Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Posts tagged ‘IH Newcastle’

Why I love working for International House

60 years of IHInternational House (IH) is 60 years old. It was started in Cordoba in 1953, by John and Brita Haycraft, and has since grown to encompass 156 schools in 52 countries at the time of writing. John Haycraft’s biography, Adventures of a Language Traveller, which I’ve just finished reading, is a fascinating insight into where the whole organisation came from and how it grew in its first few decades.

I’m in my sixth year with IH. I spent three years in Brno, Czech Republic, 2 in Newcastle, UK, and am now in Sevastopol, Ukraine. I also did three summer schools in the UK for the same school, although it changed from IH to Kaplan while I worked for them. During my time with the organisation I have been given a huge amount of opportunities, which I don’t believe would have been available to me in quite the same way anywhere else:

Training

  • Support with learning to teach young learners and teens, right from day one of my first summer school, the week after I graduated from university;
  • Post-CELTA training seminars throughout my first year at IH Brno, building on everything we’d covered during the initial CELTA course;
  • The chance to do IH certificates in teaching Business English and Young Learners, as well as the Certificate in Advanced Methodology, through IH Brno;
  • Access to online teacher training via the IH Online Teacher Training Institute, in the form of the IH Certificate in Online Tutoring, as well as a short course on dogme;
  • Financial and moral support to do my Delta, through IH Newcastle.

Presentations and conferences

  • The opportunity to attend, and later to present at, local conferences in Brno and nearby cities, giving me the conference bug;
  • The time to attend conferences in France and in the UK (thanks IH Newcastle!);
  • Regular online conferences and webinars, which I’ve also been able to present at. As I write this, the 60th anniversary conference is taking place;
  • The International House John Haycraft Classroom Exploration scholarship, which gave me the chance to attend IATEFL for the first time – although it didn’t have to go to someone connected to IH, the support of the organisation for potential IATEFL attendees is hugely important.

Building my career

  • Shaun Wilden inspected IH Brno as part of maintaining IH standards, and during a throwaway comment, mentioned the community of teachers on Twitter – a sentence which changed my life!
  • Progressing within the same organisation has helped me go from teacher to Director of Studies (my current position) at the pace I wanted, via other responsibilities on the way;
  • Being given the opportunity to write a column for the IH Journal.

And the rest…

  • Feeling part of a huge, but incredibly friendly and supportive organisation;
  • The chance to move to different countries through the IH transfer system;
  • The focus on training and development which has shaped who I am as a teacher;
  • The high quality of teaching expected from all of us, pushing us to be better and to help our students to the best of our abilities;
  • The affiliation system which means that every school is unique and local, while at the same time meeting the strict IH standards which give you confidence as a teacher, and recourse to complain if you ever need to (which thankfully I haven’t!);
  • Being able to meet people from around the world, both fellow teachers, and particularly my students in Newcastle;
  • The chance to move to a completely new country, and feel welcomed there no matter what happens;
  • The influence of IH on the ELT world in general, from the creation of the CELTA, to the number of past and present IH teachers who have gone on to write coursebooks and materials, run schools, and do all kinds of amazing things. (Side note: When Brita Haycraft was presented with the 2013 Lifetime Achievement award at the British Council’s ELTons awards, Liz Soars asked members of the audience to put their hands up if they’d never had any dealings with IH – from an audience of about 400, nobody’s hand appeared!)

It’s been an amazing experience for me so far, and I’m very proud to be part of such a great organisation. I hope it’s a relationship which continues for many years yet 🙂

Happy 60th birthday International House!(Banners shamelessly stolen from the IH World facebook page)

 

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Writing journals with students

When I was working at IH Newcastle, I taught the same group for 20 hours a week, four hours a day, divided into two two-hour lessons. That’s quite a lot of time with the same group, and yet I sometimes found it difficult to get to know the students with any kind of consistency or depth, especially because there was so much coming and going: new students could arrive Monday morning, Monday afternoon and/or Tuesday morning, and every Friday some students left.

I decided to try an idea I’d first heard about at TESOL France in November 2011: journal writing. By the time I left Newcastle I’d done it successfully with groups at three different levels, with slightly different approaches in each case.

For all three levels, students wrote in small A6 notebooks from the school. I think this is the perfect size, as they’re not too daunting and it’s relatively easy to fill a page. When I introduced the journals for the first time, I asked the students to tell me anything they thought I should know about them. They could also ask me questions, about life in the UK, about English, or about me. I think it’s only fair to give them the chance to ask about me, if I want them to talk about themselves in this way. They had time in class to write their response. I then collected the journals and spent about an hour each day responding to all of them, with some correction (depending on whether I wanted that particular student to focus on accuracy or fluency when writing). As far as possible, my response consisted of answering any questions they’d asked me, then asking further questions as a prompt for the next day’s journal writing. The questions could be linked to things the students had told me, or on a completely new topic. The topics we covered in the journals were incredibly wide-ranging, and differed from student to student. They also informed some of the lessons I taught, by showing me what my students were interested in. Here are some of the things I remember talking about:

  • why the English drink so much
  • why Tesco is so popular
  • the North Korea/South Korea divide
  • the riots in Turkey
  • how to become a state school teacher in Spain
  • films and TV series (a lot!)
  • books
  • places to visit in Newcastle/the UK/the students’ own countries/cities
  • language learning (including advice on how to practise outside class)
  • family
  • homesickness
  • computer games
  • card games/tricks
  • …and much, much more…

When the students left my class and/or the school, I gave them their journals to take away with them.

Pre-Intermediate

This was a group with a lot of Arabic students who were very reluctant to write generally, but who were very willing to write in the journals. I think this is because it was writing with a real purpose, and they could see that I was correcting them. It was also important for them that I was showing an interest in them as individuals, by responding to what they wrote on a personal level. There were non-Arabic students too, and the journals gave me a chance to see everyone’s writing regularly.

With this group, I did the journals at the end of the lesson, which meant we didn’t always do them if an activity ran over. I tried to leave about 20 minutes, with the first 10 being for a regular spelling test, as this was a real problem area. All of the spellings in the test were collected from the journals – I recorded the mistakes in a list in my notebook, which I then put onto Quizlet. Each time we did the journals, I would dictate five spellings for the students to put in the back of their notebook. After the spelling test, they had writing time to respond to my comments and questions and/or continue the conversation in any way they chose. Sometimes I would ask them all to write on a specific topic. Here are some examples of writing they did after my mum visited the class, in which you can see the kind of feedback I gave.

Pre-intermediate student journal sample Pre-intermediate student journal sample Pre-intermediate student journal sample Pre-intermediate student journal sample Pre-intermediate student journal sample

Intermediate

Despite the success of the journals with the pre-intermediate class, I didn’t start using them for a while with the intermediate group – I’m not sure why! When I did, I did a lot less correction with them. We also didn’t do a spelling test as part of the journal writing, although I did collect the spellings and do occasional tests and games with them in class instead. As soon as I started using the journals, the dynamic in the class changed and my rapport with the students really improved as we all got to know each other better. The quiet writing time at the end of most classes was also good for the more introverted students.

Advanced

Again, I didn’t start using the journals straight away, but I did use them for over two months. For the students who wrote them for that whole time, there was a marked improvement in the quality of their writing and in the length of their responses. What was quite noticeable with this group was that they really tried to incorporate new vocabulary and grammatical structures into their journals. Their written comments and questions were also sometimes language-related. For example, after a lesson on collocations with ‘get’, one student told me about all the phrases with ‘get’ he’d heard his host family use the night before.

I finally learnt from my pre-int/int experience and moved journal time to the beginning of the lesson. As students came in I gave them their journals and they started writing straight away. This was a great way to cater for latecomers, and gave the students the chance to write for as long as they needed to (normally 15-20 minutes) instead of being rushed by the end of the lesson approaching/arriving. While the students were writing, I would normally have a conversation with one or two of the students in a kind of mini tutorial. At this level I underlined problems/mistakes but didn’t correct them, so they had to ask me if they didn’t understand what the problem was. I could also use this time to talk about other areas to work on, unrelated to the journals, and to provide some intensive, targeted practice.

This was the class I was teaching when I left Newcastle, and in my final lesson with them I asked for some feedback on the journal writing process. I asked them:

  1. What did you think about writing the journals?
  2. Do you think writing the journals helped you?
  3. How could I improve this activity?

These are their exact responses:

J

In my opinion, it’s a very good idea to get them pupils to write.

It’s more interesting than other writing exercises, because it implies a conversation (between teacher and student).

In all my other classes I barely wrote. That’s not very good because it’s one of my sticking points in English and therefore it was the perfect exercise for me.

This student had been a bit frustrating for me, as I couldn’t seem to get through to him. Writing the journal improved my rapport with him, and gave us things to talk about. It also really focussed on his weak point, which was writing as he said. I was pleasantly surprised by his feedback.

K

The journals are a good way to test student’s writing and get to know them, so I think it is very useful.

R

What did you think about writing the journals?

It was a good experience. We tried to use the vocabulary we learned before so it was a good way to practise. It’s also interesting because we wrote about thing we like.

How could I improve it?

I have no idea.

L

1. I really liked writing the journal because it’s a way of knowing each other better and practicing my writing. It’s an interesting thing and I enjoyed doing it. The good thing is that now I’ve something to remember you!

2. As I said before I honestly think that it really helped me, because you corrected my mistakes and I hope I won’t make them again.

3. I’d say that you don’t need to improve it. It’s great the way it is!! It doesn’t need an improvement.

(As you see, I’ve used different ways of expressing my opinion) (something we’d practised in class that week!)

N

I’ve never done it before. For starters I was surprised, but got used to it.

– make language problems obvious. Sometimes I haven’t been aware of this à good to know so that I can work on it.

– Go ahead with these journals, a piece of individual teaching in a large group!!

– Definitely!

– Nothing to complain about J

T

1. Very positive. Please go on with it. I think it’s positive to learn about your students. You can immediately evaluate them for their writing skill. For the students is good to write about their daily life.

2. For me it was helpful. Actually I know my weak point and I will try to improve it.

3. The booklet should be bigger. Nothing else to add.

Your turn

As you can see, the journals made a real difference with these groups, and as one of the students said, allowed me to provide ‘a piece of individual teaching in a large group’. Although they probably took an hour or so of my time each day to check, the pay-off in terms of the improved rapport and needs analysis were worth it. When you’re teaching the same group all the time, you don’t necessarily need to do the journals every day, but it’s a good routine to get into (and provides 20 minutes of ready-planned lesson each time!)

I haven’t tried this with my groups in Sevastopol yet, but now that I’ve written this post, maybe I will. I could introduce it, with them making the first entry in class, then give the students the chance to write their journals at home if they want to continue with it. Hmm…

Another post you might be interested in: Writing and Marking

Leaving Newcastle

I arrived at International House Newcastle in July 2011, just in time for the school’s busiest week of the year, closely followed, in my second week there, by it’s busiest week of the year again! 10 days before I’d still been in Brno, where I had been working for three years, so it was a bit of shock to the system. Right from the start, however, I loved the variety and freedom I had in the classes, and I liked the concept and potential of the school’s Personal Study Programme (PSP).

My first IH Newcastle class

My first IH Newcastle class

Because it is in the UK, IH Newcastle works on a principle of continuous enrolment, with new students arriving every Monday, and some students leaving every Friday. This took me a while to get used to, and I did sometimes get frustrated with the demands it placed on me to try and keep all of the students happy, especially in the beginner and elementary classes I taught. For example, you might have five beginners who are just about confident enough to start looking at past simple, and a new student will join with no English at all. It was much easier to manage the constant turnover of students with higher-level classes, especially as you can discuss the problem with them.

Each teacher normally has the same group for 20 hours a week, divided into two 2-hour classes a day. Generally, you stay with the same level for a few weeks, and often as much as three months. This means you get to know the students really well, especially those who are at the school long-term – some stay for over a year.

During my time at the school I taught three advanced groups, and one each of beginner, elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper intermediate, as well as an FCE/upper-intermediate group and (briefly) a business class. All this was over two years, so you can get a sense of how long you stay with the same group. There are a maximum of 12 students in the group in any one lesson, with some morning-/afternoon-only students, so I had relatively few students at any one time. However, I had 40 or more students in total over the three months I taught my final C1 class for example. I used Edmodo to help me keep track of all of them, and to share extra resources and set homework. This really helped me create rapport with the students too.

I taught students from a huge range of countries (over 40!). Hopefully I’ve got them all here – you can click to make the image larger (apologies if I missed any!):

Nationalities I taught at IH Newcastle

One of the best things about the school is seeing how the students all (seem to) get on, regardless of the countries they were from and the history/politics between them. I believe this is one way to achieve peace in the world – to take people out of their natural habitats and throw them in together with others from all over the world. When you realise that people are people like you, wherever you’re from, it’s harder to want to fight them.

I particularly learnt a lot about the Middle East from my students. Before I went to IH Newcastle, I had met very few people from the area and had had almost no in-depth conversations about it. While at the school I taught students from almost all of the countries in the area, and learnt a lot about how diverse it is. Before that, I had had the typical ‘They’re all the same’ idea about it, and while I knew that wasn’t true, it was difficult to find out more. Through talking to the students, and listening to them explain the similarities and differences between their cultures, I found out so much. I also have first-hand experience of teaching women with covered faces, which some people may consider difficult. While it was a little strange to begin with, I soon got used to it, and I learnt that, far from being oppressed by their male relatives (who we often taught too), these women were some of the toughest and most outspoken I had ever met. It was also very good for other students, particularly those from countries like France, where there are restrictions on clothing, to work with these women. If I didn’t know it before, I certainly know now that the clothes do not make the (wo)man.

My last IH Newcastle class

My last IH Newcastle class

Overall, my time in Newcastle has taught me a lot, and I will miss being at the school. There are a few more blog posts to come about some of the things I did but haven’t yet had time to write about. So on to pastures new: I’m now preparing for a new adventure in Sevastopol in Ukraine, where I will be working as a teacher and Director of Studies at International House. Watch this space…

Questions students have

About two months ago, my intermediate class put together a video to help students coming to International House Newcastle, by answering some of the questions they thought new students might have. This was the result:

To get to the final product, this is what happened:

  • The students talked to each other about what questions they had before they came to the school and in the first couple of weeks, as well as how they tried to find out the answers.
  • They wrote their questions on small pieces of paper – one question per piece of paper – and stuck them to two whiteboards.
  • I divided the class in half. Each group had one whiteboard. They had to divide the questions into categories of their own choosing.
  • They then compared the categories they had with the other group, merged any which were the same, and moved round any which were different.
  • This resulted, quite conveniently, in 5 categories, which was exactly how many pairs there were.
  • With their partner, students selected the most important/interesting questions from their category, so that they had 3-4 questions per pair.
  • They came up with possible answers themselves, supplemented with information from the internet and from me. They decided how they would turn their questions/answers into video form.
  • The pairs took turns going into an empty classroom with my digital camera and mini tripod to make their section of the video. After each, we transferred it to my computer so I could start editing while the next pair filmed.
  • By the end of a two-hour lesson every pair had finished filming. As each pair finished, they came and told me what they wanted me to do in terms of the editing. They also found any pictures that they wanted to add to the video.
  • At home, I spent quite a few hours editing the video, then sent it to my students for approval and to see if there was anything else that needed changing. I made the necessary changes and then reuploaded it to vimeo, which I think is a lot better than YouTube for things like this because it feels more intuitive, and the advertising is more subtle.
  • Hopefully it will appear on the school website somewhere soon 😉

International House Newcastle Personal Study Programme (IATEFL 2013 presentation)

My presentation for IATEFL Liverpool 2013 is an introduction to the Personal Study Programme (PSP) which we run at IH Newcastle. It was part of the Learner Autonomy SIG day.

If you couldn’t be there, or you want to relive it, here is a recorded version:

You can also read about PSP on the IH Newcastle website.

Feel free to leave me a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

Note: thank you to Amy Brown for helping me to put the presentation together.

Update:
A few bloggers have very kindly responded to my presentation. I will post the links here if you are interested. Please let me know if I have missed any:

Why I chose…

…Asuncion, Paraguay

I spent the third year of my degree doing a British Council assistantship. Normally language assistants go to a primary or secondary school and work with teachers to supplement the English programmes at the school. In my case, and that of the other three students who were on the same programme as me, I went to the Angloin Asuncion, a private language school, where I got my first real taste of the job I do now.

Asuncion railway station

Asuncion's now defunct railway station

During the application process we had to choose three countries where we wanted to work as assistants. At that time, I had no idea what the differences were between different countries in South America, since my only connection with the continent was the three or four lecturers who had taught me during my degree course. With only 14 months of four contact hours a week under my belt, I was so focussed on the language that I hadn’t really thought that much about the culture(s). All I knew was that I was desperate to explore a whole new continent – what was the point of spending a year in Spain when I could go there at the drop of a hat from England?

Unfortunately, there was no box on the form for ‘Just send me to South America please!’ and I had to narrow it down somehow. One of my modules at university had looked at minority languages in Spain and South America, and I knew that Quechua in Peru and Guarani in Paraguay were still quite strong. The next job was to decide which to put as my first choice. In the end, the fact that the application said ‘Assistants in Paraguay normally share a flat with the other British Council assistants’ decided it, and I put Peru first and Paraguay second. For my third country I chose Chile, for the completely frivolous reason that it was long and thin and I wondered what being in a country like that would be like!

Paraguay doesn’t have a British Council office, so those of us placed there perhaps have to be a bit more independent than our fellow assistants in other countries. During my interview, I spoke about my experiences in Malaysia, and I’m pretty sure this is what got me sent to Paraguay rather than Peru. I really didn’t mind this, as it gave me the chance to spend a fascinating year exploring South America, and I can’t think of any other reason I would have gone to Paraguay without the assistantship. I still miss it, and I hope to go back at some point soon.

Asuncion

Asuncion from the 13th floor

…Brno, Czech Republic

One of my favourite buildings in Brno

One of my favourite buildings in Brno

My first three years of full-time teaching, immediately after graduating, were in Brno in the Czech Republic. I had studied French, German and Spanish at university, and had spent time living in South America, France and Germany since leaving school. I was eager to visit a new country and learn a new language, but I wanted to stay in Europe to be able to go back to the UK at Christmas (I had spent Christmas Eve with friends, but Christmas Day alone in Paraguay).

I did my CELTA part-time during my final year at university, and pretty much from day one of the course in October I was thinking about where to go next. For a while I thought about Thessaloniki in Greece, then Trieste in Italy (for no other reasons than that they were near the sea and land borders and I didn’t speak the languages there), but I really wanted to work for International House, and neither of those cities had IH schools.

When the IH recruitment list was released I had no idea which jobs to apply for, so I spoke to my CELTA tutors and they suggested I look at Central Europe as they said it would be good for development. I immediately went home and applied for four schools, with no particular preference. A couple of days later I was asked to say which was my first choice, and as with South America I had no idea! Brno was my second choice again, since my first-choice school offered the chance to do a Young Learners Certificate. However, the first-choice posts were already all taken, so I was sent to Brno. This resulted in three of the best years of my life, which I summarised in this video.

Brno from my flat

Brno from the flat I was lucky enough to live in for 18 months

…Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK

The bridges of the River Tyne

The bridges of the River Tyne

I applied for Durham University without really knowing anything about the north-east of my country at all (the furthest north I had previously been was York). A careers adviser at school suggested I apply there, and I have him to thank for ending up at the perfect university 🙂 When I arrived on my open day, I immediately fell in love with the city, and over the four years of my degree I came to love the north-east of England too.

When I decided to apply to become an London 2012 volunteer, I knew that it would be much easier to go through the application and eventual training (if I got, which I’m very happy to say I did!) from a base in the UK, and it took very little thought at all to settle on applying to IH Newcastle, where I was lucky enough to get a job. It’s great to be back in the north-east, and to revisit and discover so many places I love visiting.

View of Newcastle from the castle which was new

View of Newcastle from the castle which was new (in 1080)

And my next destination?

Who knows? I’ve spent the last month or so trying to decide where I want to go in September after the Paralympics have finished, and although (like Greece and Italy before) I’ve had various countries in my head, I actually have no idea. This is very exciting, because I really could go anywhere – I fully intend to take advantage of not having any ties – but also a little scary, because I have no idea where I’ll be in eight months time. All I do know is that I’d like to do my DELTA in the next academic year, and that if possible I’d like to learn a new language. Oh, and that I don’t like snow 😉

And now, it’s time for the news

This post has been a very long time coming. Back in July, my students spend a week on a news project. Every afternoon they worked in groups with the aim of producing a news bulletin to ‘broadcast’ on Friday afternoon. We did some brainstorming based on what was in the news on Monday, and after that they went their own ways. These were the results, and I think you’ll agree, they’re excellent!


I particularly like the weather at the end of this one.


I don’t know how they kept a straight face!


After a five minute tutorial on how to use iMovie, this was the result.

Well done guys, and sorry it took me so long to publish them!

The £100 challenge

This was something I did a few weeks back with a group of Elementary students. It could probably be adapted for your students without too much trouble.

We spent a couple of days talking about types of shop and what you could buy from them. I then gave them a time limit and sent them off into the local shopping centre in pairs. They had to decide what they would spend their £100 on and take photos of each item. The pair who got closest to £100 and had the best reasons for their purchases were the winners, as decided by the other students in the group. They really enjoyed it and I hope your students do too 🙂

To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.

Twitter for Professional Development

Today I’m doing another introduction to the world of Twitter and blogs, this time for students following the DELTA at IH Newcastle. For those of you who follow my blog, you’ll know that I’ve done a few of these now, and I’m trying to refine the presentation to make it as useful as possible. This time I decided to create a post, then talk teachers through everything referring back to the post so that they can see where to find the information again (while attempting to avoid Death by Blogpost). All feedback appreciated!

P.S. Even if you’re not interested in joining Twitter, scroll down to ‘How do I remember all this stuff?’ to find a couple of other tools you might find useful.

How do I find out about what I’m interested in?

The amount of information available on Twitter can be a bit overwhelming. To help find the most interesting information for you, people create clickable hashtags, such as #efl, #elt or #learnenglish. Some of the most useful ones for EFL teachers are:

  • general: #efl, #elt, #esl, #esol, #tefl, #tesol
  • teaching associations: #IATEFL – International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, #TESOLFr – TESOL France
  • IATEFL Special Interest Groups (SIGs): #yltsig – young learners, #besig – business English
  • conference hashtags: these change depending on the time of year / day, for example #IATEFL11, #LABCI – Latin American British Cultural Institutes
  • my two favourites:
    #eltchat: weekly conversations based on various ELT topics chosen by us (that includes you if you join Twitter!) They happen at 12pm and 9pm GMT every Wednesday, and the hashtag has just celebrated it’s first birthday. I’ve written summaries on chats about Homework, Encouraging Teens to Talk, Literature in EFL, Writing Your Own Materials and Spreading What You Learn At Conferences.
    #eltpics: a hashtag for teachers to share their pictures. All images are added to a Flickr account, where they then become available for teachers anywhere to use in their classrooms under a Creative Commons license (where you only have to say who took the picture, without worrying about getting permission) Disclaimer: I am one of the curators of #eltpics, and am very proud of what we’ve managed to achieve so far (nearly 5000 pictures!)

Go to Tweetchat and type in a hashtag you’re interested in to find out what kind of information is being shared at the moment.

What are all of these strange symbols?

Anatomy of a tweet

Looks interesting. How do I join in?

Watch Russell Stannard‘s excellent step-by-step introduction to Twitter and follow his instructions. If you have any problems, feel free to leave a comment here and I’ll do my best to help you out!

There are so many people on Twitter. How can I find out who is worth following?

Well, clearly the first person you should be following is me 😉 After that there are a few other things you can do:

  • Look at the list of people I’m following, and choose a few who look interesting to you.
  • Use the search function to look for ELT people you may have heard of. For example Jeremy Harmer, Scott Thornbury and Jim Scrivener are all on Twitter.
  • Choose some of the people from Barbara Sakamoto‘s Starter PLN list. (‘PLN’ stands for Professional/Personal/Passionate Learning Network, and it something you’ll often see)
  • Don’t worry about following everybody immediately. There’s no rush, and you’ll soon start to work who it is useful to follow. If you walked into a staffroom, you wouldn’t try to talk to everyone on your first day, and Twitter is just the same.
  • Don’t feel obligated to follow everyone who follows you – it’s up to you who you choose to follow!

There’s so much stuff here. What if I miss something?

The answer to this is: don’t worry! If something is worth reading, it will be retweeted so many times that you’ll see it. To come back to the staffroom analogy – you don’t try to look at every coursebook and resource book on your first day at a new school. You’ll find the good stuff eventually, and the same is true of Twitter. Don’t be afraid to miss a few days or to lurk for a while before you start tweeting. In fact, as a survey I did a few months ago showed, almost everybody lurks before they dive in:

Graph showing length of time people lurk on Twitter for before joining in

I don’t have time for all of this!

You can use Twitter for as much or as little time as you like. Nobody will complain if you take a holiday for a few days – we all lead busy lives, and Twitter is just one part of them. Many people in the teaching community have family commitments and busy working lives. Even dropping in for a couple of minutes every few days will show you something useful, so don’t worry if you don’t have hours free each week!

Right, now that’s cleared up I’m ready to say something.

  • You have 140 characters. If you can text, you can tweet!
  • Talk about anything you think is interesting – don’t worry about what other people might think (within reason!)
  • Use URL shorteners like bit.ly to give you more characters to play with. (Some Twitter applications shorten links automatically)
  • Don’t forget to include hashtags if you’re sharing information. This will help people to notice what you’re saying.

Nobody’s listening to me!

It takes time to build up a following. Just keep talking, and somebody will listen to you. And don’t worry if you think you have nothing to say – we all have to start somewhere. As you use Twitter more and more, you’ll get the hang of what people are interested in. If you would say it in a staffroom (including the fun stuff!), you can say it here.

Fair enough. How can I make this all a little bit easier?

Download a free piece of software to organise your Twitter. My favourite is Tweetdeck. It allows me to organise everything on Twitter in one easy programme, so that I can see hashtags I’m interested in, tweets which mention me (@sandymillin) and private messages without having to click around the Twitter website. You can even follow multiple accounts at the same time (I have a private account where I follow celebrities like Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry). This is what it looks like:

Tweetdeck screenshotTeacher Training Videos has a step-by-step guide to setting it all up.

How do I remember all this stuff?

Do you have hundreds of bookmarks on your computer? What would happen if it died one day and you lost them all? Six months ago I started using diigo, an online bookmarking service, and I haven’t looked back (end of advert!) Without diigo, I would really be lost – as of today I have 1203 bookmarks, with a few more added each day. You can click here to see them all. Here are three links I have added today:

diigoAs you can see, every time I add a bookmark to diigo I use as many tags as possible to help me refind the links I need. Then all I need to do is click on one of the tags to find everything under that heading. I can even refine the search by clicking on more than one tag. For example, searching for speaking gives me 71 links, and refining the search by clicking lesson plan reduces that to 7 links, from which I should be able to find what I’m looking for.

One of my tags is DELTA, to which I add anything I think might be useful to those who are studying for this certificate. Feel free to raid the list for yourself.

Watch this video to find out how it all works.

What if I want to read/write more than 140 characters?

Blogs! You’re already reading my blog now. I use it to share materials I’ve created, information from seminars like this one and anything else I think might be interested to the EFL world in general. I then tweet links so that people know what I’ve written.

Here’s a list of blogs which I think might be interesting/useful to those studying DELTA (please let me know if you think there’s anything missing). You can also check out my blogroll, the list of (some of) the blogs I follow, found on the right of this page.

I use Google Reader to keep all of my blogs organised. It’s easy to set up, especially if you already have a Google account. Watch this video to find out how.

Google reader

As you can see, I’ve been super-efficient recently and only have 6 blogposts to read at the moment (30-40 is much more normal!) As I read each post, Google Reader automatically deletes them so that I can clearly see what is unread.

Those of us who write blogs welcome comments from the readers so that we know what you’re thinking. The comments section of a blog is often a place of discussion and analysis, allowing you to go into more depth. Once you’ve commented on a few blogs, you should start feeling confident enough to start your own blog. If you need help with that, let me know.

Have you finished yet?

I hope so! If you have any problems or would like any help, please let me know by commenting here. I look forward to seeing you on Twitter or reading your blog in the near future. There’s only one thing it remains for me to say:

Welcome to our community!

P.S. From Twitter…

During the seminar I asked my followers to tweet useful links/people/blogs to start new Tweeters off. These were their responses:

  • @Marie_Sanako: Hi Sandy, currently in Manchester UK, and I wd recommend Linoit or Wallwisher, and @SeanBanville ‘s resources for starters!
  • @SueAnnan: Good morning Sandy and Deltees. I’m in Jersey and my site is bit.ly/u9mj4 . You will find everything you need there.
  • @katemillin: Dudley. Any library website is useful
  • @cerirhiannon: Hi @sandymillin 🙂 tweeting from Cádiz, Spain – I don’t know if this is cheating but my recommendations are 2 hashtags #eltchat & #eltpics
  • @aClilToClimb: 0900! I’m tweeting frm Sunny Canaries. My fave site is my own, naturally 😉 Thr’s a pg of ext links: bit.ly/dEZP90 Anothr fave is anothr blog of mine 😉 It’s a blog roll: bit.ly/qKkzL9
  • @shaunwilden: It’s 8am GMT so Good Morning Sandy I am in Oxford and it’s a gloriously sunny day
  • @MotherChina: @sandymillin <hello from Taiwan!
  • @KalinagoEnglish: Hey Sandy’s folks @sandymillin Check out Sue Lyon Jones @esolcourses and Sean Banville @SeanBanville + their websites. Oh, forgot to say – I’m Karenne in Manchester doing MA EdTech+TESOL
  • @mgraffin: Hi from Perth, Western Australia. I’m the Project Coordinator for (http://theglobalclassroomproject.wordpress.com/) and blog @ mgraffin.edublogs.com

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