Quote for thought

It doesn’t quite justify ridiculously low salaries but still …

Quote for thought

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How to create your own ELT infographic

Thank you for all the appreciative comments and tweets about the Course book authors fight back #ELTchat summary.  Some of you wanted to know more about creating infographics. It’s actually really simple and you don’t require any special skills. As long as you have an inbuilt sense of visual balance, you should be able to produce fairly compelling results. Professional designers use Adobe Illustrator which lets you work on vector graphics (vectors never lose quality no matter how big or small you make them). However, the application is expensive and quite complicated.

I used PowerPoint to create the visual for the summary. It’s all just basic circles, lines and bloated triangles. PowerPoint can be really versatile and I’ve picked up a host of tricks from The Rapid eLearning Blog to make the most of ordinary shapes and effects. But, creating an infographic in PowerPoint can be slow-going if you don’t already have a design in mind.

Nik Peachey lists some ideas for exploiting infographics on his blog. He looks at incorporating existing infographics into a lesson to replace text based activities or tasks where students make infographics. You could also make your own. I tend to create a lot of “takeaway” sheets because my learners want a record of key concepts from a course. I think infographics could be a good substitute for these sorts of handouts. Additionally, the flexibility of creating your own can give you the freedom to adapt existing lessons, choose topics that don’t have infographics and avoid copyright issues.

I took about 20 minutes to plan this infographic on a sheet of paper and then about 45 minutes creating it on the tool. It was my first time on Piktochart so I reckon if you have the content ready in some form and choose canned templates without fiddling around with the layout and colours, you should be able to create a decent infographic within 30 minutes. The other infographic creation sites I liked are easel.ly and infogr.am; visual.ly has attractive layouts but their design tool forces you to give access to your Twitter and FB accounts so I didn’t bother exploring it further.

You can access the html version of this infographic here and download a PDF here. Happy infographing!

How to create your own ELT infographic

Hyperlinks won’t work because this is an image file. Access the HTML version to grab the links.

Disputing quotes | A critical thinking activity

I frequently find my students getting too easily taken in by words of wisdom uttered by illustrious men.  In India, such quotes are generally seen as sacred and replicated in all manner of places from highway signs to research papers; to the strange extent that they sometimes form the core of people’s arguments in contexts far removed from that of the original utterance.  I like to encourage learners to question famous quotes, especially those that seem terribly inspiring; that no one in their right mind would criticize. To quote Aristotle (an oft-quoted source of these golden words), “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I’d also like learners to engage with and respond to these quotes in a way that is concise, relevant and convincing. Here’s an activity that could help.

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Level & audience: B2 & C1 college students or adult learners.

Materials: Laptop (or something you can project from), projector, Ss will need connected digital devices with access to Twitter.

Duration: 30 min

Prep: Classtools.net has a Twister feature which allows you to create fictional tweets by famous people. The site positions it as a history exercise where Ss would think and tweet a historical figure’s reactions to an event. For this activity, select the quote you want to use. Enter it into the form along with the name of the person who said it, a fictional twitter username and a date. The tool will pick up the image automatically. You can export the resulting page to a PDF for display in class. Wikiquote is a good place to source quotes and also verify that quotes are not misattributed.

Twister

Procedure 

  • Lead-in by asking Ss if they follow any famous people on Twitter. Have they ever responded to this celebrity’s tweets? Have they disagreed with something in this celebrity’s tweet and made that public in their own tweet? 
  • Tell the Ss that they are going to have a look at quotes by some famous people who didn’t have the benefit of access to Twitter at the time but we are going to pretend that they did and so tweeted this quote to all their followers.
  • Bring up the first quote and ask if Ss are familiar with this person and what they know about him/her. Elicit an interpretation of the quote.
  • Ask Ss to play devils’ advocate and disagree with the view expressed in the quote. Get Ss to think about why the quote might be faulty by tweeting a response.
  • Tweets should contain the username (@lutherking_dream) mentioned on the slide and contain a hashtag you’ve assigned to the activity.
  • Give Ss a couple of minutes to tweet their responses before moving on to the next quote. Repeat procedure.
  • When Ss have tweeted responses to four or five quotes, divide them into groups (as many as the quotes they’ve worked on). Assign one quote to each group. Ask groups to look through the responses by tracking the hashtag and the username. They should summarize the responses into a short paragraph critiquing the quote.
  • Get groups to share their summaries by reading them out or posting in a shared forum.
  • While Ss are working on their summaries, you could identify statements which could be used for a ‘find & correct the error type’ activity. Alternatively, you could identify tweets that have errors and email these to Ss and have them correct and retweet as homework.

Variations 

  • If you can’t make this work with Twitter, you could do it through any other site that limits text input. 
  • A non-tech version would be to print out the quotes and have several copies moving around the room. Each time a student gets a quote, she writes her dissenting statement below it and then passes it along.

Geogloss | A geographical dictogloss

This activity is inspired by yesterday’s teachbytes post on GeoGuessr, a sort of visual, addictive version of that geography game of my childhood – Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? GeoGuessr is powered by Google Maps Street View and presents players with a  sequence of 5 street view images from around the world. You need to guess the location using visual clues that can be explored by rotating the view or following the arrows. Some potential clues like license plates, signs and faces are blurred. When you’re ready, click on the world map in the top right corner, zoom in as much as you want and submit your guess. You win points based on how near or far your guess is to the actual location of the image. The author of teachbytes positions the game as a way of understanding geography but I sussed out a language activity.

GeoGuessr

This is a dictogloss in spirit rather than in letter. Apologies to pedants.  

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Level & audience: A2 and above; should work across levels since it’s driven by language that  learners are already familiar with. I can’t be certain but the activity might work better with adult learners and those who have travelled a bit may enjoy it more.

Materials: Laptop or digital device with internet connectivity; projector.

Duration: 30 min

Lead-in

  • Ask Ss if they like to travel and encourage them to talk about places they’ve been to and places they’d like to visit.
  • Tell them that they’re going to do a bit of travelling over the next half an hour.
  • Divide the Ss into groups and explain how GeoGuessr works. Access GeoGuessr and project your screen. Ask Ss to work out which location the image might be of. As they discuss possible responses, use the navigation tools to explore the location and visual clues.
  • After Ss share guesses, validate their responses by identifying the location and congratulating the team who made the closest guess.
  • Repeat the procedure with the next couple of images but hurry Ss along.

Describe the location 

  • After Ss have got a hang of how the game works, turn off the projector (or pause if you have that feature).
  • Have the volunteer step in front of your laptop. Only the volunteer should be able to see what’s on your screen.
  • Inform the Ss that the volunteer is a famous world traveller who loves exploring little known places. Unfortunately,  she has got lost on this trip. She is unable to access GPRS or any web-based services on her phone. However, she seems to be able to make phone calls but she has only enough credit to make a 30 second international call. So, she decides to call you. You’ll need to help her figure out where she is. As she describes her location, make notes by writing down as much as possible.
  • The volunteer then describes the location. Encourage her to use the arrows and rotation tool to explore the image and find visual clues.
  • Ask for another volunteer and announce that this person has also got lost at the same location. Get the volunteer to describe the location while Ss take notes, checking against details they took down previously.

Reconstruct the description 

  • Put Ss in pairs and ask them to compare notes and create a coherent description – one they could share with contacts on a social media site. 

Compare descriptions 

  • As pairs finish writing their descriptions, ask them to write it up somewhere everyone can see it. You could do this in two ways:
    • Non-tech version: Assign spaces on the whiteboard where each pair can write their description.
    • Tech version: Get Ss to share their descriptions in a shared forum or social media group or perhaps on Twitter if they produce one sentence descriptions.
  • Ask Ss to read each other’s descriptions for similarities and differences.

Feedback 

  • Encourage peer correction through whatever approach you think works best before sharing your own feedback. 
  • Turn on the projector, display the image and get Ss to talk about how different the image might be from the way they visualized it.
  • Ask them where in the world this could be. Validate their guesses by clicking on the world map.

Church Geoguessr

Coursebook authors fight back #ELTchat Summary 01/05/2013

This is a summary of the 1200 PM BST #ELTchat held on May 5, 2013. The topic of the chat was inspired by two IATEFL sessions The ELTJ Debate (a debate about whether coursebooks reflect students’ lives and needs with Scott Thornbury vs Catherine Walters) and The decline and fall of coursebooks (a talk by Simon Greenall). You can also read Scott and Catherine‘s follow up blog posts.

After the staid and dry way in which I wrote my first summary, I thought I’d try something different. What better way to summarize a great rambling chat like this than with a rambling infographic. The summary can also be downloaded as a PDF in case you need to copy any text.  

Coursebook authors fight back ELTchat Summary 01.05.2013

Process Approach to Writing: Is it better than other approaches to teach writing skills to ESL Ss? #ELTchat Summary 27/03/2013

This is a summary of the 1200 PM GMT #ELTchat on the Process Approach to Writing held on March 27, 2013. It’s my first ELTchat summary and it’s come out looking like an extended and tortured reported speech exercise 🙂 I’m definitely not taking this route the next time round. 

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Definitions

The chat kicked off with @Marisa_C sharing a link to a definition of process writing (PW). The Teaching English site describes process writing as treating “all writing as a creative act which requires time and positive feedback to be done well” and lays out three stages to accomplish this: pre-writing, focusing ideas, and evaluating, structuring and editing. Additionally, @kevchanwow shared an insightful blog post focusing on the practical application of PW. Later, @MisterMikeLCC tweeted a link to a presentation on PW.

Creativity or conformity

Source: http://www.morguefile.com/

@adi_rajan felt that process writing forces students to conform and create output that is often very similar.  @kevchanwow commented that if students get caught up in group-think, especially if the teacher starts with a brainstorming activity, then similar texts are a very real danger. @adi_rajan echoed this view and felt that brainstorming activities could lead to similar content; and structuring exercises could lead to a similar look and feel. @Marisa_C questioned this perspective and asked whether @adi_rajan and @kevchanwow were suggesting that when left to their own devices, students couldn’t produce text independently of the group. @adi_rajan argued that especially in business writing, exercises to structure text often target an ideal response and he wasn’t sure if this was desirable. However, @Marisa_C and @efl101 didn’t see a problem in students producing similar texts especially in the case of business letters which as @Marisa_C pointed out are generally very similar making them more teachable. @Marisa_C went on to suggest that there wasn’t a problem with students producing similar texts unless you were teaching creative writing classes. @galactadon extended this idea by stating that she too doesn’t see a problem with similarity because imitation isn’t exclusive to ELT and that many creative writing exercises use imitation of style and form for mastery.

The group seemed to be reaching consensus about acquitting PW of accusations of limiting creativity. However, the original dissenters weren’t yet ready to concede. @kevchanwow contended that within the constraints of the genre, students should still be expressing some serious individuality. @adi_rajan questioned the goal of working towards a model text and added that he would rather see a diversity of responses in the absence of which he could just distribute templates and ask students to fill in the blanks. @Marisa disagreed and stated that this was a moot point for her in a language class because the training ground is not always where you display creativity. @kevchanwow clarified the issue of creativity by pointing out that the question isn’t whether texts are similar but if students have an opportunity to truly express what they wish to. In response, @efl101 shared the following formula: “creative = expression, most/rest = communicate message + don’t get embarrassed by writing”.  @Marisa concluded this part of a discussion when she sagely added “we can happily disagree. The ability to creatively use language and practice language use isn’t separable to me.”

Value or vapid

The chatters agreed that PW was generally useful. @efl101 commented that since communication is key and most writing in TL is for purpose, chunks are very useful; which PW helps with.  Despite his earlier comments about the drawbacks of PW, @kevchanchow admitted to still liking PW. He suggested that his students generally don’t like to take the time to write well and PW slows the process down. @shaunwilden highlighted the built-in time PW allows for feedback and its benefits.  @MarjorieRosenbe drew on her experience with teaching writing for CAE and BEC classes which require a lot of structure to illustrate PW’s value.

Product or process

The discussion, thus far, avoided contrasting the product and process approaches. However, @efl101 asserted that the overuse of PW causes problems in exams because there’s no time to process-write in an exam. @shaunwilden wondered whether @efl101 would recommend teaching product instead in an exam context. @efl101 countered this by suggesting it would be better to change the exam system. @Marisa_C recommended that just before an exam, a product approach, sans preparation, might be better.

A glut of writing

Source: http://www.morguefile.com/

@efl101 asked the group to consider whether too much time is spent on writing.  When @shaunwilden responded that this might depend on the type of class, @efl101 clarified that he was referring to general classes where he felt that writing as a percentage of total time was overdone.  @Shuanwilden suggested that this imbalance could be the result of the school syllabus, course book, teacher or all three. @efl101 added that all three were responsible for the dominance of writing which is also measurable and perhaps easier to work on than speaking. @adi_rajan thought that the number of writing lessons was disproportionate to how often we write in real life.  @efl101 agreed but felt that this was personally also an area that he was least comfortable with when using L2 himself.

@muranava argued that writing is not over done because there are many problems in L1 writing.  @joannaacre had the same opinion and said that students often don’t know how to write in their L1 and are expected to write in L2.   @kevchanwow wasn’t sure whether too much time is spent on writing but thought there’s not enough time for the kind of feedback that leads to students’ development.  @michellegriffin and @alanmtait shared similar perspectives from Spain and Korea respectively.  @michellegriffin added that the issue is compounded when we consider the types of writing we are most likely to do in real life.  @adi_rajan concurred with this stating that students were more likely to write tweets and text messages as opposed to the elaborate texts that come out of writing classes.

Leveraging PW

After much deliberation over the challenges of process writing, as well as writing in general, the discussion turned to ways of leveraging PW to make it more effective. @efl101 quipped that PW is a process of diminishing intervention when it works best. @Marisa_C recommended including mini syllabuses of PW before moving to FW for each genre. @joannaacre echoed this idea by stating that it was like building and layering bit by bit. @muranava felt that product, process and genre are complimentary and @Marisa_C agreed saying that ‘PW wholesale’ didn’t seem like a great idea to her.  @efl101 suggested combining PW with TBL, including real tweets, updates and forum comments. Others agreed that integrating writing with other skills was an area with a lot of potential.

Feedback in PW

@shaunwilden sensing that we were drifting from the topic queried the group on how we handle feedback during PW and here are the results:

Self & Peer assessment

  • @bnleez lets learners correct what they can first (self/peer assessment) before intervening.
  • @adi_rajan likes to use peer feedback with a simple inventory of things to look for as students review each other’s work
  • @Marisa_C pointed out the importance of using criteria and acquainting students on how to use them.

Teacher prompts

  • @Marisa_C suggested using PW time for teacher prompted (discreet) hints rather than correction to save time spent on explicit feedback.
  • @bnleez suggested that when using teacher prompts, mixing up corrected feedback so the L2 writer doesn’t feel discouraged. @bnleez also added that a lot of corrected feedback tends to be indirect, creating teachable moments.

Error correction codes

  • Negligible discussion on the ever-familiar codes except a zany link from @Marisa_C.

Color-coding:

  • @Marisa_C offered colour coding as an alternative to  the well known error correction codes

Tech tools:

  • @shaunwilden pointed out that the advantage of using tech tools such as Google docs and Wikis is the focus on PW.
  • @adi_rajan recommended using social media for “redoing” which involves getting students to blog their writing, get peer and teacher feedback and then reposting.
  • @Marisa referred chatters to @russell1955 for more on how screencasting can be used for giving feedback and @shaunwilden shared a link to Russell Stannard’s research paper.
  • @adi_rajan has used online writing evaluation tools like Criterion but finds them lacking.
  • @shaunwilden records himself talking about a piece of work then sending the recording to students.

Issues

  • @efl101 pointed out that feedback which involves probing underlined items, attempting self correction, redoing, content analysis and discussion takes a lot of time. However, this is time well spent because he feels that concrete feedback and correction are motivating in writing particular if students can redo their writing.
  • @kevchanchow finds that even with intense training, students identify less than 50% of their own mistakes and that feedback is for growth, not error correction.
  • @Marisa_C queried the group about dealing with students who prefer the teacher to correct. @adi_rajan shared that his learners often feel cheated if they don’t get teacher feedback. He talks about the benefits of self-correction and peer to peer feedback with his students but they are not always convinced.  @Marisa_C suggested employing a good sales pitch.

Aside: PW banned in the DELTA?

@EBEFL wanted to know whether it was true that process writing classes were banned from DELTA module 2.  @Marisa_C explained that this wasn’t the case but she thought many DELTAs avoid PW because the lesson needs to be micro-planned to a very fine detail and the teacher is in danger of seeming inactive. She went on to add that if you have planned for 20 minutes of continuous writing and you are just sitting and monitoring, then it might suggest a poorly planned lesson for that context.

Conclusion

Source: http://www.morguefile.com/

The overall trend of the discussion seemed to indicate that despite some drawbacks, PW is a robust approach to teaching writing to ESL students.  What’s more, it’s not all that difficult to run and as @Marisa_C puts it “if two people collaborate, they can experience PW in action.” Beyond ease of use, there were questions about effectiveness. @efl101 identifies purpose of writing as key i.e., writing that is translatable into real world experience.  @bnleez suggests an authentic audience in addition to purpose to make writing meaningful. In conclusion and in  defense of PW, we return to @efl101 and his pithy statement that most writing is structured and that genuine ‘stream of consciousness’ writing is best left to Joyce et al.

Resources

Here’s a list of links shared during the chat and the people who tweeted them.

All images in this post are sourced from http://www.morgueFile.com 

Evernote Comparisons | A Business English Jolt

In one of his newsletters,  Thiagi, an exceptionally talented facilitator and designer of learning games describes one of his most engaging creations, a class of activities called jolts.

A jolt is an engaging learning activity that lasts for a brief period of time and illustrates one or more important learning points …  A typical jolt does not teach a skill. Instead, it helps you experience an important principle in action and provides you an “aha” moment … They capture your attention by startling you … During the activity, jolts encourage you to think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. After the activity, during the discussion, jolts encourage you to share your insights with other participants and to discover that different people have different perspectives.

This is not a conventional jolt because it requires some pre-work but I hope the potential for an “aha” moment would nevertheless qualify it as a jolt.

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Prerequisites 

Evernote

Ss should be familiar with using Evernote and able to access it in class on their own devices (laptops, smartphones, whatever).

Pre-work

Assign the following research task as pre-work.

  • Choose a topic that’s trending in business circles e.g., big data, gamification, deep analytics, social intelligence etc.  Now make it specific and relevant to your Ss e.g., big data in offshored healthcare services.
  • Before coming to the next session, ask Ss to find seven interesting articles, posts or sites on this topic. They should do this in not more than seven minutes. Instruct them to use an online countdown timer or their phones to ensure that they don’t take more than seven minutes doing this task.
  • Ss should skim articles/sites quickly and use Evernote to clip interesting ones to a notebook labelled with the topic.

In class 

  • Ask Ss to walk around with their devices and compare their Evernote lists with others.  
  • Whenever two Ss find a common link, they should delete it from their list.
  • Continue the activity till each person has had a chance to interact with a reasonable number of Ss.  Use a timer to hurry things along.
  • Get Ss to count the number of links they have left in their lists.

Debrief 

It’s highly likely that most Ss will end up deleting at least half their links, more for in-company settings.  Take a quick poll to understand how many links were common. Here are some questions to get the discussion going:

  • Why do you think so many of the links were common/so few were unique?
  • What does this imply about the way in which we seek and select information?
  • What does this say about the search engines we use and how they rank information?
  • What could be the impact of people in the same team/department/organization reading the same sources?
  • How do our reading choices influence our perspectives?
  • How might this influence business decisions?

When you think to yourself “let me look that up”, everyone else is looking it up as well and in all probability surfing the same site.  Is something ranked high on a search engine because it’s a rich source of information that can truly inform your perspective on a topic or for less noble reasons?  Get Ss to explore issues such as shallow reading, group think, and search engine ranking and their impact on business outcomes.