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Using Twitter with your Students

Twitter birds on a wire

Image credit: StartBloggingOnline.com CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Sean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at how teachers can continue to support their students’ learning outside of the classroom through the use of Twitter.

Twitter is an online social network website and microblogging platform that allows users to post and read text-based messages (often with attached images), called tweets, up to 140 characters long. According to Statistic Brain (2013, May 7), there are over 554 million active registered Twitter users who tweet 58 million times per day, and projected revenue for 2013 is almost $400 million. In this post, I will make some suggestions as to how to use Twitter with your students.

Getting Started

To use Twitter, both you and your students will need to set up Twitter accounts. Once set up, get your students to start following you and their classmates’ Twitter accounts. Figure 1 below shows a typical Twitter home page. There are areas for composing new tweets, keeping track of who follows you and who you are following, viewing trending tweets, and viewing a stream of your tweets and the tweets of people you are following.

Sample Twitter home page

Figure 1: Sample Twitter home page

Using tweets for teaching and learning

Starting conversations: Ask a question. Get students to reply.

A sample conversation initiated by teacher

Figure 2: A sample conversation initiated by teacher

Encourage your students to start conservations. These could be about their learning, but could also be about their daily lives and fun things. One of the advantages of using a tool like Twitter is that it introduces an element of fun into learning, so use this to motivate students. Another advantage of using Twitter conversations rather than open classroom discussions is to give all students, particularly those who are perhaps shy about speaking in English, more opportunities to participate.

A sample conversation initiated by a student

Figure 3: A sample conversation initiated by a student

Posting links to learning materials: Long links will soon use up most of the available 140 characters, so use a service like bitly to create much shorter links. These posts could also be the starting point for more conversations.

A post with two shortened bitly links

Figure 4: A post with two shortened bitly links

This use of Twitter is an effective way to blend the longer, more static posts in traditional blogs with the shorter, more dynamic posts of a microblog. A traditional blog could be used to set up and deliver the learning content of an actual lesson, but Twitter could be used for real-time interaction during the lesson.

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5 top tips to encourage reading for pleasure

man reading a book

People usually read in their mother tongue. Foreign language readers encounter many obstacles that wipe all the pleasure out and can make it a real pain! On the other hand, reading in English undeniably enhances the learning process.

What does reading for pleasure mean?

It is everything that drives us to read and read again, all the reasons why we say ´I like reading books,´ everything that helps us immerse ourselves in the content! We like reading because it encourages our curiosity, our fantasy, our desire to know more. What’s more, we enjoy reading in a safe environment without any stress, pressure or assignments.

Reading for pleasure in ELT is invaluable for developing communicative competence. With the proper material it improves students´speaking and writing skills, social skills, cognitive and pragmatic skills, and much more. Furthermore, students build a positive attitude towards language and develop their critical thinking and creativity.

How can you encourage students to read for pleasure?

My idea of how to incorporate this into the school syllabus is to establish a readers club.

It offers students the chance to spend their free time with a good book, reading in English.

What can students do in a reading club?

  • Cocktail reading: illustrations, segmented text, reading aloud, silent reading, key words in bold, dramatized audio recordings – all these features help readers grasp the content of the text. They understand better, they imagine the scene and predict the text, they experience the feelings of the characters. Graded readers eliminate barriers and provide high quality language input.
  • Chain game: What is… the most interesting information you have read today?/the nicest thing XX did in this story?/What have you learned from this book?/What do you think about …? Asking for personal opinion capitalizes on students´engagement. Everyone is involved and practices expressing an opinion.
  • Quiz exchange: groups read different chapters of a book and prepare a quiz about the content. Then they swap chapters, read the text and complete the quiz . Students always learn something new and get practice in teamwork.
  • Activity time: graded readers usually contain fun activities focusing on content and vocabulary. Students can develop their critical thinking through activities like: true and false, answer the questions, complete the sentences, label the picture etc. They work intensively with the information from the text.
  • Real projects: This is good practice in interpreting the text. Students make projects using surveys, searching for the information, evaluating collected data, etc. Projects can take many different forms: poster, presentation, art work, picture book, school play.
  • Tricky cards: After reading a few books in club, students prepare a set of tricky cards with indications for others to guess which book it is. Names, dates, numbers and places shouldn´t be included – just to make it a bit more challenging!

I know that their attitude might be: ´Why should I stay at school for longer than I have to?´… ´It´ll be a drag. I can´t be bothered sitting and reading for the whole lesson.´… ´What for?´. So – how do we get over these objections and encourage students to give up their free time for reading?

Here are some tips for a readers club that can attract them:

1) Make sure the content is appealing

Good texts are essential – they need to be comprehensible but still challenging enough to make students work to understand them. Graded readers, such as Oxford’s Dominoes series, are perfect for maintaining a reading library that is appropriate for many levels. And it‘s important for club members to read real books, not photocopies, to give them a real sense of achievement and satisfaction.

2) Membership privilege

Members of the readers club will most likely   improve their English. This should be taken into account in the end-of-term evaluation by giving them a wildcard: a privilege to give a presentation on what they have read or created in the club.

3) Membership badge with a logo

Wearing the badge at school or on special occasions could provide the members with  sense of prestige for working harder than others.

4) Reading club council

Set up positions of responsibility for the members – e.g. chair – the teacher; custodian – a member responsible for the room and keys; secretary – a member responsible for keeping on the club rules, checking attendance, librarian; interlocutor – responsible for publishing info about club activities for the school.

5) Motivation for high achievements

Word count – a long-term competition for the highest  number of the words read in the books; read books grid with members´ names – for entering the titles of the books being read, reward – e.g. a voucher for choosing a book in a local bookshop.


Have you set up a reading club at your school? If so, how do you keep it interesting? What reading materials do you use? Share your experiences in the comments below.


Eva Balážová, an ELT Consultant for Oxford University Press in Slovakia, highlights the importance of encouraging students to enjoy reading in English as a way of improving their communicative competence.

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Projects should be creative, collaborative, challenging and fun!

Teacher and students at computerOlha Madylus, a teacher and teacher trainer specialising in both primary and secondary education, shares her thoughts on what makes a great class project.

I visit a lot of classrooms around the world and teachers proudly point out posters on the walls and say “look at my students’ projects.”

Although the work looks very nice, I would argue that it isn’t a project. This work is usually a piece of writing with a picture. What worries me is that the text often seems to be directly copied, or merely cut and pasted, from the internet.

Such work may have some merits (encouraging students to look things up on the internet and designing the final product) but I have two main worries about it. One is that students should be discouraged from what is, in fact, plagiarism and, for me most importantly, that students aren’t getting involved in the challenges and satisfaction of what a full-blown project consists of – it’s not very interesting for them!

The important characteristics of a project are:

They are collaborative – a group of students work together to produce a final product.

By working together students share ideas, divide up responsibilities (depending on what they like to do or are good at), and learn crucial lessons about respecting each others’ opinions and finding a good compromise. They also discover talents in themselves and in their friends.

The final product is important and can be extremely varied, ranging from interviews, to songs, to magazines, to drama.

Choosing how they will present their ideas in the final product is a major part of the project. If it is a PowerPoint presentation or a video drama, these need different types of organisation, materials, and perhaps help from their teacher.

Because the final product can be so varied, the language skills involved are not limited.

Ideally students will have lots of opportunities to use the English language in different ways that are meaningful to them. At lower levels they may not use English to discuss the projects, but they will still be discussing what English they need to get the job done.

Other skills like design, acting, directing, negotiation are involved

And this is where a lot of the challenge (and fun) lies – in putting it all together.

Take a look at this example of a project a class in Serbia created, with the help of their teacher. Notice, although the project is based on one piece of grammar – the conditional – how:

  • it obviously needed lots of planning and collaboration
  • all the students are involved
  • language is used to make meaning in a fun way
  • all the students are enjoying themselves
  • the final product – the video – can be shared and enjoyed by the class and others

Take part in our Engage 2nd edition Project Competition using these tips and you could win a video camera for your school. Competition closes 11th November 2011.

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What’s culture got to do with Tesco’s decision to withdraw from Japan?

tug of warIn light of the recent news concerning Tesco’s withdrawal from Japan, Jeremy Comfort considers the impact of culture on business. Jeremy will be speaking more about this topic at the annual BESIG conference in Dubrovnik on 19th November 2011.

Having spent several years building their business in Japan, the UK’s biggest retailer has decided to sell up.  Investors have been disappointed with the return from this part of the business as Tesco have found it difficult to achieve the scale that make their UK tills ring constantly. There are also concerns about their much larger investment in the US where the Fresh & Easy chain is yet to make a profit.

Tesco has been successful in other markets, notably Eastern Europe and SE Asia, so what has gone wrong?

It seems that the Tesco way has worked well in emerging economies such as Thailand, Malaysia and China but run into problems in more developed markets like Japan, US and Taiwan. This is a recognisable phenomenon that I have come across with other international businesses. So called majority cultures such as the US and Japan are far more resistant to change than the developing world which is open to new ideas and eager to embrace opportunities.  In Europe multinationals often find it easier to pilot new products or systems in Hungary or Poland than France or Germany.

This analysis gives us an insight into some key factors which leaders need to consider when deciding on strategy. It also provides a bridge to a set of competencies which are needed by all Business English learners who are working internationally. Companies need to know when to push their own agenda / approach and when to adapt or pull towards the local way. Individuals need to develop “push skills”, such as focus on goals, autonomy, resilience and some approaches to influencing, but also “pull skills”, such as active listening, rapport building, openness and acceptance*.

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5 tips for helping students to really learn vocabulary

teacher-in-front-of-whiteboardStudents need to be able to do so much more than reel off lists of vocabulary! They need to be able to manipulate the language so that it can support their communicative needs. Below are 5 ways to help students really learn vocabulary; to help them write, speak and communicate confidently and correctly.

1)    New vocabulary little and often

It’s alarming how quickly students can forget vocabulary. Encouraging students to focus on new vocabulary daily is the best way to make it stick. It doesn’t have to involve sitting down for hours; little and often will help get vocabulary into students long term memory. If you can get students to commit to just 15 minutes a day of focussed vocabulary practice, they’ll soon have a solid vocabulary base. Mobile apps and short online activities are great for this, as students can log on instantly and test themselves at any point of the day – it’s really not difficult to integrate learning into their daily routine this way. Encourage students to be systematic about studying and review new words at least once every couple of weeks.

Idea for your class:

Ask students to create their own system for reviewing new vocabulary and trial it for a month. Students then give feedback to the class by preparing a presentation of how it worked.

2)      Learn vocabulary in chunks

We all know that learning vocabulary in chunks is useful and improves accuracy and fluency. If we can allow students to also see how much time can be saved by learning this way, they are more likely to pick this up as something they do automatically. Words used out of context can destroy the understanding of a sentence. The moment the sentence is pre-formed, a range of vocabulary can be inserted, giving students the added confidence that their structure is correct.

Idea for your class:

At the end of the week, students write down three sentences (using new lexical chunks), two of which are true for themselves and one which is false. They practice using this language by reading the sentences to their classmates, who need to guess which is the false sentence.

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