ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

By - Martin Sketchley

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words: An ELTPics Introduction

What Is ELTPics?

ELTPics was created in 2010 as an image resource bank for teachers to use within their classroom.  Since then, it has expanded exponentially.  As their website highlights:

The collaborative project began life in October 2010 after Victoria Boobyer (at that time a teacher in Vietnam), Carol Goodey (an adult ESOL & Literacies worker in Scotland) and Vicky Loras (a teacher in Switzerland) became friends on twitter.  They were aware of the cavernous differences in the everyday life around them and thought it would be interesting to share photos taken during a particular week.   Over an evening of chatting this morphed into #eltpics.

The benefit for teachers is that you don’t have to worry about copyright issues and all pictures on the ELTPics Flickr Photosets can be used within the classroom.  Further information about Creative Commons Licensing and Attribution with ELTPics can be found their website – it is so invaluable as it helps language teachers avoid copyright issues.  The Photosets are so easy to navigate that you will be able to find suitable photos for a theme or topic within the lesson.  So how does it work and how do teachers upload their pictures for use with ELTPics?

Picture Taking For ELTPics

If you are on Twitter and you have access to a smartphone, you will be able to tweet photos pretty quickly.  The only additional thing that you must remember to do is to include the hashtag (#ELTPics) so that the pictures are recognised and uploaded to Flickr automatically.  The people involved with ELTPics include the picture within a set that they have created already and upload it.  You should receive a tweet to confirm that your picture has been received and is available to view.  However if you are on Facebook and prefer not to tweet or upload pictures via Twitter.  Don’t worry, you can join the ELTPics Facebook Group and upload pictures via this process.  The advantage is that it is so easy to upload and assist the cause for ELTPics as much as it is easy to use their pictures within lessons.  So, I would recommend teachers from around the world to help open up the world to your students and start to use these pictures in future lessons.  So how could you use ELTPics for classroom use?
Camera
Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @CliveSir, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Teaching With ELTPics

Some of these suggested ideas below have been developed and included within my own classroom, other ideas have been inspired by blog posts and other discussions about ELTPics.  So a big thank you to those that have contributed to ELTPics and you will find a link to a corresponding website/blog.
  1. If you are teaching adolescent or adult learners, it is likely that they have their own smartphones or tablets and are also connected to Twitter and/or Facebook.  You could get students to complete a photo hunt (such as one that I created a while back in a previous blog) and then learners could upload their contributions to ELTPics.
  2. Teachers could create a mosaic of images – with such tools as Mosaic Maker – so that pictures could be organised by topic or theme.  Students then have to describe the pictures.  It also goes nicely within a teacher created worksheet, so give it a try.
  3. Students could create their own mosaic of images from their own collection with their smartphone and then share with the class.  Students then decide which mosaic is the best.
  4. If teachers have access to a colour printer or IWB, the ELTPics could be used as flashcards.  If teachers are printing out the pictures, it is a good idea to laminate them to save them for future lessons.  However, it is cheaper in the long run to create flashcards on an IWB and is larger for all students to see within the classroom.
  5. An activity that I like to include within the classroom is to create a slideshow of sets of photos and learners line up and one by one they have 20 seconds to describe the picture before it automatically changes to the next one, then the next student has to describe this picture.  You could look at language beforehand and really does get students focusing on ‘getting the message across’ instead of focusing on accuracy and grammar.
  6. Go to the Take A Photo And … as some contributors share their teaching ideas and experiences of language teaching with ELTPics.
  7. Get students to replace the images from their coursebook with images from ELTPics.  This is in response to Mike’s blog post.
  8. Select four or five pictures, show up on the IWB or as flashcards and students then have to choose the odd picture out.  It is a classic EFL activity which traditionally used words but uses pictures instead.
  9. After teaching a class and reviewing vocabulary from the day, students could be set homework to take photos representing two or three pieces of vocabulary.  The students then report back to the class the following day and share their pictures.
  10. This lesson activity is very simple and you could set it for learners on Friday.  Students have to record their weekend in pictures and upload to ELTPics.  The students describe their weekend on the following Monday and setup a slideshow for the class.  It is also quite important for the teacher to document the weekend with their own photos and share with the class.  This defeats the boring question asked at the beginning of the week: “How was your weekend?” and/or “What did you do during the weekend?”.
  11. Picture hunt: if your class discovers a new word, get learners to find a picture on ELTPics which accompanies or helps that word stick with the learner.
  12. Finally, students choose a picture from ELTPics and then try to re-create/re-capture the image in their own way (it is a good activity for homework).  Learners then report back the following day with their images that they have re-created/re-captured and compare this with the original.

I hope this blog post has been useful and that you decide to start using ELTPics and I look forward to seeing your own contributions.

By - Martin Sketchley

The (White) Elephant in the Room

Whether you have a connected or non-connected classroom, the tool that is commonly seen in every lesson is the whiteboard.  The whiteboard is a wonderful and often under-respected tool, but provides so much opportunity to share ideas, illustrate context and offers learners a chance to brainstorm vocabulary.  When I started teaching, I used the whiteboard to just write down key vocabulary and draw timelines but there is so much which could be exploited with this simple tool.  However, I was not given much training or advice on exploiting this respectful tool.  At times, I have seen whiteboards awash with so much language scattered around it looks like the teacher has literally thrown a book at it and hope the words stick.  Other lessons I have observed, the teacher has carefully drawn images, as well as broken down sections for key vocabulary and/or lesson aims.  Here are a selection of photos illustrating whiteboards at my school.

Making use of margins and images with the whiteboard.

The whiteboard above demonstrates that margins could be created to illustrate lesson aims (something which is starting to become more and more important due to continuous accreditation in the UK).  I suppose one thing that could be improved with this whiteboard is that the left margin is not necessarily used as planned.  I was hoping to use the left margin to write down vocabulary but ended up teaching ad hoc – Dogme-esque – and focusing on various vocabulary associated with facial hair and jewellery.  Pronunciation was highlighted between ‘bucket’ and ‘bouquet’.  Any guess on the nationalities which were present in the room?

The early days of the whiteboard in my teaching career.

With this whiteboard image from 2010, I was trying to get learners to use the whiteboard as much as I could. I was using an infographic image for a reading relay.  Students had to run around to the questions, dictate these to their partner then look for the correct information before looking for other questions.  It was a fun and enjoyable activity for the adolescent learners.  To review answers, I wrote up the questions on the board – one at a time – then learners nominated themselves to answer.  All good fun.  So why not get your learners up and off their seats to write on the whiteboard?

My students decided to add some of their creativity.

A spin off the previous whiteboard, with learners writing the answers to a reading activity on the whiteboard, you could encourage learners to come up to the whiteboard and draw.  I was teaching Spanish learners a number of years ago and they decided to draw a funny little character on the whiteboard during the break.

From another teacher’s whiteboard from years ago.

I love to ask teachers to keep up their work on the whiteboard so that I can see what their lesson was about and how they went about it.  From looking at this whiteboard, I can see that the teacher was focusing on modality and comparatives: “I may be (adj.), but at least …”.  Also looking at other teachers whiteboards, you can reflect on how you would improve the lesson and how you would also improve on demonstrating the work to learners.  So next time, you have a rant at a fellow teacher about them keeping their work up on the board, why not put a sock in it and have a look at the whiteboard, take a photo and create a lesson from it?  It is so much more rewarding.

A CLIL-based lesson on Global Warming from 2010.
When teaching some groups of nationalities, they expect a CLIL-based lesson.  This lesson from 3 years ago looks at Global Warming.  I tried to improve the demonstration of key vocabulary by the use of drawings as well as putting language into context.  It is something that I always enjoy including in particular lessons but again, I have failed to include margins within the whiteboard and perhaps I could have drawn the images on to pieces of paper then laminated them, which could then be stuck on the whiteboard.  What do you think?  How else could key vocabulary be demonstrated or taught within the classroom?  Is it something which should be prepared?  What about emergent language?  Have you taught a CLIL-style lesson?  Too many questions for you – anyhow learners did copy down the images and vocabulary in their notebooks.
Focusing on emergent language with an adult class.
More recently, particularly with adult learners, I have been reacting to language which emerges during the lesson.  In this lesson, a student’s mobile phone battery went dead and didn’t know how to express this so again I am illustrating this with images and vocabulary: a good or a bad thing?  I am also trying to put up vocabulary on one side of the margin – it happens to be on the right-hand side this time round. We looked at British food and my whiteboard looks very messy.  This is possibly a result of the style of lesson.  Do you seem to have a very clean whiteboard when you teach a very predictable lesson or a messy whiteboard when the lesson diverts away and is spontaneous?  It would be interesting to see you whiteboards.
Finally nailed it – I have a grammar and vocabulary margin.
The final picture of my whiteboard shows that sometimes I do get it correct – I have a margin for vocabulary and another for grammar whilst the main lesson (which was actually focusing on reading and speaking) has a smaller area within the middle of the whiteboard.  It also looks awfully mucky and in time for a good clean.  Finally, how do you setup your whiteboard?  What do you do differently that you haven’t seen other teachers do with their whiteboard?  Would you have any advice for me?  Do you monitor learners when they are copying work from the whiteboard?
By - Martin Sketchley

September Teacher Interview: Bethany Cagnol

Bethany Cagnol has a BA from the University of Virginia, USA, and an MA in TEFL from the University of London. She was the 2009-2012 president of TESOL France and organized many of its conferences. She is currently the IATEFL BESIG Treasurer and on the IATEFL Conference Committee. She owns two companies in France devoted to project management, language training and language skills assessment.

1. Tell our readers how you got into teaching.

Like many of the trainers you’ve interviewed, English teaching found me.  In 2002, fresh off the boat, while in line to get my French work visa, I met an English teacher who referred me to a language school looking for trainers for the Chateau de Versailles. I had already taken a TEFL Course at the University of Virginia, but only had a few hours of one-to-one teaching experience. I was interviewed for the position and within one month was teaching at one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the world. It was definitely a pinch-me moment. And I very quickly grew to love this profession.

2. What advice would you give those that are wishing to go teaching in France?

Um… don’t? Sorry for being blunt, but the private industry training market in France isn’t at all what it once was in the 70s and 80s.  It also depends on one’s visa.  For example, it’s next to impossible for Americans to obtain work in France without being married to a French citizen or having a EU passport. The hourly wages have steadily decreased and companies have grown pickier.  Moreover, language schools are no longer seeking trainers for full-time contracts.  Therefore, the trainer is at the mercy of the market, which means juggling several part-time contracts for an hourly wage of €20 an hour (before taxes) and some as low as €12 an hour. Transportation is reimbursed less and less, forget about lunches, and the trainer has no sick leave or holiday pay.  Today, it is very very difficult to survive as a freelance trainer in France even for those who have started their own companies. The supply, currently, is higher than the demand I’m sorry to say. 

3. Could you tell us about the first time you taught a lesson?  How did you feel?  What did you do?

I was a colossal disaster, a nervous wreck and only spoke Tarzan French.  I had planned my lesson down to the minute.  I had cut up pieces of paper of this and that, but none of it went according to plan.  Only one trainee arrived on time. The others trickled in, so I, like a dummy, waited until everyone arrived.  Once we got started, my trainees were lovely, but a bit surprised I didn’t speak French.  They then proceeded to ask me to translate some very specific vocabulary related to their work. Can we say: deer in headlights? Since these were the days before smartphones and online dictionaries, we spent the entire lesson flipping through an enormous bilingual dictionary.  I then remembered I had prepared an activity and desperately tried to freight train through it in the last 15 minutes of class.  What a disaster! But this first lesson taught me that nothing goes according to the lesson plan. And, heck, it never should, in my humble opinion.

4. What has been a memorable lesson you have taught?

Gosh, there are so many.  Is this blog suitable for children? Many of the most memorable lessons involve some pretty unladylike vocabulary due to all the false friends in French and English. 😉 I think the most memorable lesson was when I taught a group of 17 multi-level nurses. I invented a speed-dating-like activity in which they mingled around the room but had to pick a strange characteristic from a hat and act it out (e.g. you like to smell paper; you untie the shoes of your partner, you count the buttons on your partner before saying ‘hello’; you’re afraid of the English teacher, your partner smells bad, etc.).  The nurse who picked “you like to collect DNA from your partner” got the biggest reaction. And yes, he collected fingernails and plucked hair from his fellow nurses’ heads.  We all ended up in stiches (pun intended). 

5. How would you describe the role of the teacher and learner in the classroom?

This is an interesting question and I think my answer has changed significantly over the years.  As a newer teacher, I felt my role was to manage the group and help the learners obtain as much knowledge as possible about grammatical structures and vocabulary.  I was married to lesson plans.  Today, it’s quite different.  I always start the semester off with detailed needs analysis. I still plan lessons in advance, but now I give a lot more control to the learners.  My ESP classes are more subject-based than structure-based. I still hold the reigns, but very much enjoy stepping back and letting the learners take control of the lesson to guide it in a different direction. I find this approach gives the students room to grow at their own pace, but also nurtures fertile ground for future lesson ideas and approaches.

6. What are your opinions of translation in the language classroom?

I let the learners decide if they wish to incorporate translation in the classroom. I remember being an A0 beginner in French and my teacher refused to use English no matter how much I begged. I’m an auditory, lexical learner; I like to learn the music of useful expressions in chunks.  But our coursebook was 100% grammar-based, gave us no indication of what we were saying and didn’t have an English glossary. I was utterly lost and incredibly miserable. So again, I think the trainer and the learners should discuss the option of translation and, ultimately, the learner should make the choice.  I don’t think translation should ever be banned (by the teacher or the language center). That’s my opinion and I’m stickin’ to it!

7. What advice would you give to newly qualified English language teachers?

Don’t be surprised if it all goes terribly wrong at first. Classes will go haywire, lesson plans will stink, and you will get incredibly frustrated. Give it a year to get your sea legs. Join a teachers’ association now!  Learn the local language. Don’t throw anything away. If an activity doesn’t work with one group, don’t toss it! Try it with another. As you explore the profession don’t ever forget to ask for help from your fellow teachers.  Use your colleagues to share ideas, seek advice and don’t hesitate to vent. But vent in a reflective, solution-oriented way. Be ready to change your lesson plans, question your approach and even your philosophy as a teacher for the benefit of your learners (and your sanity)!

8. Finally, what is your opinion of coursebooks in the classroom?

Again, like a previous question above, my answer has changed significantly over the years.  As a new teacher I was grateful for coursebooks – especially ESP coursebooks. I remember being lowered into the deep cave of teaching scientists; the coursebook and teachers’ notes I used were like a carbide lamp giving me the light I needed to navigate the harrowing passages of such a complex industry.  I use coursebooks less and less in the classroom, but I still do consult them for ideas and information on my learners’ specific field. Today, the Internet is my coursebook and I bring it with me to every lesson and encourage my learners to do the same.