Sound and Vision

USING MUSIC VIDEOS IN THE EFL CLASS

This is a post I was looking forward to writing because it is about an activity I do in class which combines music, one of my greatest passions, and videos. So, you can be sure, that day I’m as happy as a lark.

I have always been very interested in the language of music videos and how the performance and footage convey what seems to be described in the song. Most clips have a clear advertising focus, so there is a lot of “star factor” involved to make the artist reach the consumer more easily. But still, pop/rock culture has been the cradle for iconic music videos with enormous aesthetic value.

In my view, music videos can make very good material for an EFL class because:

  • They resemble short films in terms of length. They are typically from 3 to 5 minutes long.
  • There is a great diverstiy of themes that go from a typical love story to relevant social issues today.
  • There are two types of media texts in videos that can be of particular interest in an EFL class (1) Narrative. You can easily spot a main character, often played by the star, who is developping part of the storyline. (2) Conceptual. These clips are often very interesting too, as they are based on metaphors and give place to multiple meanings.

SOUND AND VISION – PROBLEM SOLVING GAME

I suggest using clips to create a problem-solving game, which combines the many advantages of jigsaw or information gap activities. I find really it very engaging, it usually works well and it is not too time-consuming to prepare. Level: Intermediate and above.

Bring an odd number of music videos to class -in my experience, a good number is 5. I recommend choosing clips from independent musicians, and drive away from mainstream music as students are likely to be familiar with them. You can spot great music on soundcloud or follow scoop-it accounts, or suscribe to YouTube channels.

Students work in pairs. One is the viewer and the other one is the listener.

STAGE 1 Viewers and listeners work separately

Viewers

They watch 5 videos, or extracts (A, B, C, D, E) without sound.  What story was being told? What was happening? Is there any character? Where are the musicians? Are they playing any role? What is the dominant atmosphere?

Language focus could be set on:

  • verb tenses and adverbials for sequencing actions
  • useful phrases and vocabulary for describing people or places
  • describing emotions.

Listeners

They will listen to 4 songs, or extracts (1, 2, 3, 4)  but in a different order. Theirs is the most demanding part, as it requires comprehension. But they should also pay attention to the mood and what feelings it inspires apart from

  • key words or phrases
  • general meaning.

STAGE 2 Viewers and listeners work together

Students are paired up again and have to complete a grid trying to match which video (A, B, C, D, E) matches the lyrics (1, 2, 3, 4). They work together towards completing the task sharing the information they have.

What I like most about this kind of activity is that however challenging it is, students are usually task-oriented so fluency usually benefits.

I like eliciting some words to each group for them to teach their partner and also give them enough feedback after they have watched and listened so they feel more comfortable in the speaking task that follows. I would also narrow some of the language they can use and remind them of the grammar or lexical focus of the activity -if there is any-. The activity works well anyway for improving fluency and negotiation language.

Somehow they teach each other, and subsequently learn from each other. I find language sticks more in a context like this one. I have used the same approach with film trailers, although that variation is more suitable for level B2 and above.

What do you think of the videos on this post?

 

FUTURE CHALLENGE

I intend to carry out the same task in the future, but asking a pair of students to choose the songs and prepare the activity themselves for the rest of the class -they would manage and organize the task.

When I create the blogging community in class music is topic that they could write about and share, maybe having our own youtube channel, too.

 

 

 

Optical illusions. Open your eyes and see?

Problem-solving activities and games always work incredibly well in class. Students concentrate on finding a solution, so it is not only a purely linguistic outcome what is expected. I know there is nothing new about using games in the EFL classroom, after all, they are one of the traditional activities of a communicative language teaching environment. But with the interactive whiteboard we can expand the way we traditionally “play” in class. And I like that.

I love optical illusions and mind tricks, so whenever I have the occasion I will inevitably bring them to the classroom.

There are many websites that display scores of optical illusions to use. I often choose a few and ask the groups to work out what is going on. They usually turn out to be very engaging activities because students really need to struggle and challenge their senses to find out the answers.

I recently tried other alternatives to the traditional optical illusions. I bring to class examples of street art like the spectacular works by Jamie Harkins, or Pejac, who create 3D images on streets and walls and make the fine line between real life and fantasy really difficult to make out.

I show their works on the IWB and use tools for zooming or hiding certain areas of the artwork  to get the students predict what the “big picture” will be.

I recommend having a classroom pinterest account for pinning these artworks and optical illusions -the same account can be used for infographics, too.

Lots of fun and laughter guaranteed. The whiteboard offers many possibilities because it can easily break down the limits of space and promote trying alternative ways of playing and managing groups. If you ever try, please let me know how it worked.

Motivating perfect language learning

There is a visual that I like to share with my students hoping it might make them reflect on the benefits of becoming autonomous learners. So, I shared it on my classroom blog One Click Closer. I’m not sure it sparked any interest at all, I know a simple visual will probably make no difference -if I ever come across a life-changing visual I will let you know.

However, whenever I see it myself I wonder that if my students became perfect language learners by following these or other tips and managed to step out of their cocoons, then what is left for me to do as a  teacher? I mean the taditional, classroom teacher. Just open the door and smile?

This idea has been going on in my head for some time now. In fact, I am very interested in any research that can prove anything on how language learning can happen online, for instance. After all, with web tools and connection students can take learner autonomy to a whole new level. So, I recently followed an experiment on The Guardian Can I learn a language online? and was relieved to read how Alan Haburchak concluded that he needed real people to help him learn the language. Not that it surprised me that much. I think language learning can happen more effectively with people and when it is supported by teachers.

But knowing surely can’t be enough. My role as a teacher definitely has to transform somehow. I can’t rely on being a content and tool provider when content can be found anywhere -Google, if you are seeking immediacy- and tools and resources…well, there are hundreds.

I came up with this idea for me to understand what precise actions can be more helpful in the classroom for my students given this new situation. Whenever I come across a visual or a set of tips for language learners I stop to think what my role is in order to support my students to become perfect learners.

Here is an example taken from the visual Are you the perfect language learner?  The secret of making the most progress is that learners are supposed to:

1. Learn every day.

2. Be motivated.

3. Record new vocabulary.

4. Read, read, read

5. Be brave

6. Use technology

What am I supposed to do as their teacher?

Motivation will strengthen if the learner enjoys what they are reading about or listening to. Also, in the case of adults the idea of usefulness is key. There has been much said about how to keep students motivated in class and outside. And I agree that choosing the right materials and focusing topics in certain ways can help. But still, if it is only the teacher who has the ultimate decision as to what to bring to class, and a curriculum and its tests determines the topics and their sequence, keeping students motivated is far from easy. So, it would be a good idea to help students “customize” their own learning experience, so that learning every day is not felt as a drag and could go on even after the course has finished.

Maybe if they had their own PLN  they’d have the chance to create a learning network based on their own interests and even learning needs. Reading and trying to engage in communication in the target language with other learners with similar interests is easier when aided by technology. Being a curator myself, rather than a content provider, could make it easier for everyone in class to ease our way through the web 2.0 jungle; we could even end up helping and informing each-other.

There are plenty online tools to help students with vocabulary, and many others that are incredibly useful like quizlet to prepare activities for class or share on our LMS.

Be brave? I think the idea is rather to help them feel comfortable with the mistakes they make so as to learn from them.

I don’t know any EFL teacher who has helped learners create their own personal learning network, so I would really appreciate your comments and insights on this.

 

 

Some Fun with the Interactive Whiteboard

origin_75288585If I had to pick one of my favourite tools for the EFL class I would definitely choose the interactive whiteboard, and not only because I am feeling much better since there is no chalk around. No more sneezing my way to the end the class!

I confess I don’t always use it to its full potential, and most times I just end up using the software we have available, which is really practical as it is. It is of great help to focus on specific content and incredibly eye-catching for students. But whenever I have some time I really enjoy exploring the additional resources it has to create activities to get the students stand, play and use their senses to explore the language we don’t always have the chance to.

These two activities are thought for the whole class to do together as a group, but there may be other ways of managing the students to do the same.

#1  The Body Language Challenge

One or two students stand in front of the class with their backs to the IWB, which shows pictures of  people with a specific body posture or gesture. The students who can see the image have to interpret their body language and use English to express any of the following:

  • what the person might be thinking (a great excuse to practise modals of deduction and speculation).
  • describing how the person might be feeling.
  • report what the person is saying.

While the class are describing,  the “actors” represent with their own body language what their partners are trying to express. Not without an extra challenge. The actors can’t use any kind verbal communication, so the rest have to try hard to get their message through by decribing body parts, correcting, requesting or giving examples. Amazingly, it doesn’t take too long for them to come up with the exact body posture or gesture.

Although the most passive and shy students might be unwilling to stand in front of the class and start posing, but they eventually may want to give it a try after seeing how it works.

This body language challenge has usually turned out to be fun and a great activity for practising oral skills and learning or consolidating functional language or certin grammar structures.

Interactive drag and drop or matching activities could follow or precede the activity to consolidate the lexis or grammar.

#2   Optical Illusions: Open your Eyes and See?

Problem-solving activities and games always work incredibly well in class. Students concentrate on finding a solution, so it is not only a purely linguistic outcome what is expected. I know there is nothing new about using games in the EFL classroom, after all, they are one of the traditional activities of a communicative language teaching environment. But with the interactive whiteboard we can expand the way we traditionally “play” in class. And I like that.

I love optical illusions and mind tricks, so whenever I have the occasion I will inevitably bring them to the classroom.

There are many websites that display scores of optical illusions to use. I often choose a few and ask the groups to work out what is going on. They usually turn out to be  very engaging activities because students really need to struggle and challenge their senses to find out the answers.

I recently tried other alternatives to the traditional optical illusions. I bring to class examples of street art like the spectacular works by Jamie Harkins, or Pejac, who create 3D images on streets and walls and make the fine line between real life and fantasy really difficult to make out.

I show their works on the IWB and use tools for zooming or hiding certain areas of the artwork  to get the students predict what the “big picture” will be.

I recommend having a classroom pinterest account for pinning these artworks and optical illusions -the same account can be used for infographics, too.

Lots of fun and laughter guaranteed. The whiteboard offers many possibilities because it can easily break down the limits of space and promote trying alternative ways of playing and managing groups. If you ever try, please let me know how it worked.

 

photo credit: Tim Morgan via photopin cc

The body language challenge

If I had to pick one of my favourite tools for the EFL class I would definitely choose the interactive whiteboard, and not only because I am feeling much better since there is no chalk around. No more sneezing my way to the end the class!

I confess I don’t always use it to its full potential, and most times I just end up using the software we have available, which is really practical as it is. It is of great help to focus on specific content and incredibly eye-catching for students. But whenever I have some time I really enjoy exploring the additional resources it has to create activities to get the students stand, play and use their senses to explore the language we don’t always have the chance to.

The Body Language Challenge was thought for the whole class to do together as a group, but there may be other ways of managing the students to do the same.

How it works

One or two students stand in front of the class with their backs to the IWB, which shows pictures of  people with a specific body posture or gesture. The students who can see the image have to interpret their body language and use English to express any of the following:

  • what the person might be thinking (a great excuse to practise modals of deduction and speculation).
  • describing how the person might be feeling.
  • report what the person is saying.

While the class are describing,  the “actors” represent with their own body language what their partners are trying to express. Not without an extra challenge. The actors can’t use any kind verbal communication, so the rest have to try hard to get their message through by decribing body parts, correcting, requesting or giving examples. Amazingly, it doesn’t take too long for them to come up with the exact body posture or gesture.

Although the most passive and shy students might be unwilling to stand in front of the class and start posing, they eventually may want to give it a try after seeing how it works.

This body language challenge has usually turned out to be fun and a great activity for practising oral skills and learning or consolidating functional language or certin grammar structures.

Variations

Interactive drag and drop or matching activities on the board could follow or precede the activity to consolidate the lexis or grammar.

Comparing body language in different cultures.

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Using Infographics in the EFL classroom.

Infographics have become one of the most effective ways to deliver facts and statistics to readers. They are visually very carefully designed to represent complex information very quickly, and that’s probably why social media is full of them.

There are online sites that offer free tools to create them yourself and, as fas as I can see, they are becoming more and more popular among teachers who see in this new form of visual representation a fantastic way to promote critical and creative thinking. Learners have the chance to represent information and create connections between ideas, just as they would do with graphs or mind maps. So, I understand why they should be playing a relevant role in classrooms nowadays. Go to Infographics in the classroom to find some ideas.

But why not use them the other way round? I propose using the infographic to produce language and express the ideas it communicates.

I think if you choose the right visual you have the media to get students using specific grammar points, vocabulary or functional language you want. Here are some ideas.

INFOGRAPHICS FOR PRACTISING LINKERS

Most visuals contain enough facts and figures to practise how to:

TAKE TWO INFOGRAPHICS ON THE SAME TOPIC AND COMPARE INFORMATION

There are many infographic websites to visit where you can choose visuals for the classoom. So, you might even come across the same content described either in a different way, or not using the same facts or figures. This means you have a great resource to use in the EFL classroom for students to compare and discuss.

CULTURAL AWARENESS ACTIVITIES

There are also infographics about festivities that we celebrate all year round. I propose giving students either individually or in groups the chance to tell each other about a specific event or holiday, or even giving a short class presentation with the visual aid of the infographic in the background.
Oktoberfest - 180 Years of Celebration

Filed at Infographicsposters.com in Holiday Infographics

REVISE VOCABULARY OR COLLOCATIONS

Show the visual on the interactive board and cover key words you want your learners to revise. Get them to guess the word or explore collocations.

GUESSING GAME

Creating a guessing game is not too demanding and might make a good warm-up to start a new content area. I would use the same mehtod as with revising lexis, but instead, it would be preferable to choose a visual that contains fun facts for learners to guess the missing information.

The advantages of using infographics.

I recommend using infographics because they are visually very powerful and perfectly adapt to the needs of an EFL classroom.

  • It is a kind of media that, unlike video or audio, easily adapts to a variety of levels.
  • It is relatively easy to find infographics for almost any topic, which means you will always have input available.
  • The language outcome is easily predictable. So it is perfect for training a specific grammar point.

The main downside to using them is that sifting through the numerous infographics available can be time-consuming. But it can help to follow sites that design and distribute infographics and keep a collection.  Also, if the class has its own pinterest account the visuals could be pinned and tracked down more easily by teachers and students.

Have you ever used infographics in your EFL classroom?

Paper.li as a tool for the English Language Classroom

Paper.li is an online service for creating your own online paper. You filter the content you are most interested in and is then automatically produced for you to enjoy it yourself, or share it with others. It is mainly used for curating content, but after I have had my own for over a year One Click Closer Daily Paper.li I can think of various posibilities for the English language classroom, too.

CREATING A CLASSROOM JOURNAL

At the beginning of the course one of the initial activities could be to create the classoom’s Paper.li, which would become their own personal, tailor-made newspaper. Deciding the contents, design and other features would be a task to be carried out.

These are the steps I would follow to get that done.

  • Making students aware of what it is by showing them a video and an example.
  • Organise the classroom so that they can choose (a) which topics would they would like to have featured on their newspaper, (b) the title (c) the sources -which could be twitter accounts or media they are familiar with.
  • Have it embedded or linked to our classroom blog, so it is easily accesible to all the students . Similarly, if students had a twitter account, the media they tweet could be shared, as well.

The idea is to involve the learners in discussion and negotiation with the aim of setting up a newspaper that will be used during the course in many different moments. There are quite a few things that can be done, mainly involving them in reading and speaking through game and problem-solving activities.

Here is a selection of some ideas I have had.

  • Paraphrasing and summarising. Ask students to pick an article and tell their partners about what they read.
  • Guessing games. Ask students to describe a piece of news without saying the title so the partner has to guess witch item it was.
  • Topic based activities. Whenever we are dealing with a new topic we can quickly log into our paper.li to find out if there have been any news related to it.
  • Information quest. Ask students to skim through a given content area -environment, tech, etc- and find a particular article or piece of information which talks about something the teacher proposes.
  • Invite students to post their comments on the debate section of paper-li.

The limit is our imagination. But I think it is a straight-forward tool, which does not require a huge amount of time to set up and that may give place to some interesting outcomes.

My idea is to create a blogging community with my class, so paper.li would be a great platform to share their posts within our group and with the rest of the blogosphere. If a student wanted to, they could even create their own, with the content they are interested in, which is something I really like about it, as learners have the chance to customize their English learning experience.