One cool photo for one fun, collaborative digital story

Above, an idea posted on IH Barcelona's Instagram feed.

The retro toys, photographed in a shop window, to be found all over Barcelona, are real fun as collaborative writing prompts with small groups of learners creating the stories of their drivers and passengers.

I've used these several times before ("What? Again?" a learner asked the last time I repeated the idea 😉 !) but really like the idea of a single suitable prompt and a couple of juicy brainstorming questions as the basis for a materials-light, language-rich classroom activity.

See these two previous posts for further information and what we did with this last time:

Tips for success with learner-centered technology

Tips for success with technology

The above tips were suggested during my OneStopEnglish webinar on February 10th. Here, I've added a few further notes to them.

1 | Find out what apps (etc) your students already use and start with those
If many of your learners are already using, say, Instagram, that's probably the place to begin. Their familiarity with it means that you don't have to teach them how to use it, and if some are unfamiliar, their peers can provide the technical support.

See also (5), below.

Conversely, if many of them are not really using things like Facebook at all, start with one that no one uses (Edmodo and a private G+ Community would be obvious choices; see also (4), below). The fact that they will only be using it for my class (plus the fact that I've made it private) has persuaded even some of my most technophobic learners to come on board.

And one that's caught me out: if they don't use email, don't use that, use WhatsApp instead!

2 | Don't touch the technology yourself, ever
I mean this one literally. If you have a computer and projector in your classroom, the best possible piece of equipment you can purchase is a wireless mouse and keyboard — and then put one of your learners on it. You want to show a YouTube video (or whatever)? Get one of your learners to do it for you. Handing over the technology takes so much of the stress off of the teacher!

You think technology "always" goes wrong in your classes? Make one of your learners handle it for you and you'll be amazed: it never seems to go wrong!

See also (5), below.

3 | Have your students use technology to create things
You can do wonderful things with YouTube but you don't just want to have your learners sitting there watching videos, something which they could be doing at home! And if your learners are simply passively consuming your PowerPoints, rather than creating their own, then you're perhaps using 1% of the potential of 21st century technology.

What you really want to be doing (and what lots of your learners really want to be doing 😉 !) is to have them use technology to create things — photos or text, or audio or video, all of which can be done on the smartphones you might actually have just told your learners to put away.

See also (6), below.

4 | Have your students set up a shared digital space
You get your learners to (a) create things; but after that they'll need somewhere they can (b) share them and (c) comment on their creations. The commenting is an important stage of your task design because it provides further opportunities to use language. That's where a shared digital space comes in, a class blog on which your learners are all authors, or an Edmodo group (great with teens!), or WhatsApp or a Google+ Community (those last two with adults).

You want to be using social media with your learners (though that's a term I generally avoid using with them, so as not to put anyone off!)

5 | Have your students provide the technical support; you provide the linguistic support
Using technology successfully in a classroom is very much a question of getting learners into good habits (backing things up, using safe passwords, keeping the noise level down, speaking in English… etc.). One of the habits I most strongly recommend you to get your learners into is to have them turn to their peers if anything goes wrong, rather than turning to you.

Especially if they're young, you want to identify which of your learners are great with technology, and make use of them. Your learners calling out "technical!" if they have a problem and your new assistants then getting up and going to provide that help is another great habit to get them into. Your job is to help with the language, not the technology! On the former, not the latter, you're the expert to turn to.

Here's possibly the best ever scheme for providing technical support in a school that I've ever come across, described by my son Toni.

6 | Create tasks that require your students to play with language, not just technology
Technology can be exciting and, yes, you can do amazing things with it. But I often wonder whether or not our learners get so excited about it that they switch into their own rather than the target language, or else fall totally silent (bliss 😉 !) and end up doing a lot of excited clicking, but not much in the way of language work and practice. The latter is what we're there for, after all.

I think it's probably best to devote the usually limited number of hours our learners have in class to them talking and we the teachers helping them to talk better, providing language and improving performance, as well as to things like pronunciation, intonation, etc.

To have this happen, in other words:

What I want to happen in my class

If in class we've provided them with the ideas and the language and the practice and the rehearsal, outside class they can do the clicking and editing that pulls everything together, preferably collaboratively, perhaps using the shared digital space we've set up, to produce a digital end product like a story or a podcast or a presentation to be rehearsed at home and performed in the next class.

The way to go is probably talk inside, click outside the classroom.

7 | Never be afraid students will know more about technology than you do!
One of your learners will always know more about some aspect of technology than you, some more about all aspects of it.

They do? Be happy, not intimidated! You need technical assistance? You have it sitting right there in front of you!

See also
What's the recipe for using technology successfully?

More on using technology in language teaching

Subscribers to OneStopEnglish have access to a series of articles detailing activities for many of the tools mentioned above.

Webinar Feb 10: Getting your learners to use technology

15 Years of OneStopEnglish

Join me February 10 for a free webinar celebrating 15 years (!!) of OneStopEnglish, one of my favourite sites for English teachers.

I’m going to be talking about how we can (and should!) be getting our learners to use technology, indeed one of my tips is this:

Don't touch the technology yourself, ever !!!

I mean that literally: put one of your learners on the keyboard and mouse (the best edtech purchase you can make: a wireless mouse and keyboard!) and literally don't ever touch it yourself in the classroom.

At the IH Barcelona ELT Conference this weekend, Rachel Appleby (@rapple18) tweeted this from the excellent plenary given by Lindsay Clandfield (@lclandfield):

But are there really that many English language teachers left who aren’t using technology nowadays? Are there really language teachers who aren’t turning on their projectors and exploiting some of the amazing things you can find on YouTube or (even better) Vimeo or VideoJug or (another of my favourites), Film English?

IH Barcelona (OK, in that case, me 😉 !) replied to the above tweet with this comment:

That's more or less what I'm going to be talking about in the webinar.

On OneStopEnglish, there are a series of articles I’ve written suggesting easy ways you can get your learners to use tools like Edmodo and G+ Communities, Google Drive and Instagram (and their mobile phones) for some language-rich, learner-centered tasks.

From a learner's point of view, they are so much more interesting than watching you, the teacher, plough through a PowerPoint it took you an hour and a half to prepare!

Join me Wednesday…

NOTE Full access (recommended) to OneStopEnglish is by subscription (see prices) but you can also obtain a free 30-day trial). There is also institutional subscription, which I recommend you recommended to your Director of Studies 😉 !

Fun activity with cats and dogs and a biro

In my session this coming weekend at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference (February 5 and 6), I'm going to be talking about how both teachers and learners can use simple drawings in some fun, language-rich activities.

Here's one that requires both you and your learners to be able to draw cats and/or dogs. If you don't think you could do that, here's a simple cat that you can quickly teach yourself to copy; you'll then find a simple dog at the foot of this post.

What you're really doing is not so much draw as represent

How to draw a simple cat
Below, you have a step-by-step for an easy cat. Key to lots of classroom drawings is to pick the right starting point: here, start with the face, and after that it should all fall into place.

Classroom cat

As with all classroom drawings (which used to be called "blackboard drawings" when I started out as a teacher), what you're really doing is not so much draw as represent. And, as Andrew Wright, suggested in his wonderful book, you're copying, not drawing.

The activity, step-by-step
Colleagues and I have tried the following at various time (some going back a long time!) from roughly A2 level up to and including C2 and it's one that has worked well with both teens and adults.

  1. Make sure everyone knows how to draw a cat and a dog, teaching them if necessary. Draw my examples for them, with appropriate explanations and running commentary and you've got a live listening comprehension activity.
  2. Get the class to divide themselves into 4 roughly equal groups, of dog-lovers, dog-haters, cat-lovers and cat-haters. Anyone who says they have no feelings one way or the other must be persuaded and recruited into one of the four groups. If the groups are not of approximately equal size, have the smaller groups try to persuade others to join them. (It doesn't actually really matter what size the groups are, or how disproportionate they are, but what we want as language teachers is discussion and use of language!)
  3. On a square piece of paper (square so that it can be easily Instagrammed afterwards, you understand 😉 !), each learner should draw a cat or a dog, depending on which group they now find themselves in. I like to limit drawing time to 60 seconds maximum. This is not an art class!
  4. They should then pair up, pick the "best" cat / dog and collaborate to add to the piece of paper everything which they know or think about cats or dogs — cat lovers and cat haters writing about cats, dog lovers and dog haters about dogs, for example:

    What's wrong with dogs
    I'm not a big fan of dogs, as you can see 😉 !

  5. Share the work produced — either by just showing it to other people (great for a "mingle" activity!), or by posting the pictures on a wall or by photographing them and sharing them via Instagram or an Edmodo or WhatsApp group etc.
  6. Comment on the drawings and on the ideas included, either orally or digitally (the latter possibly outside class time, not necessarily in real time)
  7. Discuss the topic of which make better pets, cats or dogs.
  8. Optionally, get the learners to produce a piece of discursive writing on the subject, of appropriate length.
  9. Optionally, have the learners make a very brief, collaborative, formal presentation to the class of their conclusions

What does drawing add?

The sharing makes your classroom a creative space in
which we generate things we then share together, which is terrific for group dynamics

You could of course do the activity without anyone drawing anything but requiring the drawing adds a lot:

  • it makes the activity way more fun
  • it seems to generate a whole lot more language ("What's that supposed to be?! / It's supposed to be…" often prove to be useful expressions!)
  • its seems to generate more ideas
  • it generate more creative, more original ideas
  • it leads to the creation of artwork
  • the artwork can then be shared and commented on afterwards, if you have some kind of shared, digital space where that can happen

It isn't artwork for the sake of artwork, and doesn't have to be of a standard to really merit the term "art" but the creating and the sharing makes your classroom a creative space in which we generate things we then share together, which is terrific for generating good group dynamics. I belong to this community because we drew cats and stuff together…

How to draw a simple dog
Here's simple dog step-by-step. It's fun because people inevitably have lots of scope for adding (often unintended) "personality" to their dog when they draw the face and/or proportion the body.

Classroom dog

As I'll be suggesting in my Conference session, what you need is not talent but practice. You're not really drawing, as I've suggested above, merely copying, and by copying the steps a few times your practice gives you the other vital ingredient to classroom drawing — namely, confidence.

As the title of my session ("Yes, we can: not drawing, merely representing") suggests, "Yes, YOU can!"

 

ELT Conference session: Not drawing, just representing

No matter how you teach, learn to draw!

No matter who you teach, learn to do simple drawings: if you can draw a circle, you draw a face!

For my talk at IH Barcelona's ELT Conference this year (February 5-6), I'm not going to be talking about technology, but about what used to be called "blackboard drawing".

It's my belief that all of us can draw and that, no matter who we teach, it's well worth devoting the time and effort to a little practice, as it can be useful to us in class in so many ways. Key is probably not to see it as drawing at all (I'm guessing that you're already thinking "But I can't draw!"): what we're aiming for is the ability to "adequately represent" things.

The workshop isn't designed to teach you how to draw, but is intended to show you that you can, or at least that you could, with a little practice.

Things your learners can draw, too
As well as the teacher (or teacher trainer) "drawing" things, you can also usefully get learners to draw: it's fun and can produce lots of language.

There isn't going to be time in 50-minute session to look at a lot of practical activities, so let me advance some now, from previous posts here on this blog, with some fun activities that get your learners drawing simple things:

Further links and tips and ideas coming up between now and the session (and possibly afterwards!).