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Using a social media project as a tool for motivating young adults learning English

Close up of smartphone with social media icons

Image courtesy of pixabay.

Stacey Hughes, former EFL teacher, is a teacher trainer in our Professional Development team. Here she uses course material from Network to explore how social media can be used in the classroom to motivate young adults learning English.

Want to get young adult learners really motivated? Then make the language they are learning meaningful by linking it to authentic English practice opportunities. One way to do this is to set up a social networking project in which students can apply the vocabulary, grammar and communication skills they have built up in class. In this blog I will first list some of the pedagogical benefits of using a social media project. I’ll then suggest a few ideas for projects before outlining how a social media project can be set up in class.

Why use a social media project?

A social media project provides English practice opportunities in an environment that is familiar. Many of our students frequently use social media already when they tweet, post questions or comments online, blog, share videos or links, and chat online. By linking this social media use to English learning, students feel that what they are learning is meaningful for authentic communication and they can personalise learning as they build a network of classmates and peers to communicate with. Social media also provides plenty of models for how language is actually used and endless opportunities to use critical thinking skills to evaluate sources of information. Finally, social media projects can show young adults how to apply social media skills to further their professional growth.

Examples of social media projects

Social media projects aim to get students to use social networks to perform authentic tasks or solve authentic problems. Smaller projects include creating a profile or uploading and sharing a photo with a comment. An example of a larger project might be researching to find a place to live or places to stay on holiday. The projects can be chosen to suit the language level of the student.

Below is a list of social media projects you can do with your students.

  1. Build a personal or professional profile
    Students decide how much information to share and the best image of themselves to project, where to post the profile and how to share it so others can see it.
  2. Post a blog or comment
    Students respond to another blog or set up their own personal or professional blog. They comment on and rate an article, product or event.
  3. Connect online
    Students find an old school friend or a new friend in another country, join a group online that shares their interests, or collaborate on a project.
  4. Investigate something local
    Students learn about a local problem, find out about local events, or contact an organisation in their community.
  5. Find out
    Students find places to stay when travelling, find a job or a place to live, find a suitable restaurant – the possibilities are endless.
  6. Evaluate a website
    Students decide whether the information on a website is credible or not, or if a site or posting adheres to accepted ‘netiquette’.
  7. Game
    This may seem an odd choice, but there is a lot of language involved in learning the rules of the game and playing it well. Many games also have online forums and opportunities to link up online with other gamers.

Lesson plan for setting up a social media project

The following example of a social media project could be done over several weeks.

Use social networking to find a job

Level: Elementary and above

Aim: Students will research job finding resources and present their findings to the rest of the class.

  1. Lead-in: use an image or anecdote to begin a discussion about finding a job. Ask students if they have experience looking for a job and what resources they used to find one. Find out if they use any social networks (friends, family connections or social networks online) to look for jobs. This discussion could bring up some interesting cultural differences.
  2. Put students into pairs or small groups to brainstorm resources they could use to find a job. They should list a variety of resources, not just online ones. Ask each group to share their list with the class. Example resources include a career centre at school, newspapers, websites, professional networks, company web pages, jobs fairs, and personal networks (friends and families).
  3. Write the following questions on the board:
    1. Where is it?
    2. Who can use it? How?
    3. What kind of information is available?
    4. Do you get personal attention?
    5. Can you set up interviews?
    6. What employers use this resource?
  4. Ask each group to research the job-finding resources they have brainstormed and answer the questions. You may ask each member of the group to research a different type of resource, or each student could research them all. The research can be assigned for homework.
  5. If you are doing the project over the course of several weeks, ask students to bring in examples of new vocabulary they have found. Use these new terms to create vocabulary walls or a class wiki.
  6. Bring the groups back together to share the information they found. Ask them to create a group presentation. The presentation could be on a poster or could use presentation software such as PowerPoint or Prezi. Encourage them to use tables, charts or bullet-points for a good visual effect.
  7. Each group can practice their presentation in front of another group. Ask the groups to give each other feedback by posing questions: Was there anything you didn’t understand? Do you have any questions about the information that the group didn’t answer?
  8. Ask each group to give their presentation. Encourage groups to listen to each other, take notes and ask questions.
  9. As a follow-up, ask the class to write a short blog listing ways to use social networking to find a job. Ask each group to list 1-2 ideas, then collate these into one document. Share the document online and invite other classes in the school to read it.

(This project plan was adapted from Network 1 Teacher’s book, page vii)

In conclusion

The plan above demonstrates how a social media project can bring the real world into the classroom and make language learning meaningful for authentic tasks. It brings in a range of related vocabulary and grammar, and practices all four skills, but keeps the focus on the task. This focus is motivating and completing the task can give students a sense of achievement, especially if they then have a live audience to share with.


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So you want to teach online?

Middle Eastern woman on laptopShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and expert in online tutoring, shares some thoughts on his upcoming series of webinars on teaching students online.

Over the last few years, language teachers have had to come to terms with a technological shift in the way they teach. Though VLEs (Virtual Learing Environments) have been used in education for many years, it is only over the last few that they have become part and parcel of teachers’ working lives as either they, their school, or the material they use have found their way online. Be it setting homework via edmodo, using Facebook to extend the classroom or using online workbooks to complement courses, language teaching is more blended than ever before.

Being thrust into this asynchronous world of teaching can be quite daunting for those of us that were trained for the face-to-face classroom. We are used to standing in front of a group of learners, setting tasks that get our learners to communicate while we monitor, react, guide and prod. We are skilled in the art of classroom management, noticing when a student is off track, reading body language to gauge if a student is struggling and knowing when a task is finished and how to wrap it up. We are comfortable working face to face, knowing our training and experience has given us the skills to handle most things that school life throws at us.

While the popularity of social networking has implicitly helped us come to terms with asynchronous communication, a tweeted conversation or discussion of the latest cat photo on Facebook hardly counts as adequate training for dealing with students online. Is it a given that a skilled classroom teacher will automatically make the transition to the online environment?

As with many of the technological changes that come to schools, blended learning is often introduced at the behest of the stakeholders, sometimes with little thought given to how the change is going to affect teachers and impact on their working routine. Likewise, they often presume this is what the students want and assume that students will jump into asynchronous learnin,g embracing in-task discussions with the same gay abandon they show when updating a social network status. However, in reality an online forum is, for many, a far more stressful entity than the physical classroom. If you have ever joined Twitter, think about how long it took you to craft your first tweet and the angst of getting it right. Will anyone read it? What does it say about me? Is my language correct? Do I have anything to say? These are all questions that tend to go through your mind. There is something about the written word that increases the stress – perhaps the permanency compared to the ephemeral nature of something said.

Having trained teachers to work online for the last eight or so years, I’m all too familiar with all these issues and the nervousness teachers feel when venturing into the online teaching environment. Even the most confident teacher can feel trepidation when taking their teaching into the asynchronous world. How do I set my class up? How do we communicate? How do I motivate them? How do I stop certain students dominating? When do I need to give feedback? Are questions I regularly get asked.

Now, you may be forgiven for thinking that starting to blend your teaching is a bit of a minefield. It isn’t. Getting started is easy; being effective is more of a challenge. So to help you get acquainted with the asynchronous world, we’re running a series of workshops over February and March. If you want to learn about the skills and being an effective teacher, join me over three webinars when we’ll discuss everything from netiquette to making sure students join in and not lurk.

To find out more about tutoring online, join Shaun’s forthcoming webinars:

Online tutoring part 1: what does it offer teachers and students?
Watch the recording of the webinar.

Online tutoring part 2: the challenges and benefits
Watch the recording of the webinar.

Online tutoring part 3: getting the most out of your students
26th March 2014


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#EFLproblems – Teaching writing in the age of WhatsApp

Examples of text speakWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. In this week’s blog, Stacey Hughes responds to Klaudija Pralija’s Facebook post. Kaludija’s problem is not only getting students to write more than just short messages, but also teaching them to use appropriate language and grammar in more formal writing.

The challenge of text speak

Klaudija outlined a common problem in many classrooms. Students who are used to texting short messages full of emoticons, jargon, abbreviations, acronyms, and other non-standard English can feel it is acceptable to use these same features in more formal writing. On the plus side, if students are texting in English, research conducted by the British Academy (2010) suggests that this may have a positive impact on their language development. It is also worth noting that social media discussions can be the starting point for later articles, reports or studies.

For example, an idea brought up in a blog discussion or Twitter chat amongst EFL professionals could spark ideas that lead to a conference presentation further down the line. So students need to learn when it’s OK to use text language, and they need the flexibility to be able to switch between it and more standard or formal language.

To work on this flexibility, ask students to match common ‘text-speak’ with more formal phrases, which could then be used in whatever writing task is coming up. So, for example, in a unit where students have to write a formal letter, students could match items as below:

🙂 = I would be pleased/ delighted to…; I am happy to…
!? = Could you please clarify…
Thx = Thank you for…
i wanna = I would like to…
cu l8r = I look forward to seeing you later

Alternatively, ask students to choose a recent text message and ‘translate’ it into standard/formal English. If their texts are not in English, they could even do some research to find out the English equivalents. Discuss when text speak is an appropriate form of writing to help students begin to have an awareness of different types of writing for different purposes and audiences.

Another idea is to have a checklist that can be used for all student writing:

  • I used full sentences
  • I didn’t use abbreviations
  • I didn’t use slang
  • I used full forms rather than contractions
  • I used standard spellings

Writing in standard English

Getting students to be motivated to write longer texts can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. The key is to get students invested in the task. Let’s imagine that you are on a unit in which students need to write a report with arguments for and against something. Start by brainstorming something that the students feel strongly about. This could be related to something happening in the school (putting in a new vending machine, creating a new club, etc), in the community (building a new supermarket), or in the wider world.

Once you have decided on an issue (or issues if you want students to work in groups on different issues), ask students to use whatever social media channels they wish to discuss it. They can tweet about it, blog about it, Facebook chat about it, WhatsApp it – whatever they choose. With younger learners, issues of safety online should be addressed before this stage. Another alternative is to provide a chat wall where students can put up ‘tweets’ or messages using post-it notes. Chatting about issues via social media mirrors what happens in the real world and shows students how these channels can play a role in laying the foundation for other types of writing.

The next step is to decide who to write to about this issue – the Headmaster? The Mayor? The President? This audience awareness will help students focus on using more standard English and more serious arguments. Discuss why a headmaster or government official might want arguments for and against something and not just a one-sided viewpoint (e.g. s/he wants a clear picture of both sides of an argument, etc.). Discuss why it needs to be in more formal language (e.g. to be taken seriously; the headmaster doesn’t understand text speak, etc.).

Students then work to extract ideas from the chats and put them into more standard or formal language. They will need to evaluate the arguments to decide which can be used in their report. They will also need to decide which arguments are stronger and which they support. They may also wish to write recommendations. Finally, students write the report. If possible, allow students to write it on the computer so they can use the spell check and grammar check function built into word processors. Far from being a ‘cheat’, these tools force students to look carefully at what they have written in order to correct it (or not – computers make mistakes, too!). Typing out a report also makes it look and feel more ‘official’. Build in some peer review of the report, too. Again, this collaborative approach mirrors what happens in the real world and can lead to better work.

Ideally, if appropriate, students can send the report to the intended audience. What better motivator than to know their work is actually being read!

Invitation to share your ideas

We are interested in hearing your ideas about getting students to write in standard English, so please comment on this post and take part in our live Facebook chat on Friday 8 November at 12pm GMT.

Please keep your challenges coming. You can let us know by commenting on this post, on Twitter using the hashtag #EFLproblems, or on our Facebook page. Each blog will be followed by a live Facebook chat to discuss the challenge answered in the blog. Be sure to Like our Facebook page to be reminded about the upcoming live chats.

Here are the topics for the next three blogs:

27 November, 2013: Motivating younger learners
04 December, 2013: Learning English beyond the exams
18 December, 2013: Written self-correction for younger learners


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Connecting online and in class

Flipped classroomKristin Sherman, Network co-author, looks at how to take advantage of technology in the classroom. Kristin will be hosting a webinar “Help Your Students Get Connected” on 24th October and 1st November.

How can we use our classrooms and technology to the greatest effect? A recent study at the University of North Carolina indicated that a “flipped” classroom helps students perform better. Graduate students who used technology to watch mini-lectures at home and then engaged in active learning in the classroom showed significant gains in performance. The success of such a “flipped” classroom suggests ways we can effectively wed technology and language learning.

Technology serves as both a system of delivery and as content itself. We live in a digital world, one that places increasing importance on digital literacy. Our students need not only to be able to use technology to find and manage information, but also to connect and collaborate with others around the world.

Use technology to deliver traditional content

In a flipped classroom, content, in the form of videos and readings, is delivered to the student outside of class. Teachers can use photos as writing prompts, link to video lectures or articles, and post questions for online discussion. These are all activities that have traditionally been conducted in the standard classroom, but teachers can adapt them and move them online.

Use the tools of the traditional classroom to teach about technology

Our students need to be savvy and responsible users of technology. One way we can help them is to provide content instruction in social media and other digital tools.

Online content is visually rich and stimulating, but it encourages surface-level engagement rather than deep thinking and prolonged attention. Users move quickly from one link to another, often reading only parts of texts. Instructors can use the classroom to help students better understand difficult texts and to think critically about online sources. Engaging, collaborative activities in the classroom help learners practice new language skills and improves social skills.

Think creatively

Teachers come up with new ways to blend technology and language learning all the time. For example, you can teach students important skills of summarizing and paraphrasing by condensing a book to an essay to a paragraph to a tweet.

What are some other ways we can combine technology and language learning?

Sources

  1. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr
  2. The Post Lecture Classroom: How Students Will Fare, http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/the-post-lecture-classroom-how-will-students-fare/279663/
  3. http://www.teachthought.com/social-media/20-interesting-ways-to-use-twitter-in-the-classroom/

To find out more about using technology to connect with your students, join Kristin for her webinar on 24th October and 1st November.


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Teaching phrases and expressions – a language teacher’s nightmare?

Woman with hand over mouthTamás Lőrincz, a teacher and teacher trainer, shares his tips for tackling English phrases in and out of the classroom.

Do you know what Scotch Mist is? Honour bright? Before I started writing this post, I didn’t have a clue. I was off my head with joy to find a book on my bookshelf with 420 idiomatic, colloquial, and proverbial expressions, published in 1939. Have you ever entertained an angel unawares? Do you even know what it means? Before writing this post, I certainly didn’t.

A Textbook of English - W. O. Vincent

A Textbook of English
W. O. Vincent

The chief purpose of W. O. Vincent’s A Textbook of English for Foreign Students was “to provide material for practice with words and combinations of words, so that the student is able to build up an extensive vocabulary, and to become familiar with their uses and shades of meaning.” (From the jacket blurb)

In the 74 years since this book was published, English teachers are still trying to achieve the same aim. Our job, of course, has become more complex. Coursebook authors and editors are very selective as to which turns of phrase to include in their books, while teachers are also careful to make sure that the idiomatic expressions they teach their students are relevant to their lives.

Of course, corpora are very useful in making such decisions, but they are ultimately time-bound. Some of them have been based on databases that are hundreds of years old and the frequency of appearance of certain phrases are not always an accurate representation of how language is currently used.

As teachers, we like checklists. So, let’s make a list of five things we can all do to make sure that the phrases we use and teach are not outdated.

1. Search

I know – obvious. Search engines like Google are one of the best ways of checking current usage. Just check the number of hits and it will tell you immediately whether you should bother teaching it or not.

2. Read

Yes, I’m going to be even more obvious now. Tabloids, regardless of your personal opinion of them, do feature a lot of language grounded in the colourful and flexible use of English. Handled correctly, they are an interesting classroom resource that can generate discussion about how and why specific phrases and expressions are used.

3. Sing

Check out the lyrics of some of the top 20 songs. Popular music is an inexhaustible supply. Just look at this week’s top single in the UK (Katy Perry’s ROAR at the time of writing). Katy Perry starts with two beautiful phrases your students will gobble up in no time:

I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath…

4. Watch

If you don’t want to hear Katy Perry ROAR (which I find absolutely understandable), you can watch a movie with your class as well. Even the worst movies are potentially valuable sources of current usage, interesting twists and turns of the language.

If you want something ready-made and reliable. Kieran Donaghy’s ELTon award winning Film English website gives you some fantastic opportunities to teach, practice and learn new phrases and expressions.

5. Socialise

Provided your students are digitally literate and know how to safely manage themselves online, you can help them find friends on Facebook and Twitter. Interacting with online friends can cause an explosion of new vocabulary, packed with up-to-date and intriguing phrases and expressions.

Google Hangouts and Skype chats are also fantastic tools for enabling your class to talk to new people, no matter where in the world they might be. Many teachers use Skype and Google Hangouts to connect with other classrooms around the world, giving their students valuable exposure to informal English.

You may have heard these suggestions before, and they are tried, tested, and produce positive results. (And there’s no point in re-inventing the wheel, as they say). We live in an age of global connectivity and lightning-quick access to information, yet it’s sometimes difficult to remember that English surrounds us, no matter where in the world we may be. With a bit of effort and willingness, we can enable our students to interact with others in English more easily, and give them the tools they need to understand and use idiomatic English more confidently.

And if you were hoping for a bonus suggestion, here it is: keep a lookout for a pretty good-looking smartphone application coming your way from Oxford University Press. From what I have seen – yes, I had a sneak peek; the perks of guest posting 😉 – it will be great fun for teachers and students alike.

Now over to you. What are your preferred ways of teaching phrases and expressions? Please share your tips with us in the comments to this post.