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English Language Teaching Global Blog


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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Using technology to improve writing activities

Anna Silva has been a language teacher for over 20 years in Brazil, teaching in state and language schools. Here she talks about how she uses technology with teenagers to improve their writing.

The fact that teaching teenagers is a difficult task goes without saying. I feel it’s been more and more difficult to draw their attention to what I’m teaching. They come to classes so full of energy that making them concentrate on learning grammar or writing seems an impossible task. At the same time, very little or nothing has been done to change this current situation. In fact, it seems that the more we teachers try, the further away our goal seems to be. What can we do to successfully hold their attention?

There is no doubt that experience and good textbooks do help a lot, but technology has proved to be one of the best tools because adolescents love all kinds of gadgets and software. Teenagers are always so involved with attractive and fast-paced webpages and social networking sites that a classroom, a teacher and a board seem boring and unattractive to them.

Only a few years ago a song or a scene from a movie would do wonders when it came to arousing students´ interest; nowadays, however, these resources are losing their novelty. For this reason, I think that newer technology can be an effective way to catch students’ attention and interest and help me lead my students along the path of learning a second language.

Although choosing a good textbook has certainly made my life easier as a teacher, I often feel like going beyond text books and surprising students with a different project.

This year I was teaching narrative tenses and mini sagas when I came up with this idea of using technology to catch their interest and attention. I needed something simple but innovative. As all my students have mobile phones with cameras, I invited them to walk around the school, choose something, take a picture and write a 50-word story based on that picture. At first, it was a mess. They just could not understand what I meant. It was amazing to see how difficult it was for the students to leave the comfort zone of our classroom and walk along the corridors and patio searching for a good spot to be photographed. They were really hesitating and feeling awkward.

Fortunately, in pairs, they decided to take risks and give themselves a chance. The experience was successful not only in terms of language acquisition, but also in terms of sociability. They went out of the classroom shyly and started walking around the school exchanging ideas with their peers. I was surprised with the results. They took good shots and created some interesting mini sagas about flowers, chairs, computers – even a poster about a new course was used as a springboard to start a story. They found out how creative they are, which was great for their self-esteem.

After this experience, I wanted to explore the idea of using Twitter as a learning tool because I had noticed they were always text messaging or sending tweets to their friends about everything all the time. As it was proving difficult to make them keep their mobiles off during our classes, I was trying to figure out a way to use Twitter as a tool not an enemy. Not until we started discussing short stories from the Reading Circles did I find the appropriate moment to propose it.

Reading circles are a great technique to work with reading; however, I have always felt the lack of a suitable follow-up activity. So, after discussing one of the stories, I asked them to send me a tweet summarizing the story in 140 characters. Some of them argued that they didn´t have twitter which would make it impossible for them to do the task. However, I was ready to solve any difficulty presented. The students were allowed to send me a tweet or a pretend one by email, or by Facebook. I even said they could write it by hand.

In the end, what they expected to be a piece of cake ended up taking much longer. They had to write and re-write it many times until they got to the number of characters permitted without using abbreviations, but keeping the summary meaningful.

Sooner than I expected, I had my students writing and rewriting texts with real enthusiasm and that made all the difference in my daily life as a teacher. Not only were they motivated, but I was too. All in all, I noticed that they improved their written skills by analyzing how the process of writing requires thinking and editing, and how much easier it is when one has a wide range of vocabulary.

How have you used technology to improve your students’ writing?

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4 easy ways to incorporate technology into ELT (for you and your students)

girl with laptop in classroomLaura Austin, an ELT Consultant for OUP, presents 5 easy ways to learn, connect, communicate and develop in ELT using technology.

Technology per se doesn’t affect the language development of students learning English. However, I think you’ll agree that these are useful tools to explore to help support both you and your students.

Infographics* (for students)

There are infographics about history, culture, business – you name it, they exist. The Coolinfographics website is a great place to start. Why not use it to start off a debate? To generate interest in a topic area? Or to pre-teach vocabulary? Even for introducing those analytical skills needed for core exams. This one from the Onlineeducation.net is particularly interesting as it relates to student views on technology; might be a useful one to kick start the use of infographics in class.

*Thanks to Ollie Bray for this idea.

Twitter (for you)

Twitter helps you to reach out to other ELT professionals all over the world. Once upon a time you’d browse through various websites to find out about new methodologies and teaching ideas. Now, all you need is a Twitter account to follow all your favourite ELT authors; put them into a list and away you go. If you haven’t quite got it; then just spend 10 minutes a day following Tweets. You’ll get there in a couple of weeks and once you do you’ll never look back.

The most popular feature for ELT teachers is #eltchat – you can follow this hashtag twice a week for updates and topical ELT debates. Great to read and even better if you can participate. You can find more information on the website

Wikis (for students)

Wikis are a way to collaborate everything you have learnt with your class, incorporate new skills (such as peer editing) and encouraging students to communicate. Most importantly it gets students excited about publishing their work online.

Each class one student could take notes and post it on the class wiki. This could be used for revision and for absent students to catch up on. For a more collaborative effort, students can do this in small groups and save it on different pages, this effectively creates a Website – so the Wiki then contains a range of pages for students to browse. There is a range of software which helps you put together your class Wiki. One of the most popular being PBworks. It is simple and straightforward to use.

Movie Makers (for you)

I love the browsing through all the home made animated movies on youtube. There are a wide range of movie makers which make this so easy for you to make for your class. How does it work? All you do is import your text and choose your characters, select a background and away you go … a movie especially made for your class.

You could use it to pre-teach vocabulary or as an end of term treat you could even create a movie based around students in the class. Try Xtranormal for starters.

Have you used any of these in your classes or in your own time? Are there others you would recommend? Share your stories in the comments below.

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Teaching business writing in 2010 and beyond

Businessman using cell phoneJohn Hughes, co-author of Business Result and Business Focus Elementary, considers how Business English teachers must continually adapt to new forms and methods of business communication.

When I first started teaching Business English twenty years ago, the approach to writing was essentially genre-based. What I mean is that we – the teachers (and the course books) – generally started any lesson by presenting a model version of a text. So we’d show students a copy of, for example, a letter or a report. Then we’d analyse the features of the text type in terms of layout, conventions, fixed expressions etc. And finally we’d ask students to try and reproduce a similar text type. The approach, which has been referred to as a genre-based approach, has always served us well. It’s especially effective when teaching exam courses such as BEC because the written text-types are so clearly defined.

However, in recent years it feels like the world of business writing has been thrown into a state of flux. We rarely write into a neat A4 sized template in the real world. Instead we write shorter messages by email or even shorter sentences and utterances if we use Twitter and text messaging.

So how do we prepare students to cope with the current trends in writing? Given that we can’t even predict what kinds of texts we might be writing in the future as technology changes so quickly, perhaps the best we can do is to help students develop certain sub-skills. Here are the sub-skills I suggest we focus on.

Firstly, students need to express themselves in far fewer words. They need to be able to sum up a product in three or four words rather than in a longer paragraph.

Secondly, every word a student chooses needs to count because there is no space for excess in a world where you are fighting for your reader’s attention among the deluge of messages.

Thirdly, students also need to become even more flexible with regard to formality. In other words, after years of training students to use formal expressions in written texts, our emphasis should now be on knowing how to write less formally and more directly.

Such skills will require teachers to take an approach to writing that deals with language at word-level and sentence-level rather than taking the traditional approach of dealing with the whole text type – simply because we can no longer be certain that those texts will even exist next year!


John Hughes will be running a workshop on this topic at the BESIG conference in Bielefeld this month. He will present some practical classroom activities that address the issues mentioned in this article.

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Our Secret Code – PLNs are a major EdTech issue

Confused man looking at codeKieran McGovern decodes the confusing terms of the online world of English Language Teaching.

Every profession has a ‘secret’ code, consisting of vocabulary known only to its practitioners. Who outside the world of education technology (EdTech) would guess that a PLN was a Personal Learning Network?

These code words and phrases only make sense to others involved in the same field. Outsiders can’t understand what you are talking or writing about. You become part of what the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw called a ‘conspiracy against the public’.

Take the word ELT. Most readers of this blog will know that it stands for English Language Teaching. But for a chef it might mean ‘eating large turkeys’!

Here are ten more confusing short forms and acronyms: IELTS, L1, L2, EdChat, (T)ESOL, TOEFL, EFL, ESL, EAP, FCE… Think you know them all? Check out the Terminology of English Teaching on englishlanguage.org.

Most of these ‘code’ words are practical; essential, even. But are there others you feel serve no useful purpose? Or ones that you don’t really understand? I’d love to hear your suggestions for a ‘jargon bonfire’.

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