Making a Learning Tool out of Twitter

Second year in a row that I am using Twitter as a learning tool and, as the old adage says “You live and learn”. Despite the countless articles and posts I had read that inspired me to get started, it wasn’t -and still isn’t- that easy. And that’s why I decided to write this post. Partly, to share my own experience if it can be of any help to anyone, but also to learn from other teachers who have already integrated it into their classroom routine.

Really, there is no big deal in setting up the account, even less when you are a regular twitter user and you know a few things about how it works. But that is nothing but the beginning. While the youngest students might find it really cool to have a classroom account, and, in that sense, will build up a lot of initial motivation, transforming it into an meaningful learning opportinunity is something quite different, and that is where the challenge was for me.

Why set up a twitter account for class?

As a twitter user myself, I quickly realised how useful it could become for my students: they’d increase their exposure to language by engaging more in reading and writing. Besides, they would have the chance to connect and easily keep updated with what was going on in class.

But what really urged me to set it up was that learners had a chance to start building their own personal language learning networks; and given the right support and training, they could gain a immensely valuable tool for their journey as lifelong leaners. Yep. That was the key. Anyone who is serious about learning a language should know that there is a long way to go, with plenty ups and downs.  I’m always telling my students that the best thing they can do for themselves is to acquire a habit of learning. And, without a doubt, nowadays it has become relatively simple to do so and tailor-make their own language learning routine: there are so many resources and media they can learn from on their own. But they will need help, and more importantly, a strategy.

My strategy

Before I explain my experience with more detail, you might need to know how I feel nowadays concerning social media for learning. I still have many doubts about making it compulsory for students to have their own accounts. Even when the context may be fine for it and there is a social media policy, I’m not sure I would go for the big plan of everyone tweeting and interacting as an obligation. I have had a couple of experiences as a learner in training courses where one of the first requirements was to create a social media profile, and much as I understand the underlying reason (to make people familiar with the tool and gain confidence through practice?) I’m not sure anyone should be told to create a social media profile, unless they wished to. We all know it is fundamental that students become aware of their digital footprint, and so I think it is somewhat contradictory to make it compulsory. Anyone, young or old, should make a conscious decision to create whatever social media profile.

Having said this, my plan this year was to create the classroom account for it to become our social media “headquarters” and to model their own possible present or future experience. They were encouraged to check it out regularly and were informed about the benefits and the basics of using social media for learing purposes. They were also invited to follow and/or interact. But that is optional.

What outcomes you should expect

  • Facilitating the students’ access to the tremendous amount of resources and media that is posted on twitter for EFL learners. Besides, being the administrator of the account, you will be filtering and selecting content for tweeting and retweeting. In other words, adapting the tremendous amount of available posts or activities to the precise learning stage you are in.
  • As the class account administrator you are also indirectly modelling how to use twitter for learning purposes (what hashtags to follow, how to suscribe to a list, or even help them create one themselves…). In a way, it is like having our own classroom PLN. They can even see it working in real time by showing them the timeline and checking out who we’re following, or sifting through the tweets posted on a twitter list.
  • Sharing some of the media, activities and fun stuff done in class. Students can see it later and even engage, reply and continue the discussion. One of the activities I have been most successful with in the last year and a half were the twitter chats: I post an open question about the topic dealt with in class so students can reply and post links to interesting articles and media, or share their own views using 140 characters, which is a fabulous writing exercise for language learners.
  • Building a sense of community among peers, and expanding their leaning experiences in class beyond the classroom walls and practise English in a digital, but undoubtedly real and ever more present, context.

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What you have to be prepared for

My experience is far from perfect. I have had to face various challenges, many of which are directly related to the strategy I chose to use and the context I teach in.

  • Many adult learners are reluctant to engage and are strongly prejudiced against it. The ones who have little or no experience whatsoever with social networks hear the phrase “social network” and straightaway associate it with some social club you join to get addicted to and start cursing and posting selfies. Others are rather sceptical about the impact it will have in their learning. So, it is hard to get them on board and go beyond reading the tweets when they are displayed in class. However, I must say that those who have engaged and have become regular users have expressed on many occasions that it was definitely worth their time (sigh of relief!).
  • Time. Or better said, the lack of it. I often feel there is a ghost of a ticking clock casting its shadow over the class the very minute I step into the classroom the first day. It is a major issue for any teacher to use classroom time wisely and plan to provide enough practice and training in language learning. So, most times I can’t really afford to spend much time explaining the ins and outs of social media interaction, its benefits, etc.
  • Workload. I am one of those people who have a love-hate relationship with twitter. The jolly good things I have already mentioned in previous posts and, obviously, if I didn’t see the potential of it I wouldn’t have even started. But using twitter entails a lot of distraction, and if you don’t draw the line it can be quite exhausting, too. If I have ever felt this myself, why should I think my students won’t? I want learners to use it as an actual learning tool, but I wouldn’t like their workload to increase irrationally. In my class the twitter account is only our social media profile, but we work primarily with a textbook and an LMS, so it is my responsibility to tally up the activities and prioritize carefully to make sure they are not feeling more workload than they really need to learn the language successfully.

What I recommend

  • Create an account for the class. Your personal account may be fine for testing over a period of time, which is what I did last year with a group of highly motivated students. But, if you are serious about tweeting with the class, I think it is a far better option to set one up for the class.
  • Create a classroom hashtag. This is particularly helpful for threads of discussion or stories. But be careful with the hashtag you suggest and take your time to find out it is not being used already.
  • Spend the necessary time for learners to feel comfortable with the tool. As I mentioned above, you may not have much time to do so in class so, how about giving them some quick feedback when you notice their activity is lacking some training? Send them a DM or reply.
  • Outline the rules and inform learners about the basic rules of etiqutte and how to perform the basic actions on twitter (mentioning, tweeting, RT, using hashtags).
  • Be a confident social media user yourself and try to keep up to date with information concerning privacy issues, online safety and other threats. When it comes to this kind of information, the more, the better, as it will enable you to advise your students better.
  • Make students aware of what it means to have a social media profile. If they decided to set up an account or use one they already had I would make sure they are conscious of their activity and the choices they have(private or public) I usually encourage them to have an account for learning purposes alone.
  • Create a list and/or suscribe to lists created by other ELT teachers. It is extremely time-saving for you and them as you might come across some interesting content more easily for them to access, which is relevant for the language point they are learning.
  • In the context of my classroom it may not be a good idea to have a very intense tweeting activity in order to avoid increasing and insensible workload.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I would welcome comments and ideas from other teachers who have used twitter in the context of a foreign language classroom, because there are many aspects I am not totally comfortable with, and it would be great to have your insight. 🙂

 

 

 

Looking Back On 2014!

Many things have changed at personal level in the last twelve months. It’s one of those years when all the events in your life start combining and fitting like clockwork until they reach some harmony and settle down. And after a very exciting year I’ve reached a point when -I think- I can reflect a little bit on them all with some distance and perspective.

As regards work, many of the changes had to do with a deliberate and conscious quest for transformation and renewal. So, I did a couple of very interesting training courses here in Spain with EducaIntef and #eduplemooc, and even managed to complete my first MOOC: Learning to Teach Online #ltto by @Coursera.

I also joined several online chats and experiences with other global teachers. I participated in the @teachthought #reflecetiveteacher challenges and, although my blogging activity was not as productive as I had intended it to be (no excuse, but quite I was overwhelmed with classroom work and setting up the current course), I really enjoyed reading other bloggers’ posts and reflections on teaching, and though incomplete, it was a very rewarding experience. I became more confident blogging and writing about my career, plans and hopes.

That is probably one of the things I feel happier about. I couldn’t have imagined only one year ago that I would have published so many posts.  I had been a blogger for some time but I wasn’t sure of how to approach this one in particular that I started thanks to the #eduplemooc experience.

In class, I opened the windows and doors a little more to get some fresh air, but there is still a lot to do -in fact, the last couple of months I had to halt and rethink some of the strategies that I was very excited about this year.

But it’s OK. 2015 is just about to take off and surely many new opportunities and ideas will come!

A warm thanks to everyone who has dropped by, commented or shared this blog.

Thank you and Happy New Year!

Feliz Ano Novo! Feliz Año Nuevo!

2015

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Visuals for Speaking

Infographics, and visuals in general, have a very strong presence in my class. I find they are a remarkably effective tool to get students speaking, comparing information and checking their previous knowledge about a topic. But, for me, the most valuable quality is that I can introduce plenty reading exposure during classroom time without having to use narrative texts or articles, which are usually more time-consuming. Of course, I will do some reading in class using magazine articles, for instance, but I think it is very convienient to use this type of visuals in class due to the time constraints and the very nature of a language classroom, where all the potential lies in the cooperation of students and creating opportunities for speaking.

In a previous post I described some ways infographics could be used in a language learning environment. And now I’d like to share some of the tasks I carried out with them in class with the actual texts I used.

1) A jigsaw activity. Level B1+. Topic: families.

Students worked in pairs and were given one infographic each. They could read about facts and figures of average British families. They were asked to search some information on their own and prepare to share their findings with their partner. Then, they had to work out the differences and similarities and also reflect on how reliable the information was considering the source and the date they were published.

2) Fill in the gaps. Level B2. Topic: Digital Technologies.

Nowadays there are loads of visuals on digital technologies and social networking. When we dealt with this topic in class I thought it would be a good idea to revise some of the vocabulary with an infographic about multitasking. I removed some of the words for students to carry out a fill in the gaps task.

3) Practising discourse markers with conceptual graphs.

Conceptual maps and graphs are probably my favourite type of visual for using helping students use connectors. Mainly because it is a kind of text that doesn’t require much time and effort from the student to understand the meanings and connections between the ideas.

When talking about health and medicine in class, a mind map like the one below from Leaningfundamentals.com could be a good aid to revise the vocabulary of the topic and also practise linking the ideas.

health-map

4) Practising numbers. Intermediate and above

There are scores of infographics cramped full with figures expressing time, money, percentages and fractions. You can easily find one on the topic you are dealing with in class, and cover the numbers and carry out a guessing game. This activity could actually take many different forms and can be easily adapted to your own teaching context. The one below is from the dailyinfographic.com and is perfect choice for this time of the year.

holidays_infographic

4) Video infographics. Level: B2; Topic: Time

For this activity students worked in groups. I asked them to watch a section of the video without sound. They took notes and then tried to express what they had just seen. It proved a great way to discuss and use the language they had learnt. This video, which is an adaptation of a Ted Talk by Philip Zimbardo, gave place to a lot of debate in class, too.

The Post-IT

This school year has had many ups and downs, and we have only just begun! I am looking forward to putting the whole experience into words, but I think I need to take some distance in order to analyse it with a more positive and objective outlook. I have a lot to learn, indeed, but it is probably too early to reach conclusions.

However, in the middle of the haze of doubts, there are some things things that are working really well. I wrote a blog post about sticky notes and their amazing potential in a learning environment. Simple as they are, they have turned out to be an essential tool in my drawer.

In this post I’d like to share an activity I did in class with my first year students at school.

1) Practising verb phrases to express daily routines and free time activities.

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Fisrt year English students often have difficulties when using verb phrases with go, go to, get, or leave. A very common problem among Spanish speakers is that they are often hesitant when it comes to using or omitting the definite article the. So, I proposed a game in class where they had the chance to revise and practise them afterwards.

I posted the five verbs on the blackboard and scattered sticky notes with all the endings in a few desks. Students stood, picked the notes and had to stick them by the right verb. They helped one another and eventually created a diagram showing the main verbs with at least six examples of activities.

When that part was over, we had some feedback and took a picture of the result, which I posted on our LMS and twitter account.

The second part was a class-mingle speaking activity. I invited the students to take two notes from the blackboard and move around the class asking their partners questions with “Do you…” How often do you…” “When/What time do you…” A little bit of music in the background and lots of speaking.

I am very pleased with the result. The students improved their fluency, revised vocabulary and question formation.

 

 

 

 

Myths of Language Learning

I am afraid I may have become one of those annoying teachers that repeat the same couple of lines once and again. But I can’t complain, can I? After all, I must confess that I do spend a lot of time trying to convince students that successful language learning won’t happen unless they are proactive and take the bull by the horns. What really worries me is that I don’t feel it has ever made any difference.

It is true that some learners adopt a passive attitude mainly because they lack the time to go beyond -even when some seem strongly motivated to learn. But language learning is undoubtedly long and hard at times and not everyone is intrisically motivated and will find the joy in learning per se. In adulthood, one’s life is full of responsabilities and tight schedules, so I understand it is difficult to find space for language practice. But that doesn’t mean it is unnecessary.

I can’t help feeling that there are many language learning myths that somehow justify this passive role and make them feel comfortable with the amout of time they spend with the language, which sometimes is very little.

In this post I wanted to share some of the commonest myths of language learning that keep holding some learners back. I could easily have added a few more, but here are my Top 3 myths I regularly find myself trying to debunk.

MYTH nº1

You think you are going to learn only because you want to.

Ok. Intending to learn is a great start. Definitely, the best. But intention and motivation alone are not going to do the work for you. As far as I know, there is no secret contract with the universe that says if you want something really hard, and you close your eyes tight and imagine yourself speaking fluent English, you will get it in return.

Of course, motivation and a positive attitude are essential, they will be the fuel that keep you moving, but they have to move somebody, right?

Motivation-is-what-gets

 

MYTH nº2

It is enough to sit in class for a couple of hours.

Learning a language is not like going into a supermarket and filling your cart with goods. Can you imagine what that would sound like in a language learning context?

Today I’ll have 1 kg of fluency, 1/2 kg of listening for detail and 1/4 of vocabulary about relationships and dating. Level B2″

Imagine we could put all of that into nice-looking containers and packages, wait in a line and go back home with bags full of knowledge. It sounds foolish, I know, but sometimes I feel some learners still expect to come to class, get their daily dosage of language input and go back home thinking that they have done their job. But, just as with your shopping, there are some things you’ll have to cook!

Language learning is a very complex activity and in order to feel confident and master its grammar and vocabulary there is necessarily a certain amount of time you’ll need outside the classroom to consolidate, repeat, or even prepare, what we don’t have time for in the classroom.

MYTH nº3

I’ll only really learn the language if I go abroad.

In my view, feeling that whatever effort you make is useless only because it is not the “real thing” or because you think it is not as nearly as effective as an immersion program is downright false, self restrictive and hinders any authentic move forward.

Firstly, and most importantly, this idea will prepare you for failure, not success. It will be the cause that will justify all your  mistakes and zero improvement. It won’t let you see the value of the numerous resources and support you have available.

Travelling abroad is a wonderful opportunity that you can’t miss if you have the chance. But it doesn’t mean invalidating all other ways of learning a language, which can be just as effective. After all, learning a language is more stimulating that it ever was in the past. If you have the right combination of motivation, a well trained teacher, and relevant practice in the classroom enriched with web-based opportinunities, you should soon see the results for yourself.

 Prove the myths wrong: enjoy and learn!

Public Domain Archive

Public Domain Archive

 

 

The Powerful Aspect of Being a Connected Educator

DAY 16 What are the most powerful aspects of being a connected educator?

There is one specific dimension to being a connected educator that I love, which is the way it resembles travelling. I have experienced similar benefits connecting in chats and sharing knowledge with my PLN to the ones I have had visiting other countries, the only difference being the part of my life that was influenced.

Travelling has always broadened my perspective about life. And much as I love my hometown and its local characteristics, I have often felt it necessary and revitalizing to travel now and then so as to energize and feel more capable of tackling my everday ups and downs.

Being a connected educator has had a similar effect in my teaching practice.

All that is familiar and local is precious, no doubt of that- and I must say that I get plenty inspiration in my community without the need to explore what is done elsewhere. But when I have the chance to connect and share ideas with people from all over the world I gained ideas and inspiration. Connecting has widened my perspective on certain issues and made  me reflect on my everyday practice. Only good things can happen when you lift your eyes to see beyond what you have right in front of you.

Thanks to people who have shared their experiences online, I have been able to anticipate problems when implementing some activities. I have learned alternatives to some traditional tasks I perform in class …that have actually worked! I think I have become more resourceful and I feel more confident about embracing new challenges, and experimenting.

I feel extremely lucky to have so much input from teachers around the globe.

 

 

 

Helping Words Stick

One of my resolutions for this school year was to find new ways of consolidating vocabulary by creating opportunities for students to revise the words more often in class.

Sticky notes have become my number one ally for this, and I am actually using them more than I thought I would, and in multiple ways. Even the word “sticky note” itself denotes its usefulness. They are convenient and give place to loads of possible activities which involve very little preparation, if any at all. Simple and colourful.

So far this school year, they have been my most effective tool. Who could have guessed? My main objective was to introduce some technology to facilitate learning, but I have been struggling with most of it for the last couple of months.

Here are some of the activities I have done:

words that will stick

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1-Learners’ Choice

At the end of a lesson, I asked students to write down the words or phrases that they found interesting, weird, or the ones they feel would be difficult to remember, and afterwards, we posted them on our noticeboard. In the past, I had already done something similar, but would keep the pieces of paper in a kind of fishbowl or box.

After a few lessons, during which the words remained visible all the time, the students were given the notes at random and we played a defining game. All they needed was some time to think about the meaning and then go! On one occasion, I proposed it as a pairwork activity, but I also tried it as a class mingle activity “everyone askes everyone”, which was far more engaging.

2- Teacher’s Choice

The approach is similar to the activity above, but the choice of words is directed by the teacher, who restricts the selection in order to focus on one specific type of lexis and learn it in depth (collocations, phrasal verbs, prepositional phrases, adjectives, compound adjectives, etc).

3- The Word Cloud

Students wrote a word on a sticky note, and after a few days of having the words on the wall, I created a word cloud – I like tagxedo, but there are many others available. (The word cloud could even be done in class, provided you have the necessary online access. A group of students could be in charge of doing it and discuss the shape and colours) Once it was done, I shared it on our classroom blog, and twitter account and then proposed a revision game in class  (wordsearches, or identifying negative and positive meaning).

These are just two simple activites that I have done, but I am looking forward to doing more and experimenting the different ways of using their colours or shapes. My idea is to increase exposure to these lexical items through games. But also by making learners have an active role at this revision stage, by helping each other remember and negotiate meaning.