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Athletes don't eat photocopies before competition!

Posted on | June 15, 2014 | 1 Comment

This one came from the amazing BuzzFeed, where I probably spend more of my free time than I should, but find some real fun material for class in doing so, with the video above being an example.

Such things are great because for the 60 seconds it takes you to spot them (OK, maybe I was there a bit longer!) you've got a ready-made lesson, because it comes with a ready-made question that is doing to generate 60 minutes of lesson, and quite possibly more.

They're also great because the video is your material: you really don't need anything else, and instead of wasting time producing material (and this is a strictly no-photocopies lesson!), any preparation time can be spent on how to squeeze the maximum amount of interaction and language out of it.

A very rough lesson outline for just about any level B1 or above:

  • Pyramid discussion on "What athletes eat before they compete"
  • In small groups, brainstorm and then rank the top 10 resulting ideas
  • Agree as a class on a top 10
  • Then (and only then) watch the video, with no note taking
  • With a partner, note everything you recall being mentioned, and attempt to produce the top 10 from the video
  • Watch again to see if we were "right"
  • Assign one meal to each pair (or let them pick the most interesting, most weird…) and have them investigate the science (or lack of!) behind what the athlete eats, with mobile phones providing an ideal, in-class research tool
  • Report back, in small groups, probably in the next class, as a presentation (think shared Google Drive documents or Prezi) and/or in an Edmodo group or on a class blog/wiki
  • Optionally, if your learners are also athletes (or have been, at whatever level, including school), have them — or one group — research and report on what they eat

You can get so many great lessons out of  brainstorm > watch/read > compare > research > report/present, because it generates so much interaction and therefore language.

If you have an interactive whiteboard, if you keep stopping the video (you'll need to be quick!), you can easily screen capture the different meals, import them into your IWB software, and then export them as a series of images.

Better still, have one of your learners do that for you. (You'll never have to deal with fast finishers again ;-) !)

Footnote
I've added a new category to my blog: Smash the photocopier! With the exception of banning Google Images, and possibly the mandatory use of smartphones in all classes, that's possibly the one thing that would most transform English language teaching, IMHO…

My top 12 sites for language teaching and learning

Posted on | June 13, 2014 | 3 Comments

2 for the price of 1: song clips that tell stories…

These, in fairly random order, are a dozen of the sites I always recommend language teachers on pre-service courses like CELTA, and on others too.

They are sites I believe all language teachers should know about, though you'll notice that most are intended for the learners, rather than the teacher, to use.

  1. YouTube There's just so much brilliant material for language classes on YouTube (and see also Vimeo, in the next item below). Particularly great are song clips that tell stories [above and here's my favourite example], giving you 2 for the price of 1 — the song and the story (can your learners tell the story, explain and extend it?) | More ideas for using YouTube.
  2. FilmEnglish If you want lesson plans to go with your YouTube clips, then Kieran Donaghy's brilliant FilmEnglish is the best of a number of similar sites (see "Video lessons" in the sidebar, for more), partly because the choice of clips is always so inspired (many in fact don't come from YouTube but from the classier Vimeo).
  3. Google Drive Formerly known as Google Docs, Google Drive is brilliant because you will never ever again have to concern yourself with which is the right version of your document: there is only one version, up in the cloud, accessible from any device; brilliant because you can share documents with people (colleagues, students…); and brilliant because your learners can create the documents and collaborate within them, including in real time (in a chat window… oh, wow!). Absolutely amazing for creative, collaborative writing projects; great too if you have your learners make presentations. And all that without having to fork out for Micro$oft Office! | See also Getting started with Google Drive
  4. Edmodo | I just love Edmodo, and every class I know that's tried it has loved it too — provided the teacher has seen it for what it is: a kind of private Facebook group, one designed for education (and not for sharing every detail of your private life). An Edmodo group is for learners to do stuff, share it and comment on it; it doesn't work nearly as well if you see it as a place to provide the answers to "exercises" and little more. It gives your learners a digital space in which to do things. Welcome to the 21st century!  | More ideas for using Edmodo.
  5. Blogger For a more complex digital space than Edmodo, on which things can be kept looking more organised, a blog is a great option, with Blogger being easier than the very popular WordPress for anyone new to blogging. Fantastic for project work of all kinds | More ideas on blogging.
  6. WhatsApp Absolutely my favourite app for taking advantage of the technology learners come to class already equipped with — and with the app already downloaded, installed and familiar to them. Absolutely great, and addictive, for randomly sharing whatever, and great too for sharing photos on an agreed theme.
  7. SoundCloud | My second favourite app, Soundcloud turns your learners' mobile phones into audio recording devices (which they already are) for podcasting but also gives them somewhere in the cloud to store the files and do various other things with them (like commenting and linking). Podcasting I'd say is definitely one of the most successful uses I've ever had learners make of technology in language classes, though note that I don't recall ever having actually made a recording myself for use in class. | More ideas, information on podcasting.
  8. Twitter It took me a while to see the value of Twitter but I recommend it because it brings me ideas and materials (like the outstanding images on 500px); not to mention ELT job offers; and stuff (unrelated to work) that I just like and enjoy; because having learners "follow" someone — a celebrity of some kind — is a great way for them to get more, self-motivating reading practice; and because I've also seen it used a bit like an Edmodo or WhatsApp group, for sharing things between the members of a class , with one of the best examples being this project by Daniel Rodriguez (content in Spanish) | Me on Twitter (and check out who I follow for more ideas on who you could follow!)
  9. TeachingEnglish.org.uk Especially — but not exclusively — for newly qualified language teachers, Teaching English is a must-have favourite. Everything your CELTA course forgot to mention (and lots that it did) is there. Got a newbie question and you don't have a colleague at hand to turn to? Go there! If you're on Facebook, they also have a Facebook page that is well worth "liking".
  10. OneStopEnglish In many ways very like Teaching English, OneStopEnglish requires subscription (currently 42 GBP, or €53 pa) for full access, though if you're lucky, your school already has school access to it. Another great site to turn to when the DoS gives you classes (business English, exams…) that CELTA didn't prepare you for!
  11. Cambridge Exams And talking about exams, all teachers should know about them, acquire knowledge  of them and experience of teaching exam classes. In Europe, the Cambridge Exams are the most popular, and schools want teachers that have that knowledge and experience. Here's where to acquire at least the former, which is a definite plus to your CV.
  12. Tech ELT Blog I've left technology till last as I think it's the least important (but still vital) ingredient in a language classroom. I going to recommend my own blog here  (!!!) as a site to bookmark because — I hope — virtually everything here is (a) easy to put into practice in a language classroom; (b) interaction- and language-rich but technology-light, and not the other way round: and (c) involves learners rather than teachers using technology — which is as I think it should be. You want alternatives? Look at some of the "Blogs I learn from" (see sidebar).

What must-favourite sites for language learning do you think I've missed? Tell us in the comments…

All-time favourite listening comprehension activity

Posted on | June 1, 2014 | 4 Comments

A few further comments on an idea I tweeted earlier today…

 

I've been doing this with classes since before the Internet (!!!), taking a radio (what?!) into class to play the BBC news bulletin to learners First Certificate (B2) and above.

A one-minute bulletin is great, especially great now that you can have it with video (and no static!) and the task involves learners (individually) first listening; then listening again and transcribing everything they can; then comparing notes with a partner; then listening again and attempting to fill in any gaps.

If you're lucky (and yes, it's a bit hit and miss!) there will be at least one news item that will then lead on to discussion and debate.

It works because it's topical; it's real and up-to-the-minute; it's materials and preparation "light" (I don't make a transcription) but language and interaction "rich"; and it satisfies the principal requirement of my one-man crusade against the photocopier: number of photocopies required — none.

Persuading your learners to listen and watch such things on their own every day (they don't have to transcribe, of course!) is also a good idea as it's such great, extra listening comprehension practice.

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

Great things found in 60 seconds on The Guardian

Posted on | March 2, 2014 | 3 Comments

When I turn on my computer every morning, I spend about a minute scanning the front page of The Guardian. I am interested in the news but I really do it to see what I can spot that might be interesting for class.

For 60 seconds of my time, I get far more stuff than I could ever use, but from those 60 seconds I get hours and hours of interesting topics and materials for class. As a teacher, for any time you spend on preparing materials, a key question is what's your return on your investment? How many hours of language use and practice are you getting from how many minutes preparation time?

Things I spotted this week:

    • Friday These 10 true or false science facts might be fun as a team game, with 10 minutes to discuss and submit answers for 2 points each, and then a further 10 minutes to submit corrected answers — with the use of the internet for fact checking, for a further 1 point each.
    • This story about a bloke who tried to be 100% French ("only foods produced in France, eliminate contact with foreign-made goods…") might make for a way more interesting report for your learners to write than your average CAE writing paper report: can they report on what percentage are they whatever nationality they are?
    • Thursday Discussion topic: What's so great about this video that it went viral — in Germany. Would it work in your country?
    • The photo highlights of the day is always an interesting section, either for creative writing prompts or to view the photos without their captions (think interactive whiteboard for ease and speed of capture!) and see which pair or three can get closest to "explaining" the photos
    • Wednesday With a class of learners interested in cookery, the user-submitted photos of Your favourite comfort food is a great starting point for discussion and/or on-going project work: can they take and share (think Edmodo!) photos of their own comfort foods?
    • From the reports and user comments on the sports pages, Man Utd having lost 2-0 in the first leg of their Champions tie, with keen sports fans, you could get a lot of mileage from the question "What's wrong with Man Utd?"
    • Tuesday With adults, perhaps particularly anyone doing business English, the five questions Google asks job applicants might be interesting. Discussing and predicting the likely content prior to reading, from only the headline, is a format that works well with lots of articles.
    • Another one for lovers of cookery, possibly only in Spain, for discussion, research, reading and writing: What is the right way to make paella?
    • Monday Discussion topic: Is it OK to swear at football matches?
    • And finally, one for classes of teenagers: 10 things Australian teenagers really want. What do your teens really, really want?. Great as a discussion and writing project, brilliant as a video project, recorded on mobile phones!

I've been an English teacher for nearly 35 years now and I've always detested being saddled with a coursebook. Before I retire, I'd like — among other things — to teach (1) a class of teens using only the board game Catan or, alternatively, the now way too old videogame Age of Empires and (2) a class of adults using content only from the front page of The Guardian.

The course content would be so much easier to tailor to their interests and thus so much more interesting and motivating than any coursebook I've ever used.

PS I loved the photos of the model trains, and the story on Lego, too…! Oh, and the Lego infographic!

Pictures taken by learners, shared via WhatsApp

Posted on | February 21, 2014 | No Comments

Photos taken by learners
Photos taken by learners on mobile phones

Another one from my IH Barcelona ELT Conference session earlier this month, both ideas tried out by two former colleagues, Kate and Rachel, with teens.

Left, above, the idea was taking photos of anything at all of interest found in shop windows; right, the idea was to photograph anything on the theme of Halloween, with learners competing to produce "the best" photo.

To share the photos taken for these and other photo sharing projects, WhatsApp (hugely popular in Spain) and Edmodo were used (though quite a lot also ended up on the learners' Facebook pages).

What we saw was that the amount of English produced was often a little limited, which was disappointing. "Cool!", "Wow!" and "Yuck!" were probably the most frequent comments produced, though Edmodo seemed to produce rather longer, more careful interventions.

On the other hand, sharing the photos they'd taken themselves really got people excited and helped "gel" the groups back in September when most of the kids didn't know each other.

learnerpix14b
Example created to demo to learners what they had to produce

Above, a different project which did seem to produce a lot more in the way of language (surely any language teacher's #1 objective!).

As seen in the example, the learners (in small groups of 3 or 4) had to produce a series of images of one or more of them pulling silly faces, and link them together in some way in the captions.

The pictures were shared first via an Edmodo group and commented on by peers (who suggested what the expressions on the faces were supposed to be); the captions were then written and put together, with the pictures on a single PowerPoint slide, as in the example.

Lots of fun — and lots of language, too, provided you insist on the group work as well as any "photography" all being done in English.

Thanks, again, Kate and Rachel.

PowerPoint and the printer are not ICT!

Posted on | February 20, 2014 | 2 Comments

teach-people1
Venn diagram: Things I wish I could teach people

Here's one from a recent session on a CELTA course, drawn on the (non-interactive) whiteboard.

Using Powerpoint, the printer and the photocopier may give you the (false) impression that you're using technology in your classes, but that's in fact not really the case.

You could make a (very tenuous) case that PowerPoint is communicative but, really, none of those evil 3 Ps could really be classed as 21st century information and communications technology (ICT).

Instead of you using PowerPoint, if your learners were sharing and colloborating on creating Google Drive presentations, that would be the way to go.

Drawing Mr Men: a fun "getting to know you" activity

Posted on | February 13, 2014 | No Comments

Another activity that I demonstrated in my session at our ELT Conference last weekend (the original idea [content in Spanish] for which came from my colleague Xavi Mula).

Before you begin, you probably want to make it clear that this is intended to be fun: you don't want anyone to be offended. It's also an activity that probably works best in a class in which people already know each other to some extent, and get on well.

You could always steal your Mr Men from Google Images, but don't do that: instead, get your learners to draw them, by following these simple steps…

ONE Draw a circle, a square and an oval:

Mr Men 1

TWO Redraw them, giving them a "leg":

Mr Men 2

Believe me, it's easier to do ONE and then move on to TWO: experience with this in classrooms suggest many people struggle if you start with TWO (?!).

THREE Add features to your redrawn figure — noses, eyes, beards, eyebrows, hands, a second leg, props… whatever your imagination suggests, like these:

Mr Men 3

FOUR Decide who you've drawn, which must be someone you have some sort of relationship with (e,g. your mother-in-law, your husband, your ex, a self-portrait… but see Footnotes, below) and give him/her an appropriate "Mr Men" name — such as Mr [Silly] / Little Miss [Bossy].

Left to right, in my example above, you have my Dad; (the original Mr Grumpy); my sister (Little Miss Piggy — cruel, I know!); and myself (with toothache).

FIVE Show it to the psychoanalyst (aka your partner) who is sitting next to you.

SIX Have him/her "analyze" it and give a "professional" opinion.

SEVEN Discuss the opinion with your psychoanalyst.

EIGHT (optional) Class discussion of whether we can really draw any conclusions from such things.

Footnotes
With younger learners, you probably want to specify that they cannot draw anyone else in the class; or another teacher in your school, otherwise it can get cruel; with my own learners, I think I'd avoid mentioning Little Miss Piggy.

It's simple; it's fun; it's creative; it doesn't require Google Images (or much other preparation time); it doesn't require lots of talent (anyone can do it!); and — above all — it generates a lot of language.

Thanks @ Rachel B. for the suggestion that your learners can run their Mr Men characters into other activities, in order to illustrate other activities.

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