!)

Book (or film) reviews on post-it notes

Posted on | November 5, 2013 | No Comments

Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness reviewed on a post-it

The idea for books reviews on a post-it note I came across here, on The Perpetual Page-Turner, Jamie's book blog. It would work great if you have a class library; if not, film reviews on post-it notes are an alternative.

Things like writing on post-it notes (and super short stories, 100-word sagas and Twitter stories) work especially well if you get the writers to collaborate and work on the writing and rewriting to squeeze as much information as possible in. They're also a lot of fun to share and award prizes to.

My example there isn't actually a post-it: I used recitethis.com and just happened to like that design more. You could use real post-its, but a digital tool is also fun, especially if that means you can share somewhere else, like on a blog or Edmodo.

You have similar digital post-it tools here and here.

What I learnt from my first 100 tweets

Posted on | October 28, 2013 | 4 Comments

My first 100 twees

I lost a bet on this one (I owe you Kate!): I really didn't think I was going to get to 100 tweets. They were supposed to be one a day but it in fact took me 123 days to get there (stats shown were gathered with metricspot).

The figures shown must have been calculated on the first 99 for some reason. There are more details below but you can see that I probably didn't enter into nearly enough conversations (only 5% of my tweets were "replies") to fully appreciate that interesting Twitter avenue.

What the people I follow tweet
This is actually my second go with Twitter and, though I got to 100 (and beyond!), I'm still not convinced.

Occasionally there's something that makes you stop and think:

And occasionally, amongst all the chatter, there are practical ideas which are actually useful, like this:


And jobs! For anyone job-seeking, Twitter does seem useful, with sites like TEFL.com being worth following (see @tefldotcom).

What I tweeted
You can see below what I tweeted most. Apart from posts on my own blog (!), things on TeachThought were most common: what I like about it is that it makes you think about what you're doing in the classroom, particularly with regard to how technology is being used.

Next was The Guardian: I scan it every morning, not because I agree with its politics but for things that might make good materials for class (I loved the idea of learners creating something like this or this for example).

What I tweeted

Among the "mentions" I made, two of my favourite sources of materials for class: Kieran Donaghy's wonderful Film English and Luke Neff's brilliant Writing Prompts.

Twitter with learners
But what I was really interested in when I began back in June is discovering ways in which learners could use Twitter. Getting them to "follow" celebrities Kate tells me "works" for some but by no means all learners, with a big drop in interest after a week to ten days. There were several other projects we came up with but in the end — due to considerations of privacy (we're talking teens) — used Edmodo for them.

One that has worked really well (though again not with all): having teens "follow" feeds pumping out "inspirational quotes" (like @DavidRoads, for example), which really got learners — especially the girls — interested in reading (albeit in 140 character lots… or less!). Thanks to Sandy for trying that idea out.

And this idea for creative writing with Twitter is one I like a lot.

100 tweets later…
So, all in all, I'm surprised that — despite the appalling amount of frankly pretty pointless tweeting that goes on — Twitter actually can be useful; I am going to continue my one-a-day tweets (@Tom_IHBCN); but still think an RSS reader (I've been using theoldreader, since the demise of Google Reader) is way more organised and more useful.

Halloween photos on mobile phones

Posted on | October 28, 2013 | 4 Comments

Image: Barcelona tobacconist's window, taken to show students as an example

Here's a project that seems to be going down well: having teens compete to see who can take the best Halloween themed pictures on their mobile phones.

They're sharing them in lots of places (Facebook, Twitter, via WhatsApp…) though where they're supposed to be ;-) sharing and commenting on them is on the Edmodo group set up for the class. 25 people have so far posted 47, which is great, though the amount of commenting has been a bit disappointing so far (perhaps we needed to insist on it more?).

After next weekend (when lots are going to Halloween parties where they're supposed to take more photos), the idea is for the learners to discuss and award prizes for the funniest, scariest, cutest… etc,

Thanks to Kate for trying the idea out!

See also
More Halloween ideas

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