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

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.

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

Hilarious if you teach kids who like things a bit gross

Escargore from Media Design School on Vimeo.

Here's one I found because I follow @ShortoftheWeek on Twitter and posted in our official IH Barcelona Twitter feed:

Personally, I find it hilariously funny, possibly because I have the same childish sense of humour that the three kids I teach in a private class have. It's good to take to class things you just know your learners will love (and that's not something you'll normally find in a coursebook 😉 !).

What to do with something so brilliant (especially as our next class is Saturday — Halloween!)?

I'm going to fall back on an old favourite — getting them to describe what's happening, possibly getting one of them to watch, two just to listen, and keep switching those roles.

Their level isn't that great (they wouldn't pass First Certificate) but they're always more than willing to attempt to say things beyond that, if the topic interests them — and that's where I earn my living, in providing them with that language. There's no set agenda: the language input is totally reactive, no photocopies, no "exercises", no lesson plan my DELTA tutors would ever have approved of.

What makes the short successful, what makes it funny (or not!), why does it appeal to my learners (or not!), is probably also going to generate some fruitful discussion.

There's also an interesting making-of video for a follow-up and a little more about the short here.

365 things on Twitter
I don't spend a lot of time on Twitter, posting a maximum of one thing a day (no cats!) but — provided you UNfollow lots of people — you can still find interesting stuff for class there.

Another one for Halloween

Project work (3): Not quite what you expected for Christmas

Flower power soldiers
Fun with random photos taken by your learners

Assuming that the first two parts of this four-part project went down well, just before Christmas, and at least a couple of weeks after Part 2, we're now going to have some fun with those random photos we took in Part 1.

As suggested in Part 2, you could do this either individually or in pairs or small groups. My preference is always to make project work collaborative: assuming that you've got your learners to speak English (!) for such things, it provides so much opportunity for meaningful interaction and negotiation.

For Part 3, first, randomly assign the letters to Father Christmas written in Part 2 so that everyone (or each pair/group) has one (see also footnote, below).

Your learners then need to:

  • Invent the character who is going to be giving the present — parent/s, a sibling, an aunt etc (see example below)
  • Obligatory Pick a present from the random objects photographed in Part 1 — however far off what was requested!
  • Write the letter to accompany the Christmas present (see example)

The letter should:

  • Mention the present that the person said they wanted
  • Explain why you've bought them that and not the PlayStation, iPhone 6, new car or whatever was requested.
  • Include the photo of the object in your post

Note that you must pick a present from the random objects. That's part of the fun. You can (if you wish!) do your best to satisfy the person involved but chances are they are going to be slightly disappointed!

Example of what the learners have to produce (and see Part 2 for the original letter to Santa):

Dear Desmond,
Just a note to say Happy Christmas!
I hope you like your present. You know I don't really approve of guns and swords and that kind of thing but this platoon of soldiers are lovely and peace-loving as you can see [photo, above].
I know you wanted a phone, but I'm sure we can have lots of fun playing with these together.
PS I don't think it was a good idea to lie to Father Christmas about your school marks. Remember that to pass in Primary School you need to get at least 5 out of 10!

Various colleagues in the last couple of years have kept Part 3 for that dreadful last week before the Christmas holidays when everyone is over-excited and no one wants to do any real "work".

The idea has proved entertaining — and productive! — for that time of year.

For Part 4, come back next week. You can guess what it's going to be, right…?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

*Footnote || If you've been using a blog or Edmodo or some other digital space for the letters, you might find it a good idea to be able to direct the learners to the letter they have to respond to. A shared Google Drive document works well for this — one containing the URLs (addresses) of the letters and the names of the learners they are assigned to. I recommend having one of the learners produce the list of addresses!

Alternatively, for ease of reference, the letters could be printed.

A wonderful idea that your learners could film

Here's a wonderful one from which Vanesa sent me with the suggestion that it looks as if it might be interesting for class, though she hadn't yet used it or come up with a lesson plan.

It looks brilliant for class, Vanesa, if you ask me (thanks so much 😉 ) !

With this one, however, I'm not so sure we actually want the usual sort of lesson plan, with pre-watching and while-watching activities and a follow-up and so on. I wonder if we couldn't actually get our learners to film something of their own along the same lines — especially if you happen to have classes with a huge range of ages.

You'd want someone in your classes (and I'll bet you've got lots!) adept with filming on a smartphone or other device and perhaps willing to do a little editing for us; you'd want scriptwriters, too (that could be everyone in the class); and learners willing to be filmed (not necessarily all of them). You want to start exploiting — for its opportunities for language learning — all that technology your learners are carrying around with them!

Or why not do it as a project shared across different classes: start with your youngest group and then work upwards…?

They wouldn't necessarily have to upload it to YouTube: a shared Google Drive folder makes a great alternative if you — or they — don't want the rest of the world to have access to it. You could also just watch what they film directly on their phones, if privacy is going to be an issue (and it is!).

You do also have privacy options on YouTube itself.

Vanesa suggested another wonderful film from Vimeo, about an old lady struggling to send a text message, also wonderful for class!

See also | Vimeo Staff Picks, a wonderful channel to watch for more great shorts (etc.) for class — like this one or this one, for example!