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Keep calm and don't use Google Images

Here's another slide from my session at our ELT Conference last Saturday…

Keep calm and don't use Google Images

In fact I always suggest this to trainees on our CELTA courses: CELTA can be quite a stressful course, and it gets especially so if you waste an hour or more looking for images that may in fact be adding little or nothing to your class, if they are not going to generate a lot of language — which in the end is always our aim.

As I suggested in the session, I'd in fact like to ban Google Images entirely from the school: it's Google Images that should be blocked, not potentially hugely communicative places like Facebook, or fabulous ones for material like YouTube, access to which school and systems administrators have been known to block, or brilliant tools like mobile phones, which learners could be doing so much with if we didn't impose blanket bans on them.

To my CELTA trainees (I in fact only give one session on their course, on technology) I suggest two other things that would also help reduce the stress level:

... or PowerPoint

You don'tever! — need 30 or 40 PowerPoint slides for a 45-60 minute class: pare that back to 5 or fewer. Reduce the material to its minimum expression: one great image is going to generate way more language and interaction than 25 or more boring ones of things you could point to, or draw on the board, to pull out of your pocket, or translate…

And if you can reduce your photocopying to less than one page per student per class, you'll also be doing yourself a favour, not to mention the environment.

There's another thing I also often find myself saying to people taking CELTA (and our equivalent course for Spanish teachers): you're training to become a teacher, not a graphic designer or a materials designer.

What you want to be designing are the task/s, the interaction, the social experience of learning. Focus on that, not the materials.

What's that? You want to use the scanner? Are you sure it's worth while in terms of how much more language your learners are going to get for your efforts…?

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

365 tweets: how to stop Twitter driving you insane

455 days ago (according to MetricSpot.com), I started tweeting a maximum once a day (an average of 0.80 tweets/day). When I reached 100 tweets, I lost a small bet to Kate, and have now lost a second by failing to get to 365 within 450 days ("Damn it", as Jack Bauer would say!).

Twitter activity

I am, however,  on Twitter several times a day, and recommend it as one of my favourite tools for teachers. When I did so the other day, someone said Twitter drives her "completely potty" so, for what it's worth, here are 10 newbie tips for using Twitter and retaining your sanity.

  1. Follow something important to you Find some subject or issue that really interests or concerns you and "follow" and engage with that — whatever it is. Two of my big interests outside work are photography and street art and it was when I started following various people on those subjects, ones that mattered to me, that I first thought, "Wow! Twitter is great!"
  2. Twitter is great for images For class, I detest seeing trainees and colleagues using Google-is-Evil Images, as the results — the pictures they take from there — are rarely worth their time, in terms of how much language they are going to get from the images. But following people like @500px or @HistoryInPics or @Life or even @TelegraphPics will bring you brilliant photographs for creative writing, apart from anything else, from which you're going to get so much more language.
  3. It's good for jobs alerts A significant percentage of the people on teacher training courses here at IH Barcelona are taking CELTA courses (or the Spanish teacher training equivalent) and are going to be looking for ELT jobs: if that's your case, even if you followed no one else, following @tefldotcom or @ESLjobfeed, among others, would make it worth your while to be on Twitter.
  4. Favourite things I tend to go on to Twitter on my phone, over breakfast, over a coffee, on the Metro, occasionally at traffic lights; I "favourite" a lot stuff to come back to and read at length, when I have more time…
  5. … and unfavourite things And then I go back and skim-read the articles and so on linked to, unfavouriting if it disappointed, but keeping the really interesting, useful things, so that my favourites are, to some extent, a bank of materials I can turn to for class.
  6. Who follows who Who other people follow is interesting (often who they follow are way more interesting!). It sometimes repays to, for example, go and check out the author (A) of a really interesting tweet that someone you already follow (B) has retweeted — as Person A sometimes turns out to be much more interesting than Person B. You want to "follow" B, you want to follow interesting people!
  7. Who you unfollow is as, if not more, important as who you follow, and you want to start to unfollow people if they start to irritate you, quite possibly with the sheer volume of their tweets and/or the fact that none of what they post ever interests you. Ditch them!
  8. Create your own "unfollow" rules It's actually quite fun to create "unfollow" rules: mine include instantly unfollowing anyone who ever mentions politics, posts a photo of a cat or of coffee, or boasts where they are in the world — whoever they are, including friends and family. With the referendum in Scotland yesterday and another coming up in Barcelona, I've been able to slash the number of people I follow dramatically!
  9. You need to learn to tweet There's a certain amount of "learning to tweet" involved but fortunately Twitter itself is a good place to learn things — like the (unofficial!) rules of engagement.
  10. 365 is a great idea If you're learning something, anything, but it applies particular to using technology, you want to use it regularly, and obliging yourself to use it once a day — whether it's a new camera, or an interactive whiteboard, Google Drive or a piece of new software — is a great way to go about it. I've learnt so much from 365 photography, sketching and writing projects I've been involved in and am happy to say that it got me hooked on Twitter, while my other 9 tips helped me retain at least a degree of sanity!

Coming next, my 10 favourite tweets, of which this is one:


Who's the captain of that ship? I've got so much in class by starting with that image, and that question!

On Twitter (@Tom_IHBCN), I post no more than one thing a day, always and exclusively things that I think will interest language teachers and/or their learners.

Less grammar, fewer photocopies and images

Above, something I'm 99% sure Michael Lewis said at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference back in 2008, though it isn't something to be found in the handout (.pdf) from the session.

In my own session for this year's event I'm going to be suggesting that in ELT we've got lost, at least as far as technology is concerned. In the session, I'm not going to deal with who's to blame but, for what it's worth, part of what has gone wrong is that in many schools we've provided teachers with unrestricted access to photocopiers, with the result that whilst the rest of the world has raced on into the 21st century, a significant proportion of language teachers (data in the session) are still waiting in the queue to waste rainforests.

I suppose what Michael Lewis said stuck in my head (I know I wrote it down somewhere!) and I realised the other day that I was paraphrasing him in a training session when I said this:

I've always wondered what effect having the photocopiers stolen would have on teaching in the various schools I either work in or have contact with. Assuming we did actually want to get new monsters, if they couldn't be installed for a week, or a month, and we assessed honestly at the end of that period (the longer the better), would we find that our teaching — and our learners' learning — had suffered, or gotten better in some way?

There are good reasons why we might in fact want to try going photocopyless (one of my favourite words, but only 3 results in Google!!!).

We could say the same for images:

The notion that "an image is worth 1000 words" is another of the things that, it seems to me, has led us astray. What we want is fewer, better images, ones that will produce more — and more meaningful, and more communicativelanguage from our learners.

Reason #1 to go to conferences and workshops: the little things you scribble down that then go on to make a difference to how and what you teach.