Story Prompts with #eltpics

In April 2010 I attended a talk by Laura Patsko at the IH Prague Conference about storytelling in an adult classroom. This week I finally got round to adapting it to make use of some #eltpics (pictures for teachers by teachers which can be used under a Creative Commons licence) and thought I would share the presentation and the lesson plan with you. Feel free to use it however you like. (My context was an Advanced group, but it could be used with other levels)

I showed them the first slide of the presentation and told them we were going to look at six pictures and talk about the ideas in the word cloud. I copied the cloud onto each picture so that they would have some ideas.

Once they had talked about each picture and I had given them any extra vocabulary they needed, they voted on the most interesting picture. I copied and pasted it onto the final slide, right-clicked on it and chose ‘send to back’. We were revising narrative tenses, used to and would, hence the orange box, but you could change it or delete it entirely.

I told the class to imagine that this picture was an image taken from the midpoint of a film. They were going to create the story of the film. Half of the class worked on the story leading up to the picture, the rest worked on the story after the picture. They were allowed to take a few notes, but could not write out the whole story.

After about fifteen minutes I then reorganised the groups. Each new group had one ‘beginning’ student and one ‘ending’ student. They then had to put their halves together to create one logical complete story.

The final step in the process was for each pair to tell their story to the group. I recorded it using Audacity and emailed it to the students after class. Next week we will focus on their use of narrative tenses, used to and would based on the recordings.

One-to-one variation

I also (unintentionally) taught the same lesson 1-2-1 when only one student turned up from a class of five! We followed the same process, but got through it much faster, finishing all of these steps in about 30 minutes. Once we’d recorded the story, the student then typed out what she had said. We then went through a series of drafts, each time focussing on one or two changes, for example tenses, punctuation and choice of vocabulary. This is the document we produced based on the picture of the two girls at the castle door:

What worked

  • The students found the pictures interesting and were motivated to discuss them.

  • They enjoyed being able to create their own stories.
  • They used their English in a natural way, so it recording their stories really showed the areas which they need to focus on.
  • In the 1-2-1 lesson, the student was given an intensive personalised focus on her errors. She also learned about punctuation in a relevant way, particularly the punctuation of speech (which I personally find can be difficult to teach/learn)
What I should change
  • At the beginning of the lesson I should have introduced the idea of storytelling in more detail. We could have talked about why we like stories and what a good story requires.
  • With more time we could have created more detailed stories, adding in information about the characters, using more adverbs etc.

If you choose to use this lesson (and even if you don’t!) please let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions to improve it.
Enjoy!

Harnessing teen enthusiasm

A couple of weeks ago we were talking about films in my teen class. I asked them to write the names of a few English-language films they knew on the board. The five, normally completely apathetic, teens (2 girls, 3 boys) then proceeded to fill every last centimetre of my 1.5 x 3m board with about 100 film titles.

Since then I’ve been wondering how I can harness this enthusiasm and this language, and haven’t come up with anything, so I thought I’d ask for help.

Conferences: Spreading the Love (an #eltchat summary)

This is a summary of the 9pm BST #eltchat on Twitter from Wednesday 6th April 2011. The topic was:

How can participants at conferences best ensure that what they learn lives on and spreads?

The chat involved people with a large variety of experience regarding conferences, ranging from none at all to serial presenters, as well as conference organisers. It fell nicely into various categories, making summary writing nice and easy!

Why go to conferences?

  • @cerirhiannon: “I find really motivating talks usually lead to experimenting, blogging and eventually presenting”
  • @TyKendall: “He who dares to teach must never cease to learn” John Cotton Dana.
  • @naomishema “I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to last year’s TESOL and it was an eye opening experience which led to blogging and twitter.”
  • @cioccas: “I always feel reenergised after a conference & buzzing with new ideas I want to share with colleagues. Also after every #ELTchat !”
  • @lauraesol: “After a session last year at IATEFL, I found I got so excited about the content I had to repeat it all to friends!”
  • @bcnpaul1: “Last year was my first IATEFL & changed my outlook hugely. Maybe people just need to get the development bug”
  • @ELTmethods: “Conferences are not only about collecting ideas. The social element is vital, too: meeting people with the PD bug”
  • @sandymillin: “Definitely worth it! Motivating, great for networking and fun too (mostly!)”
  • @theteacherjames: “If you benefit, your students benefit, & that makes it worth it. Anything else is a bonus.”
  • @Marisa_C: “Going to a face-to-face conference is very important – recharges human batteries”
  • @springrose12: “If nothing else happens, educators get to meet with each other and share good practice as well as socialize. It’s good to know that you’re not alone and others can help you with difficulties.”
  • Meeting the ‘stars’: @lauraesol “Won’t ever forget John Wells and feeling so much more confident about pronunciation after talking to him.” “Biggest moment was getting Jim Scrivener’s autograph!” / @marekandrews: “@lauraesol I got Jeremy Harmer to sign his book, asked him to write advice for my trainees+showed it to them next time”

How to decide which sessions to attend

  • Think about what is most useful for you and your colleagues
  • Try to find articles, blog entries, videos of talks or tweets from speakers you’re interested in seeing
  • Coordinate with your colleagues to attend different sessions, then share experiences, insights, handouts etc afterwards.
  • Decide whether you want to go to practical sessions, theoretical ones or a mix of both.
  • Take a chance on some less well-known presenters – that’s how they become well-known. Also, they are often in the classroom more regularly so can be more relevant.
  • Prioritise! Try not to get overwhelmed.

What presenters can do to make their presentations memorable

  • Keep it as simple as possible.
  • Get to the point.
  • Include a variety of activities in workshops: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic…
  • Try alternative visual aids: flipcharts are still in!
  • Let participants talk so they don’t get restless.
  • Don’t be afraid of using technology.
  • Be genuine
  • Have something to say
  • Try to make a connection with the audience: engage.
  • Get ‘personal’.
  • Upbeat, but not too up!
  • Listen to your audience.
  • Don’t read aloud from your Powerpoint.
  • Provide handouts (laminated if possible for reading in the bath!), or a link to a blogpost – or one handout, with everything else online so your session can be discussed at lunch
  • If the audience fall asleep, start being controversial
  • Inject a bit of humour and originality
  • Think about what your audience wants and needs to know
  • Chat to some of your audience after you’ve finished to get feedback and learn from them too. Good for shy people too.

What participants can do during a conference

  • Give a workshop at the conferences you attend.
  • Try to go to the conference with other teachers and chat about what you have seen.
  • Try to talk to the presenter and other participants to keep it in your memory.
  • Use Twitter to share your thoughts – those who cannot normally attend conferences are especially grateful for this. You can also use it as a form of note-taking. Consider asking the speaker beforehand and / or only tweeting during Tweeter’s talks. Take a look at the debate on Jeremy Harmer’s blog about whether or not you should tweet.
  • Follow Twitter hashtags during a conference: you might notice something you’ve missed / OR Don’t follow them, you might miss something!

What participants can do after a conference

Find out what works for you: old school or new school. Take a look at some of the ideas below:

  • Tell your colleagues about what you saw. “When I was at…I met… and he/she…”
  • Blog about what you saw, thus prompting further discussion of topics. Conferences even prompted some to start blogging for the first time.
  • Even if you don’t want to blog about the conference, you can make comments on other people’s posts.
  • Type the notes you take, then categorise them into files on your computer, making them easy to retrieve when needed. This also makes it easier to email them to people if you want to share them.
  • Go back to your notes a while later and remind yourself of what you’ve read.
  • Try things out in class as soon as possible so that you don’t forget them.
  • Keep a teaching diary (which could be a blog) to use for post-conference reflections.
  • Watch any post-conference videos and share them with colleagues.
  • Correspond with speakers at conferences to inspire you to make the transition between listening and doing (@naomishema: “Even famous David Crystal answered me!”)
  • Share your knowledge in small groups / during department meetings
  • Follow up on any recommended reading.
  • Follow up on contacts to consolidate connections made. This may lead to forms of cooperation in the future.
  • Set aside a quiet hour to go through what documentaton you have and think through what you got out of the conference.
  • Look at your notes on the way home and decide which ideas to apply next.
  • Keep the conference booklet.
  • Not all ideas may be practical for your classes – be selective.
  • Introduce Twitter and other sharing tools to your colleagues to help them become more digitally aware and to be able to participate in the post-conference sharing.
  • Rely on your memory!

What presenters / conference organisers can do during/after a conference

  • Make a list of seminar participants and their contact details and email them to each other.
  • Ask speakers if they mind being filmed / recorded.
  • Stream sessions online, as ISTEK did. Alternatively, release them online for people to watch (months) later.
  • Provide wifi for attendees to share their impressions.
  • Share materials online. For example, the IH Brno Conference (a one-day one at my school) created a group on Edmodo and gave attendees the code so that they could get any handouts they wanted. Alternatively, put slides online using a tool like Slideshare, a wiki or a blog.
  • Put out a newsletter after the conference with summaries of lectures a couple of months later.
  • Create an informal ‘buddy’ system with your PLN to give feedback on each other’s talks at a conference.

What schools can do after a conference

  • Encourage teachers to give a workshop / CPD session to share what they learnt. Small groups could prepare a demonstration about a topic if a few of them saw the same talks.
  • Ask colleagues to choose ONE topic which deeply affected them each time: demanding to share everything could be too overwhelming.
  • Keep a collective training blog for teachers.
  • Create a wiki with colleagues and link powerpoints or videos plus start a discussion.
  • Record speakers, then create worksheets based on the sessions – have a bank of talks and tasks.
  • Have a staff email list dedicated to post conference sharing.
  • Sponsoring teachers to go to conferences could really boost staff morale.
  • Encourage a culture of sharing in general – this makes it easier for teachers to share after conferences.

Possible problems and solutions

  • Other people in the staffroom are not interested in the conferences you attend.
    Keep sharing – your enthusiasm will hopefully get through to your colleagues eventually! You could also try to spend more time with people who ARE responsive. Teacher development is a mindset.
  • Some conferences are very expensive to attend.
    Try to access the materials in other ways, through videos, Twitter, blogs etc. Sometimes it’s better to bite the bullet – conferences offer you many benefits. If you’re paying for it, go for what you’re interested in. Your teacher development comes first.
  • Speakers often have to pay to present.
    Some people were annoyed about this, but others said that they are presenting for 45 minutes and watching 1-3 days of sessions, so are happy to pay. Dave Dodgson blogged about speakers paying to attend conferences too.
  • Tweeting during conferences (Jeremy Harmer’s blog discussion) could be bad for the presenter. Also, some people complained about the lack of context.
    Many people would still go to see a talk even if they had seen it tweeted.
  • Online conferences don’t match up to a face-to-face environment
    Use Twitter to get some of the socialising / networking side. It’s also better to watch online than not take part at all! Online conferences can also make people more willing to participate.
  • The number of ideas can be overwhelming
    Be selective: just a handful of ideas can make a big difference .

Conferences to look out for

Other links shared

Diary of a beginner: Second Lesson

Alphabet Soup
Alphabet Soup (created using http://www.wordle.net)

I’ve just finished my second lesson with the beginner I’m teaching and blogging about (read the first post to find out more). For homework he had to practise the alphabet using the audio file I had sent him previously.

We started the lesson by using my laminated letters to randomly practise, and he got all but H and Y without a problem. Last week he’d struggled with more than half of the lessons, so it was great to see such a quick improvement – one of the reasons I enjoy lessons with beginners!

Next, I said the numbers 1-20 in a random order for him to write down. When he had trouble I spelled the word and highlighted anything he needed to rememeber. For speaking practice, I then said a number and he had to spell it out loud.

Once we’d consolidated numbers and letters, we moved on to eliciting any and all English words he already knows, designed to be a confidence builder and an evaluation task at the same time. He wrote the alphabet down the side of the page, then wrote any words he could think of. When he had spelling problems, I helped him out.

Through this we got on to talking about the phonetic alphabet, with me attempting to explain in A2/B1-level Czech what it is, how it works and why it’s useful! We got there in the end, and once he’d understood that we talked about whether he wanted to learn it or not. He decided he did, so this week’s homework will be me going through the key consonants which are similar sounds in Czech to start him off. That should give him at least 12 of the sounds straight away. I’ll use the English File symbols and pictures, as I think they’re the most useful version of the phonetic alphabet, using pictures to help you remember the sounds.

Do you teach the phonetic alphabet to students in general? And to beginners in particular?

Tools for the 21st-Century Teacher

This is my take on the tools presented by Niall Creaney during the closing plenary at the PARK Conference in Brno on 2nd April 2011. If you have a problem with any of the links, please let me know in the comments. The tools are:

  1. Twitter
  2. Blogs
  3. Google Reader
  4. Social bookmarking
  5. Glogster
  6. Prezi
  7. Dropbox
  8. Evernote
  9. Quizlet
  10. Wallwisher
  11. TitanPad
  12. Skype
  13. Word clouds

I have also added a bonus tool:

11b. Google Docs

1. Twitter (@sandymillin)

Twitter has opened so many doors since I started using it in October 2010. It’s a micro-blogging site, where you send messages 140-characters long out into the world. For teachers, this means an international community full of support, inspiration and ideas. To find out more about what it’s about and how to get started, take a look at this conference presentation I did about blogs and Twitter for teachers. (Update: I also have a complete introduction to Twitter for Professional Development)

It seems scary at first, but if you keep going back and try to spend an hour or so playing with it at some point, you’ll get the hang of it. For the first couple of months I lurked, which is completed normal (find out more by taking a look at the post on the Online Professional Development survey I did in January 2011, through Twitter of course!) Now I spend a few minutes every day having a quick look at the links, and I always find something to make it worth it: useful, thought-provoking and/or fun.

As well as using it for professional development, many teachers use it with their students. I haven’t tried it myself, but here are some links to people who have:

2. Blogs

I started this blog in October 2010, but nothing much happened on it until I started posting regularly in January 2011. Partly through promoting my blog on Twitter and partly through presenting at conferences and promoting it, my stats look like this:

Apart from giving you a great positive feeling every time you see your stats :), writing a blog is an excellent way to reflect on your teaching. You can use it to share ideas, connect with other teachers, get inspiration and so much more! As with Twitter above, you can find out more about what teachers use it for on my Online Professional Development Survey post, and see how to get started with it in the Whole New World of ELT one.

3. Google Reader

As well as writing your own blog, there are hundreds of other teachers in the blogosphere sharing their ideas. To get you started, take a look at the sites in my blogroll (on the right of this page).

The best way to keep track of the blogs you read is to use a reader, such as Google Reader. Once you’ve signed up (free), you add the links to the blogs you want to follow and the reader does the rest. This is what my page looks like:

This is the first page I see when I go onto the site. In the centre are all the posts that have been added to blogs since I last went on the site. As I read them they automatically disappear from the main page, but I can access them again by clicking on the name of the blog in the bottom left-hand corner. Of course, you can also go back to the original blog address too!

Here are some links to help you get started:

4. Social Bookmarking

So now you’ve had a look at Twitter and blogs and you’ve found loads of great new ideas. How do you keep track of them? The answer is Social Bookmarking. Rather than keeping your links on your computer, where you could easily lose them if anything went wrong, you can use a site like Delicious or Diigo. You can access your bookmarks from any computer, without having to worry about being on the same machine. You can also tag them with as many words as you like, making them easier for you to find again.

This is my page on Diigo:

As you can see, each link is tagged with various key words which I have chosen myself. To find a page again, I have various options:

  • I can search for any word I remember from the title / post using a box in the top right (not shown);
  • I can search for a specific tag by typing it in the box at the top (where it says ‘filter by tags’)
  • I can click on a tag underneath a link
  • I can click on a tag in the menu on the left

This is the little bar which appears in my browser (Safari) whenever I want to add a site to my bookmarks:

You simply click ‘Bookmark’ when on the page you want to share, change any of the options you choose, and hey, presto! it’s added to your bookmarks. You can also upload the bookmarks from your computer straight onto the social bookmarking site to keep them all together.

As for the ‘social’ part of social bookmarking, you can subscribe to other people’s links and be updated whenever they add to them. My Diigo page is here if you’re interested.

Here are some pages to get you started:

5. Glogster

This is the first of the tools which is mainly for students to use. The slogan is ‘Poster Yourself’, and it does what it says on the tin. Here are some examples of work created by 14-year-old boys in the UK: they created glogs about Spanish-speaking celebrities as part of their Spanish studies at secondary school. It is an easy tool for students to use, and the results look impressive quickly. You can include pictures, videos and text, then embed your glog in other sites, such as on a class blog or a school webpage. This one was embedded into a wiki (via @tperran). Students could use it as an alternative to traditional paper-based homework, then email you the link. There is even an option to create a Glogster for Education account, where you can create accounts for your students for free.

Here are some tutorials to start you off:

6. Prezi

Prezi is a web-based alternative to Powerpoint, used to create striking presentations which you can either present online or download to your computer. If you’ve seen my Whole New World of ELT presentation, then you’ve already seen your first prezi. As with Twitter, it looks a little scary at first glance, but once you’ve had a look at some other examples of presentations, followed the tutorial you are given when you first log in to Prezi and played around a little, you’ll soon get the hang of it. One tip: zoom out as far as you can before you start making your presentation if you intend to have a lot of ‘layers’ – the default setting is slightly zoomed in.

You can use it in the classroom too. Here is an example of a presentation made with American primary school students (via @surrealyno). And here are more ideas:

These are the Prezi Learn pages – an excellent guide to get you started.

7. Dropbox

Dropbox is a free online file-sharing site. First download their desktop application, then drag the file you want to share into the folder on your computer. Dropbox will automatically ‘sync’, making your online Dropbox look exactly like the Dropbox folder on your computer and vice-versa (if somebody updates the file online, it will update in your Dropbox too). You can then invite people to see your files and folders. Here is a video tutorial to show you how it works. This is my homepage:

The free account comes with 2GB of space, with an extra 0.25GB added for every person you refer to the site. I have now referred 3 people so I have 2.75GB.

It’s a great way for students to submit work to you as they don’t have to worry about space limits. It’s a lot easier than traditional file-sharing sites in my opinion. I haven’t used it with my students as yet, but it’s been useful for sharing materials with colleagues en masse.

One teacher (lucky enough to have computers for every student!) used Dropbox to synchronise student presentations. To see an excellent summary of everything you ever needed to know about Dropbox, including links to a few lesson plans (mostly primary and secondary), click here.

8. Evernote

This is the first of these tools which I’ve not used myself, so I’ll let them explain themselves to you:

EvernoteIt seems it’s an easy way to take notes on anything and in any way you could possibly imagine: use it to type notes, take screenshots, store photos and much-more – it’s like an online, searchable filing cabinet. It can be accessed from computers and mobile devices. Here is their guide to find out how to get started. I reckon the best thing to do is just go and play, then come back here and let others know what you’ve been doing with it… (Thanks in advance!)

9. Quizlet

This is a customisable flashcard site purposely designed for language learners to use for self-study. It is incredibly easy to use, and you don’t even need to create an account if you already have a facebook one. Once you’ve signed in, there are three big blue buttons to greet you:

You can search for flashcards that have already been created or make your own quickly and easily. Quizlet’s own guide is here. Once you’ve created the set, your students can then look at the flashcards and play two fun games to help them practise the words. This set about vegetables (created by @NikkiFortova) is a good example that you can play with. You can also create groups so that all of your students can see the flashcards you create for them. It’s principally designed for self-study, and the makers recommend allowing students to choose when / if they want to use it.

Update: I have created a complete beginner’s guide to Quizlet.

10. Wallwisher

Wallwisher is one of a variety of online bulletin boards. Others include Primary Wall and Lino-It. All of these tools allow you to post notes, pictures, videos and links on a ‘wall’ which looks similar to a real-world noticeboard. This is the demo screenshot they have on their homepage:

Here is a wall I created for students to post suggestions on how to practise English outside class (unfortunately students didn’t get into it in this class, but I know others who have!) Apart from the example just mentioned, I’ve only added to walls other people have made to send birthday wishes, but there are many other uses for it!

11. TitanPad

This is the only other tool on the list which I have not used myself. TitanPad is designed for online collaboration when creating documents. This is the example they show on their homepage:

As you can see, each collaborator has their own colour, clearly marking who has edited what in the file. You can save versions of the file and export it in various formats. Up to 8 people are allowed to collaborate on each document. The main attraction is that no sign-up is required – you can create a pad directly from the homepage. Unfortunately, it also has some disadvantages, as the pad is public to anyone who has the url. This post explains how it can be useful.

11b. Google Docs (update: now called Google Drive, but still does the same thing!)

If you’ve ever used Microsoft packages, you can use Google Docs without any more effort than simply logging in. You can create documents, spreadsheets and presentations online, as well as professional-looking forms. It looks similar to other offline software, making it very quick to learn if you are already familiar with document etc. software. Here is Google’s tour of their docs function.

As with TitanPad, you can view changes made by other collaborators and the documents are updated in real-time. You can also find out who else is viewing the document at the same time as you. You need to sign in, but don’t have to have a Google account to do this.

Google Docs have myriad uses in the classroom. My students used a document to give me definitions of words and a form to answer reading comprehension questions of an online article during a webquest. Here are some suggestions from other teachers:

12. Skype

Skype is a piece of software which you can download to your computer, then use to make phonecalls to people anywhere in the world. Watch the visual explanation to find out more (they explain it better than I can!):

In March 2011, Skype created an Education section of their website. This enables teachers to set up projects with other schools around the world, as well as finding inspiration for Skype-related projects. Here are 50 suggestions for using Skype, based on real projects which teachers have done. It’s a great way to bring the real world into your classroom.

13. Word clouds

A word cloud of this blogpost so far made using Wordle…
…and the same text entered into Tagxedo

As you can see, word clouds look visually stunning, and encourage students to read and think about what is there. The online software processes the text, making each word appear once in the cloud sized according to how often it appeared in the original text (i.e. the more a word appears in the original text, the bigger it is in the cloud) I won’t go into too much detail here, as I have already blogged and created presentations about word clouds. The posts can be found here, and include links to tutorials for both Wordle and Tagxedo, as well as many ideas on how to use them:

So, that’s it: thirteen (plus one!) tools presented at the PARK Conference, explained in my own words. If you have any more suggestions on how to use the tools, or think I need to make any corrections, feel free to comment on the post. I look forward to hearing what you think!

Enjoy!

25th March 2011: I’ve just discovered that the original plenary session on which I based my list of tools was taken from this page: http://issuu.com/mzimmer557/docs/tools_for_the_21st_century_teacher. You will find more tools and more information there.

Teaching 2.0 in the One-Computer Classroom

This is the post to accompany a talk I gave at the PARK language school conference in Brno, Czech Republic on April 2nd, 2011.

You are welcome to download the presentation, especially if you want to see how the Powerpoint games work (you can’t see this in this version of the presentation). Please credit me as the source if you do this.

All of the links are clickable.

If you would like to know more about how exactly to use any of the things I mentioned in the presentation, please leave me a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Further Reading